Monday, August 23, 2010

Vegetable of the Week: Spinach

Sources: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov, http://healthmad.com

Spinach is believed to be of Persian origin and introduced into Europe in the 15th century (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). Eating and preparing spinach is simple and easy, since it tastes good raw or cooked. In addition to being tasty, spinach’s popularity stems from its high nutritional value. Not only is spinach low in calories, it is also a good source of essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C.

Selection
Fresh spinach is usually found loose or bagged. For the best quality, select leaves that are green and crisp, with a nice fresh fragrance. Avoid leaves that are limp, damaged, or spotted. If you are in a rush, grab a bag of fresh, pre-washed spinach. The ready-to-eat packaging makes it easy to be on the go and still stay healthy.

Storage
Fresh spinach should be dried and packed loosely in a cellophane or plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator crisper. If stored properly, it should last 3 or 4 days.

Preparation
Spinach grows in sandy soil, so wash it thoroughly to get rid of the grainy, sandy particles. Make sure to tear off the stem. Separate the leaves, and place them in a large bowl of water. Gently wash leaves, and let the sand drift to the bottom of the bowl. Remove leaves from the water, and repeat the process with fresh water until the leaves are clean.

Health benefits of Spinach
1> Sight: Spinach contains a natural pigment known as lutein, and lutein has been studied and shown to have properties that help to prevent cataracts. Lutein also helps to prevent weakness in the eye muscles caused by aging.
2> Cancer: Spinach is also loaded with natural antioxidants called flavenoids. As an antioxidant, flavenoids help the body fight against cell damage from within. Which also helps the fight against cancer, reducing a person’s chances of contacting various forms of cancer, especially prostate cancer.
3> Energy: Perhaps this is where Popeye gets his powers from spinach. Iron is high in the leafy plant, and iron helps to carry blood throughout the body by helping to build red blood cells. More oxygen throughout the body and stronger red blood cells means more energy and less fatigue.
4> Cholesterol: Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E all help to prevent or lessen the build up of that cholesterol within the arteries - and Spinach contains its fair share of all those vitamins!
5> Bone strength: Vitamin K is also common within spinach, and Vitamin K helps the bones to retain higher levels of calcium. And that calcium keeps the bones strong and helps to prevent osteoporosis.
6> Blood pressure: Sodium raises your blood pressure. Spinach contains plenty of potassium, and potassium helps to lessen the effects of sodium and helps to keep blood pressure lower.
7> Diabetes: Eating spinach regularly is known to regulate blood sugar levels, it’s all the magnesium in spinach that helps this vegetable to regulate blood sugar levels.
8> Weight loss: Spinach doesn’t have a lot of calories, about 40 calories per cup of uncooked spinach. That combined with the fact spinach has twice as much fiber as most other lettuces means spinach is an excellent food for losing weight. The low calories means you can eat until you’re more than full. The extra fiber means your body isn’t going to hang onto much of that spinach for very long.
9> Aging: Considering all the anti-oxidant properties, vitamins, minerals, lutein and everything else found in spinach, this eatable green is known to strengthen the skin and thus to help with wrinkles and such with bring about the more aged look.
10> Stronger teeth: Remember all that Vitamin K from spinach that strengthens the bones? Well, your teeth are bones. Which means if you want stronger teeth, eating spinach is a bright idea.

Special Note: Iron and calcium in plant foods are not highly absorbed by the body. Spinach contains a chemical called oxalic acid, which binds with iron and calcium and reduces the absorption of these minerals. To improve iron absorption, spinach should be eaten with vitamin C-rich foods such as orange juice, tomatoes, or citrus fruit.

The last word: Spinach isn’t for everyone. In fact, if you suffer from gallbladder or kidney troubles, you shouldn’t be eating spinach. Spinach contains an oxalic acid which is not good for those who suffer from problems with kidneys and gallbladders. Talk with your doctor about your diet.

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