Central and Western Asia
Believed to have originated in ancient Persia, the spinach we see on our table today is a far cry from the wild edible green it was bred from. With tiny dark green leaves, Spinicia tetrandra is still collected as food in Asia Minor.
Cemented in our collective psyche by “Popeye the Sailor man”, spinach might not give you superhuman strength, but there is research to show that certain compounds in this leafy vegetable do indeed boost muscle strength!
Spinach is a rich source of beta-carotene (vitamin A) and the antioxidant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin. Together, these compounds raise the optical density of the macular pigment. Macular pigment gives protection against macular degeneration and age-related macular degeneration.
In a 1994 study published in the "Journal of American Medical Association", Dr Johanna M. Seddon and associates at Harvard University found that just 6mg per day of lutein led to a 43% lower risk for macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help to absorb blue light and act as strong antioxidants for the eyes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been found to be promising nutrients in the prevention of cataracts. Several studies support eating foods high in these two compounds can significantly reduce the risk of cataracts. A 2014 study published in “Nutrients” concluded that high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin in the blood might be associated with a reduced risk of cataracts.
Spinach is rich in nitrates – compounds which can naturally enhance nitric oxide status, endothelial function and lower blood pressure. Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and improves circulation.
A 2015 study found that dietary nitrates can improve cardiovascular health by decreasing arterial stiffness and central blood pressure. They concluded that consuming unconcentrated dietary nitrates found naturally in spinach is an effect way to maintain cardiovascular health.
Spinach is also high in potassium, the third most abundant mineral in the human body, potassium is a powerful vasodilator. It helps to relieve tension in blood vessels and balances sodium levels which in turn helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
High in a wealth of immune boosting vitamins and antioxidant compounds, a daily serving of spinach might well keep the doctor away!
Just one serving of fresh spinach delivers over 50 percent of vitamin A. This fat soluble vitamin enhances the body’s immunity against infection by increasing lymphatic responses against disease forming antigens. It keeps the mucous membranes moist that line the mouth, respiratory passage and urinary tract and enhances the activity of white blood cells.
Spinach is also high in vitamin C – a vitamin so crucial to the immune system that white blood cells contain 20 times the amount of vitamin C than any other cells and require constant replenishment. White blood cells, also called leukocytes or leucocytes, are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders.
Containing a wealth of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, spinach aids the immune system by keeping persistent low-level inflammation in check – one of the major causes of disease. Flavonoids such as spinacetin, patuletin and jaceidin, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
The American Diabetes Association recommends spinach as a superfood for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. It is rich in protective plant steroids (phytoecdysteroids) which have been shown to increase glucose metabolism and keep blood sugar levels stable. This minimises the need for insulin which is beneficial for patients with pre-diabetes, diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Spinach is high in soluble dietary fibre (does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels), non-starchy, has a low GI (glycaemic index) and is low in carbohydrates and calories.
1 - 3 tbsp daily. Can be added to smoothies, soups and stews.
The first written reference to spinach was in 647 AD when it was taken from Nepal to China. It was referred to as the “Persian Green” and went on to be introduced into Europe by the African Moors. When it arrived in England it was known as the “Spanish Vegetable”.
Italian born French queen Catherine de Medici had a particular fondness for spinach. When she left her home in Florence to marry into the French royal family, she brought along her cooks to prepare her favourite spinach dishes. This is why dishes that are served on a bed of spinach are known as “a la Florentine” – named in her honour.