Spinach (Spinacia oleraceae) is a dark green leafy vegetable belonging to the Amaranthaceae family. Native to Central and Southwestern Asia, spinach plant grows up to a height of about 1 foot. It has a slightly bitter taste but is considered as one of the functional foods due to its nutritional, antioxidants and anti-cancer constituents. Its tender, crispy, dark green leaves are used as ingredients in a variety of cuisines. Though it is available all the year round, fresh greens are best after the winter season from March through May.
This green vegetable comes into the category of healthiest plant based foods. Besides being rich in iron, it is one of the principal resources of pigments, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Thus, it is a promising food with an array of health benefits.
Types of Spinach:
Generally two varieties of spinach are cultivated for their edible leaves, savoy type with dark green crinkle leaves and flat leaf type with smooth surfaced leaves. Modern varieties of spinach have been introduced which grow more rapidly and do not bolt easily to warm conditions. The older varieties have narrower leaves and a stronger and bitter taste than the newer ones. There are generally three different types of spinach.
- Savoy: This variety has dark green crinkly (wrinkly) and curly leaves. It is widely sold in supermarkets in the United States. Savoy also has several varieties such as “Bloomsdale” which is resistant to bolting, “Merlo nero”-a variety grown in Italy and “Viroflay”- a very large spinach with great yields.
- Flat or Smooth-leaf Spinach: This variety has broad, smooth leaves which are quite easy to clean. It is widely sold in the form of canned and frozen spinach and used in soups, baby foods and processed foods.
- Semi-savoy: This is basically a hybrid variety with slightly crinkled leaves. It is similar to savoy in texture but it can be cleaned easily. It is used for both fresh market and processing. “Five star” is the most commonly grown variety that is resistant to running up to seed.
Spinach: Health Benefits
We all have seen Popeye eating it and building big muscles. This is, indeed, true because spinach is a super food promising a range of benefits of spinach for health given below.
1. Beneficial for Weight Loss:
Spinach leaves help in weight reduction as it is low in calories and fat. It is very nutritious and has a good quality of fat soluble dietary fibre. This fibre aids in digestion, prevents constipation, maintains low blood sugar and curbs overeating. Thus, this leafy vegetable is often recommended to dieters because in dieting, it is important to avoid repetitive eating.
Spinach is rich in flavonoids- a phytonutrient with anti-cancer properties. Thus, it has been found to be effective in slowing down cell division in human stomach and skin cancer cells. Moreover, spinach has proven to be effective in providing protection against the occurrence of aggressive prostate cancer.
3. Eye Health:
Spinach contains antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in plentiful which protect the eye from cataracts and age related macular degeneration (ARMD). Zeaxanthin is an important dietary carotenoid which is absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes, providing light filtering functions. Spinach also contains vitamin A which is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and essential for normal eyesight.
4. Healthy Bones:
Spinach is rich in vitamin K which is vital for maintaining bone health. A cup of boiled spinach provides around 1000% of the RDA of vitamin K which lowers and controls the over activation of osteoclasts. These are the cells that aid in breaking down the bone structure over a short period of time. Vitamin K also promotes the synthesis of osteocalcin, the protein that is essential for maintaining the strength and density of bones. Spinach is a good alternative to dairy products as it gives proper substitute to calcium, thus preventing the occurrence of osteoporosis. It is an important protein diet for vegans as it helps in building the muscle tissues as well as supporting the collagen growth.
5. Lowers Hypertension:
Hypertension or high blood pressure is responsible for causing kidney disease, heart ailments and stroke. Consuming spinach is beneficial in lowering hypertension as some of its constituents help to reduce stress and anxiety. The nutrients play a critical role in keeping the balance of Na- K pump by lowering the K (potassium) in your body. Vitamin C also plays an important role in lowering hypertension.
6. Relaxes the Body:
Spinach keeps the body relaxed and completely stress free. It contains tremendous amounts of zinc and magnesium which enable you to sleep better at night, thus making way for more effective healing. Magnesium helps in replenishing your lost energy within seconds. A good quality sleep rests your tired eyes, thus relaxing your body as a whole.
7. Gastrointestinal Health:
Consuming more of spinach promotes gastrointestinal health. The beta-carotene and vitamin C present in it protect the cells of the body’s colon from the harmful effects of free radicals. Besides, folate prevents DNA damage and mutations in colon cells.
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