Spinach (botanical name Spinacia Oleracea) is a small annually growing edible plant, having chubby leaves, that belongs to the Amaranthaceae family and is native to central and the south-eastern Asian regions. Spinach is a cool season yield and it has the aptitude to mature rapidly. In fact, two dissimilar varieties of plants called spinach exist, but neither of them is genuine. These two spinach plants comprise the New Zealand spinach and the Mountain spinach, which is also known as the garden orach. Occasionally, the New Zealand spinach is also referred to as the ice plant, which is a diminutive annual plant belonging to the carpetweed family. Generally, the New Zealand herb or ice plant is a Japanese and Australasian herb that is employed in the form of an alternate for the genuine spinach. In the United States, Mountain spinach forms a section of the flora that is usually denoted as greasewood. In addition, this species is occasionally also known as the saltbush.
Precisely speaking, spinach is indigenous to the central Asian nation Iran as well as its neighbouring regions. However, growth and cultivation of this plant remained confined to this region and only spread to the other regions of the world with the commencement of the Christian era. The earliest documentation regarding spinach is found in Chinese writings that say that this plant was introduced into China for the first time from the neighbouring Himalayan state Nepal some time during 647 A.D. By the time it was 1100 A.D., spinach spread far and wide and even reached Spain, where the plant was carried by the North African Moors. In fact, spinach was introduced in North Africa by people in primeval Arabia and Syria. People in the 13th century Germany were familiar with the bristly seeded variety of this plant and it was extensively cultivated in the gardens of European monasteries during the 14th century A.D. Way back in 1390, the cookbook for Richard III’s court contained recipes for ‘spynoches’. An account of the smooth-seeded spinach variety was described much later in 1552. It is believed that spinach was carried to the United States during the initial phase of the colonization of the country by European settlers. However, the plant was cultivated commercially only sometime around 1806, while the curly-leaved spinach variety was introduced for the first time in 1828.
Health benefits of spinach
Spinach is one plant that is packed with numerous nutrients that are essential for good health. For instance, this plant is a wonderful resource of a number of vitamins, including vitamin A and vitamin C, and also encloses roughly 40 per cent potassium and consuming spinach actually strands an alkaline ash within the body. It has been established that consuming spinach is excellent for the health of the urinary, lymphatic as well as the digestive systems.
Spinach possesses a purgative outcome and is also an excellent food to be included in diets planned for weight loss. This plant encloses a high level of calcium, in addition to oxalic acid. In fact, oxalic acid blends excellently with calcium to produce a compound which is difficult for the body to assimilate. It is this particular reason when the calcium enclosed in spinach is believed to be occupied in the form of a nutrient. Nevertheless, this is of trivial importance vis-à-vis any common diet. However, the oxalic acid issue may perhaps turn out to be significant only provided an individual heavily depended on spinach for his or her calcium supply. Only consumption of a large amount of spinach juice may cause such an effect, but it may again result in troubling consequences in the joints.
In addition to enclosing vitamins, potassium, calcium, iron and oxalic acid, spinach also forms an excellent dietary supply of vitamin K – unlike other vitamins, vitamin K is not fat soluble and the body is unable to preserve it in substantial quantities and, therefore, it needs to be replenished regularly. It is important to note that vitamin K is necessary for producing as many as six proteins that are essential for forming appropriate blood clots. In fact, blood will not coagulate properly on its own without the help of these proteins. In addition, it is assumed that vitamin K also performs a vital function in maintaining as well as promoting the vascular health. It has been found that people having poor intensity of vitamin K in their body, face an enhanced hazard of hip fracture, especially in women, and also often suffer from inferior bone density. Consuming only one cup (250 ml) of fresh spinach leaves once daily provides an individual with as much as 190 per cent of their every day requisites of vitamin K.
Besides maintaining as well as promoting the vascular health, it has also been established that consumption of spinach is good for the health of the heart. It encloses high amounts of carotenoids as well as additional nutrients that facilitate in shielding the walls of the arteries from any kind of harm. In effect, spinach, mustard greens, collards, kale, beet, dandelion greens and turnips are among the greens that contain the maximum amounts of carotenoids.
Spinach is also a wonderful reserve of vitamin C and beta-carotene. All the nutrients present in spinach collaborate to put off oxidized cholesterol from accumulating in the walls of the blood vessels. A cup (250 ml) of fresh spinach leaves has the aptitude to supply an individual with a considerable amount of his or her every day requisites of vitamin A as well as about two per cent of the vitamin C requirements for adult females, and roughly nine per cent of RDA for adult males.
Among the other health benefits offered by spinach, this plant is also a wonderful reserve of folates that have a vital role in thwarting cardiovascular ailments, as it labors to guide a hazardous amino acid homocysteine to be removed from our body. Most of us are aware that high levels of homocysteine are related to augmented hazards of strokes as well as heart attacks. In addition, folate also forms a vital nutrient in repairing the DNA. Folate is actually a key B vitamin, which performs a significant function in preventing various forms of cancer. On the other hand, spinach also encloses sufficient amounts of the vital minerals potassium and magnesium, which facilitate in promoting the cardiovascular health. This is primarily owing to the fact that both these minerals act in lowering the blood pressure levels, in addition to lessen the hazards of stroke.
In studies pertaining to epidemiology (pathogens causing diseases in large populations), it has been detected that consuming higher amounts of spinach is directly proportional to the lessening of the risks related to nearly all forms of cancer. Spinach also encloses several dissimilar flavonoid compounds that work to put off the different phases of cancerous growth. For instance, a number of researchers consider that glutathione and alpha lipoic acid are the two most vital antioxidants that are most significant within the body. In general, such nutrients, which are basically life-preserving, and our body is itself capable of manufacturing. However, the ability of our body to produce these nutrients declines as we grow older. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning here that spinach encloses an expedient supply of both these nutrients.
