Latin name: Spinacia oleracea
What is Spinach?
The leafy green plant made popular by Popeye, spinach delivers a bounty of beneficial vitamins and nutrients. Spinach is related to chard and beet greens, and shares a similar taste profile. Spinach is believed to have originated in ancient Persia, where it is still appreciated today in Iranian cuisine. From Persia, spinach traveled to China in the sixth century and Spain in twelfth century, finally becoming popular in Europe in the sixteenth century, where it found favor with Catherine de Medici of Florence, who insisted on having spinach at every meal. To this day, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as “a la Florentine.”
What are the health benefits of Spinach?
Spinach has a high nutritional value and is extremely rich in antioxidants, which are preserved when eaten fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled. Spinach is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, and is especially high in lutein.
Along with other green leafy vegetables, spinach is a rich source of iron, often having more iron than a serving of meat. Unfortunately, the type of plant iron found in spinach is not as readily absorbable to humans as blood iron found in meat. It is thought to be more absorbable when paired with a vitamin C food, so consider squeezing a little lemon on the spinach.
Researchers have identified up to 13 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as antioxidants and as anti-cancer agents. Spinach supports vision health through its antioxidant lutein and zeaxanthin, combats prostate cancer through a potent carotenoid, and defends against ovarian cancer through a particular flavonoid, as well as protecting against heart disease, colon cancer, arthritis, and the cognitive decline that comes with old age. Spinach’s high level of calcium helps build bones, but is not as readily absorbed due to zinc and oxalate content.
Are there any precautions for Spinach?
Be aware that spinach contains high amounts of oxalic acid, which has been implicated in gout and kidney stone formation.
Where can I find Spinach?
Spinach can be found in most grocery stores and outdoor markets in season. Available all year, spinach is at its best from March to May and September to October.
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