Spinach or Spinacia oleracea is a green leafy vegetable that is cheap and affordable for almost everyone. It is packed with nutrients and numerous phytochemicals, which act collectively to provide the body with many health benefits. Some of these benefits include improving vision, improving heart health, preventing cancer, preventing neural tube defects, and protecting the skin.
Botanical name: Spinacia oleracea
Spinach is a herbaceous plant that belongs to the botanical family Amaranthaceae. It is a vegetable rich in nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals which accounts for its various medicinal applications. There are 3 basic types of spinach: Savoy, smooth-leaf, and semi-savoy. Savoy has dark green and curly leaves. It is typically sold in bunches around most supermarkets in United States. The semi-savoy is a hybrid variety, and has the same texture as Savoy, while the smooth-leaf variety is the type often grown for canned and frozen spinach, soups, and processed foods.
Spinach can be eaten raw in salads, but most people prefer it when it is lightly cooked, and can be added to soups, stews, and several kinds of dishes around the world.
Spinach also has a long history of use in medicine. The whole plant has carminative and laxative properties. In folk medicine, its leaves are rubbed on burns, stings, or abrasions to speed up healing. Its powdered leaves mixed with lemon juice has been used to clear dark spots and fight acne. Spinach seeds are said to have some cooling and laxative effects. They have been used in fighting jaundice and liver inflammation, and also in relieving difficulties associated with breathing.
- Spinach contains proteins in about 3% of its total content.
- It contains carbohydrates in just about 4% of its total content.
- In terms of dietary fiber, spinach provides 2.2 g per 100 gram serving.
- This wonderful vegetable contains little amount of fats, representing less than 0.5% of its total content.
- However, spinach contains significant amount of vitamins which are responsible for most of its healing power. In just a 100 gram serving, spinach provides about 60% of the daily need for vitamin A, about 34% of the daily need for vitamin C, and about 49% of the daily need for folates. It is very rich in vitamin K, and also provides most B group vitamins in significant amounts.
- Spinach contains reasonable amount of minerals, which are also responsible for some of its medicinal applications. It is significantly rich in iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, and potassium.
- Interestingly, more than 91% of the content of spinach is water.
10 Health benefits and medicinal uses of spinach
- Prevents iron-deficiency anemia
- Improves vision or eyes sight
- Prevents neural tube defects
- Lowers cholesterol
- Fosters growth and provides energy for physical activities
- Boosts immunity
- Improves heart health
- Prevents cancer
- Protects the skin
- Fights inflammation
As already known, iron helps in the production of blood cells and its absence may lead to a type of anemia called “iron deficiency anemia”. Spinach contains about 2.71 mg of iron per 100 g, a proportion that is higher than that found in meat. Even though plant iron is somehow difficult to absorb, the presence of vitamin C in spinach facilitates its absorption. Also, raw spinach is significantly rich in oxalates, which are acids that can inhibit the absorption of iron. However, steaming this wonderful vegetable can reduce the amounts of these oxalates by a significant percentage.
So, the consumption of spinach may be very beneficial for those willing to prevent anemia or those suffering from iron deficiency in their bodies.
The property of spinach in preventing retinal disorders has been proven by a research carried out at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. It showed that people between 55 and 80 years of age who regularly eat spinach reduced their risk of losing visual acuity due to macular degeneration.
Spinach is rich in beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene can prevent itching of the eyes, dryness, and eye ulcers. Lutein and zeaxanthin can block blue light from reaching the concealed structures of the retina, an action that can reduce the risk of oxidative damage, which could in turn cause macular degeneration (1).
Regular consumption of spinach can be highly beneficial for those willing to maintain their eye sight, especially people above 50 years of age. Its consumption can also help keep your eye in good condition if you are the type that spend a lot of time in front of your PC, just like me.
Prevents neural tube defects
Spinach is an ideal green leafy vegetable every pregnant woman should consume. Its richness in folates helps prevent fetal malformations, and its high iron content provides an anti-anemic action to the fetus. In fact, folates have been found beneficial way beyond neural tube defects, as they can also prevent preterm births, anemia, and congenital heart disease (2).
It is important to know that neural tube defects happen in the first month of pregnancy; in most cases, even without knowing you are pregnant. This is why prospective moms are advised to have enough folates in their body prior to conception. Since these disorders occur very early, then you shouldn’t wait until you are pregnant before consuming folate-rich foods.
Several experiments with animals have shown that the proteins in spinach can help stop the absorption of cholesterol and bile acids. Thus, its regular consumption may help in maintaining blood cholesterol level.
Growth and physical activities
The high mineral and vitamin content of spinach makes it highly beneficial for adolescents, especially during times of fast growth. It is also good for those who regularly engage themselves in physical activities. Moreover, spinach is rich in B group vitamins, some of which are necessary in energy-producing pathways of the body (3).
Spinach is significantly rich in vitamin C, with a 100 gram serving providing up to 34% of the daily recommended intake for this vitamin. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can boost immunity through stimulating production of more white blood cells, which protect the body from invading microorganisms.
Supplementation of the human body with vitamin C has been found to improve components of human immune system such as antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities, delayed-type hypersensitivity, and lymphocyte proliferation (4).
In addition to vitamin C, spinach is also rich in vitamin A, which has also been found to boost immunity through inhibiting apoptosis, increasing lymphocyte proliferation, and restoring functions of mucosal surfaces (5).
Improves heart health
The potassium content of spinach can help lower heart rate and blood pressure. By reducing the pressure and relaxing the tension on our blood vessels, spinach significantly cuts the risk of cardiovascular disorders. Moreover, this wonderful green leafy vegetable is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce blood pressure, decrease risk of arrhythmias (can lead to sudden cardiac death), decrease risk of thrombosis, lower triglyceride level, and improve endothelial function (6).
Walnut is another good source of these fatty acids.
There are numerous studies that have proven the anti-cancer effects of spinach. Many components of spinach such as vitamin A, chlorophyllin, folates, and tocopherols act through different pathways and mechanisms to fight cancerous cells in the body.
A research carried out in 2005, found green vegetables like spinach to reduce the risk for colon cancer (7).
Protects the skin
The importance of vitamin A from spinach cannot be over emphasized. This great vitamin is important in maintaining a healthy skin and hair. Moreover, the vitamin C from this vegetable is a potent antioxidant that can prevent skin aging. This is in addition to its involvement in the production of collagen, which gives our skin strength and elasticity (8).
Spinach possesses some great anti-inflammatory properties (9). Some have even argued that spinach is among the most powerful vegetables on earth when it comes to relieving inflammation in all parts of the body. By fighting inflammation, this wonderful vegetable not only protects the heart, but may relieve conditions such as arthritis and gout, which affects several thousands of people all over the world.
Preparation and use
Spinach can be prepared and used in basically three ways. It can be eaten raw, especially in salads. This way all its nutrients are conserved. Cooking spinach is the best method of serving, preferably by steaming. Like this, there is virtually any loss of nutrients. Lastly, some people prefer its consumption in juice form. Its juice can be prepared by blending fresh spinach to a desirable quantity.