Spinach Health Benefits

Spinach Health Benefits

Spinach Health benefits

How often have you heard your mom say, “eat your greens, it’s good for you”? I am sure you have heard that statement often over the years. But old habits die hard and you still don’t like greens in your diet.

A number of studies conducted over the years suggest that “greens or green leafy vegetables” are a source of important nutritional elements that you could definitely benefit from. Besides the obvious advantages, there are a number of hidden health benefits that people are not aware of. There are quite a few green leafy vegetables available at markets the world over; however, “Spinach or Palak” as it is known in India is quite popular among most cuisines across the globe.

Know More About the Spinach

This edible plant from the family of Amaranth, is native to Central and Southwest Asia. Originating in Persia, it was first introduced by Nepal to China as early as 647 AD. The English Word Spinach was coined in late 14th century. It is about a foot long with large leaves at the base to small leaves at the top of the stem. The leaves can be flat, oval or triangular in shape and grow in various sizes from 2 to 30 cm long with a breadth of almost 15 cm at times.

Spinach takes the top spot when it comes to the World’s healthiest vegetables as it’s a treasure trove of minerals and nutrients It is bitter to taste, though it tastes quite good when paired with dairy products like cottage cheese or cream or combined with other vegetables. The best time to consume Palak is from March to May, though it is available throughout the year.

Varieties of Spinach

There are three types of Spinach available such as the Savoy, semi-savoy and the flat leaf type.

  • Savoy: This variety is widely available in the US and other European countries. The leaves are wrinkled or curly and dark green in color. The savoy grows the best in temperate or cold regions, but is quite difficult to clean due to its wrinkled surface. The Bloomsdale in USA, Merlo-nero in Italy and Viroflay are the varieties you can choose from.

  • Semi-Savoy: This kind of Spinach is a combination of smooth with a slightly wrinkled leaf. Easily available they are used for both fresh consumption as well as processed. Indian summer is the most commonly grown variety of semi-savoy Palak in India.

  • Flat or Smooth leaf: This variety of Palak has smooth, flat and broad leaves, which makes them easier to clean. They are quite often used in processed foods such as soups and canned goods.

Why do you suppose it is used in most households today? Our earliest memories of spinach health benefits were seeing “Popeye, the sailor man eating cans of spinach to build his physique.”Not only in a cartoon animation, but this is true in the case of Spinach which is a super food offering a number of health benefits.

Well, here are a few spinach nutrition reasons to consider.

Highest concentration of vital nutrients: It is the best source of iron which is one of the most common spinach benefits that people are aware of. But did you also know that it has highly concentrated phyto nutrients such as carotenoids i.e. beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin as well as flavonoids that provide antioxidants to protect you. A single cup or 180 grams of cooked spinach can give you vitamin K, manganese, magnesium, vitamin A, folate, iron, vitamin B2, copper, vitamin B6, calcium, vitamin c, vitamin B1, vitamin E, fiber, potassium, phosphorus, proteins, zinc, choline, omega3 fats, vitamin B3, selenium, pantothenic acid.

Spinach is low in fat and cholesterol. The flavonoids in spinach help to keep cholesterol from oxidizing, protecting the body from free radicals, especially in the colon. Eating spinach benefits not only the cardiovascular system, but also helps brain function, memory and brain clarity.

Aids in Weight Loss:

Spinach aids in weight loss

Eating spinach as a part of your diet helps you get all the necessary nutrition while still being low on fats and cholesterol. This super food is full of fat soluble dietary fiber, which helps digestion, stops constipation, sustains low blood sugar and prevents binging. It is a versatile food that can be had in different ways, which is the reason it is often recommended to people on a diet where it is imperative to avoid monotonous eating.

Prevents Cancer:

Spinach is a rich source of anti-cancer carotenoids. These carotenoids are called epoxyxanthophylls, which contain neoxanthin and violaxanthin that help to prevent cancer. New studies undertaken to understand the spinach benefits have proved that the carotenoids present in spinach juice or extracts have been able to slow down cell division in stomach cancer cells; while in other lab tests it has helped reduce skin cancers to a certain extent. Spinach has also been effective in providing defense against the incidence of aggressive prostate cancer.

Prevents Inflammation:

Excessive inflammation is one of the risks associated with cancer. Health issues like arthritis, osteoporosis, migraines, and asthma can cause swelling or inflammations. These can be prevented by consuming spinach as it has flavonoids and carotenoids neoxanthin and violaxan thin which also help to reduce inflammation.