The antioxidant glutathione is basically present in all the cells, wherein its vitally imperative role is saving the DNA from any type of harm. In addition, this antioxidant also helps in mending the harmed DNA, perking up the immune system, encouraging vigorous replication of cells, lessening incessant inflammation as well as detoxifying contaminants. On the other hand, alpha lipoic acid facilitates in improving the levels of glutathione and, at the same time, it assists in stabilizing the blood sugar levels. Findings of several researches have hinted that spinach also plays a significant part in putting off development of heart attacks, cancers and cataracts. Alpha lipoic acid is unique because it is soluble in water as well as fat. In addition, it has the capability to work in the fatty region of the cell membranes as well as the watery parts of the cells, thereby lessening the oxidative damage to the cells.
Spinach contains another potent antioxidant called lutein, which functions to boost the immune system and, thereby, defend against the development of various types of cancers. In fact, greens have been found to be especially useful in putting off the development of stomach cancer.
Spinach may prove to be especially useful for people who were chain smokers earlier. A number of researches have discovered that individuals consuming one serving of spinach, turnip green, kale, romaine lettuce or bok choy face a much diminished risk of developing lung cancer even if they have been chain smokers earlier.
According to a report published in the Journal of Nutrition, spinach encloses a particular carotenoid which helps in inciting prostate cancers to obliterate them. When this particular carotenoid is altered by the intestines, it helps to thwart prostate cancer from replicating. In addition, spinach also encloses another potent antioxidant called kaempferol that puts off the development of cancer cells. Women who intake this flavonoid in large amounts usually face a diminished risk of developing ovarian cancer. This is primarily owing to the fact that kaempferol possesses the aptitude to lessen the propagation of the cancer cells. Apart from spinach, kaempferol is also present in onions, citrus fruits, non-herbal tea, red wine, apples, grapes, the herb St. John’s wort, curly kale, blueberries, broccoli as well as leeks.
If you are still not convinced about the health benefits of consuming spinach and need more impetus, it is advisable that you eat a small number of servings of this green leafy plant for a few days. The deep green leaves of spinach will save the functioning of your brain from untimely aging as well as negative consequences of slow old age on the mental aptitudes of an individual. People who consume green vegetables in adequate amounts, particularly the green leafy varieties, usually feel a decline in the functioning loss of the brain. Nevertheless, till date there is no such relationship as far as consumption of fruits is concerned. In fact, a generally practiced method is that the darker the color of the leaves is, the more the health benefits offered by them. And this means spinach is the best green leafy vegetable for this purpose.
How to select, store and prepare spinach
Selecting the right type of spinach that possesses optimum nutrients and offers maximum health benefits is not a difficult task. It is advisable that you opt for spinach whose fleshy leaves are effervescent and dark green without any sign of becoming yellow or decaying. The leaves you select ought to appear fresh as well as soft and should never be damaged or sagging. Keep away from the spinach whose leaves possess a slippery covering since this is a sign of the plant beginning to decay.
You should never wash spinach prior to storing the vegetable for later use since exposing the leaves of this plant only facilitates the decaying process. The best way to store spinach is to put it in plastic bags and cover the bags firmly around the vegetable, forcing out the maximum amount of air from the bag. Subsequently, put the plastic storage bags in a refrigerator and they will remain fresh for a maximum period of about five days.
It may be worth mentioning here that you should stay away from storing cooked spinach as it will not remain in a good condition.
Prior to cooking, it is important to wash the spinach leaves meticulously as they have a propensity to collect soil, sand and sometimes even pesticides. Prior to washing the leaves of this vegetable, cut down the roots and remove the leaves. Put the spinach in a big bowl containing lukewarm water and rustle the leaves gently using your hands since this will enable you to remove the dirt and pollutants from the leaves. Subsequently, take out the leaves from the water, empty the bowl and fill it again with clean water and replicate the process till all the dirt in the leaves is removed. In effect, you need to repeat the process at least thrice to get rid of all the dirt from the vegetable. However, it is important to note that you should never allow spinach to soak in water because the water-soluble nourishments in the plant will percolate into the water.
However, if you are buying spinach that is marketed in bags, you should know that they are washed from before and just require to be doused. Provided you are planning to consume spinach raw by using it in salads, you need to dry the leaves making use of a salad spinner or, alternately by vibrating it in a colander.
It may be noted that spinach is among the only three vegetables that need to be simmered with a view to release the acids contained by it and also let them to seep into the boiling water. This process actually draws a sweeter flavour from the vegetable. When the vegetable has been boiled completely, you should discard the water. Never use this water in the form of a stock or drink it, as it mostly contains acids.
To cook spinach, make use of a big pot (of three quart size) and plenty of water and boil it. Put the spinach in the boiling water and keep boiling the vegetable for about one minute. In case you are using just one pound or even lesser amount of spinach, start the timing immediately when you put the spinach in the pot. On the other hand, if you are cooking a larger amount of spinach, first bring the water to boil and then start the timing of one minute. It is important to note that you should never cover the pot while cooking spinach. When you allow the pot to be uncovered, it will help to leave go of more acids along with the rising steam. Findings of several studies have demonstrated that when you boil spinach in large quantities of water, it helps in lessening the amount of oxalic acid contained by spinach to the extent of about 50 per cent.
When the cooking is complete, take the spinach out from the pot and squeeze it using a fork to get rid of the remaining liquid. Next, put the spinach in a serving bowl and toss it with dressing. You may also top the cooked spinach using your preferred discretionary ingredients.