Protects the Eye:

Have you heard of Lutein? Well, spinach has carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanth in in abundance which help to prevent cataracts from developing and age related macular degeneration in the eye (ARMD). Zeaxan thin is a vital nutritional carotenoid which is absorbed by the retinal macula lutea in the eyes, which helps filtration of light. Spinach has vitamin A that is needed to maintain the health of mucus membranes essential for normal eyesight.

Spinach Protects the Eye

Strong Healthy Bones:

Spinach has vitamin K which is important to maintain bone health. Consuming a cup of boiled spinach provides nearly thousand times the RDA of vitamin K, which helps to lower and control the over activation of osteoclasts. Osteoclasts are cells that aid in breaking down the bone structure over a short period of time. Vitamin K also helps the fusion of osteocalcin, the protein that helps to maintain the strength and density of bones. Consuming dairy products in large amounts for calcium can prove harmful. Spinach is the best alternative as it offers more nutrition, thus preventing the occurrence of osteoporosis. It’s one of the best source of proteins available to vegans. These proteins help to build muscles and aid collagen growth.

Helps Lower Hypertension:

Anxiety and stress are the most common causes of Hypertension. High blood pressure often results in heart issues, kidney disease, stroke and more. Consumption of Palak helps to reduce hypertension as some of its elements help to reduce tension and concern. These nutrients play a critical role in maintaining the balance of Na-K by lowering the K (potassium) in your body. The peptides in spinach inhibit the angiotensin I-converting enzyme to effectively lower blood pressure.

Healthy Gastrointestinal Tract:

You can keep your gastro intestinal tract healthy by having more spinach. The carotenoids like beta-carotene and vitamin C present in it protect colon cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. The presence of folate in leafy vegetables helps to prevent any DNA damage or colon cell mutations too.

Aids Brain Function and Memory:

A number of studies have shown that consuming spinach everyday may help to slow down any age-related deterioration in brain function. Spinach helps to maintain proper brain function especially during old age, keeping it young and energetic. Presence of folate, vitamin C and K help to moderate hormone production in our nervous system. Vitamin K encourages the synthesis of sphingolipids, the crucial fat that makes up the Myelin sheath around our nerves to build a healthy nervous system and better brain function

Healthy Cardiovascular System:

Too much fat deposits in the arteries can cause a thickening of the artery wall resulting in Arteriosclerosis. This can also cause heart attacks. Spinach is rich in carotenoids Lutein that help to prevent the thickening of artery walls, reducing the risk of a heart attack. Italso contains high quality nitrite which not only prevents the incidence of heart attacks, but also helps to cure heart diseases associated with fat deposition.

Spinach Healthy Cardiovascular System

Prevents Calcification:

A rich source of vitamin K, spinach prevents accumulation of calcium in the body. This vitamin is a critical element in the production of the matrix gla protein during the process of carboxylation. This protein prevents calcium from forming in tissues, which may hamper the proper functioning of the body. So spinach helps us fight arteriosclerosis, stroke and cardiovascular diseases.

Boosts Immunity:

Vitamin A in spinach guards and reinforces the entry points into the human body, such as respiratory tract, mucous membranes, urinary and intestinal tracts. It is also one of the most important element in white blood cells that helps to fight infection. One cup of spinach provides as much as 337 percent RDA of vitamin A.

Helps to Prevent Anemia:

Iron is one of the main components of blood. Any reduction in its levels can affect the hemoglobin count which can further lead to anemia. Doctors always recommend regular consumption of spinach to prevent anemia because it is an excellent source of iron. This mineral is essential for menstruating women, growing children and adolescents. Spinach is a healthy substitute when compared to red meat which is high in fats and calories. Iron is helps you maintain energy levels as it is a part of hemoglobin which carries oxygen to all parts of the body.

Helps the Body Relax:

The zinc and magnesium in Spinach help to keep your body relaxed and stress free which allows you to sleep well at night. This helps the body heal effectively. Magnesium helps in replacing the energy you lose immediately.

Though Spinach Has so Many Health Benefits, here’s a Look at a Few Drawbacks

  • Too much oxalic acid: Spinach has a number of nutrients, however it has a high amount of oxalic acid which can combine with iron and calcium, reducing the body’s capacity to absorb these nutrients. Adding foods that are rich in vitamin C like capsicum, tomatoes, citrus juices can help to increase absorption.

  • Too much fiber: Though it is a rich source of fiber, consuming a lot of spinach can also cause issues like bloating, cramping or gas.

  • For those predisposed to kidney issues, consumption of spinach may increase their risk of developing kidney stones.

  • There are some people who could be allergic to Palak.

Now that you have an idea about the spinach health benefits, it’s prudent to start including this super food in your diet today. The best way to have it is to steam it. Not just health benefits but it works wonders on your skin and hair too. Keep watching this space to read more on those benefits.

Reviewed By:

Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)

Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad