Spinach : nutrition, amazing 5 medical uses & adverse effects

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See also Greens, Lettuce.

Spinach Nutritional Profile

• Energy value (calories per serving): Low
• Protein: High
• Fat: Low
• Saturated fat: Low
• Cholesterol: None
• Carbohydrates: Moderate
• Fiber: Low
• Sodium: Moderate
• Major vitamin contribution: Vitamin A, folate, vitamin C
• Major mineral contribution: Potassium

How Much Nutrition In The Spinach 

• Spinach has some sugar, a trace of starch; a moderate amount of proteins considered “incomplete” because they are deficient in the essential amino acids tryptophan, methionine, and cystine; very little fat; and no cholesterol.

• It has moderate amounts of cellulose, and the noncarbohydrate food fiber lignin, which is found in roots, seed coverings, stems, and the ribs of leaves. Spinach is a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C.

• It is also rich in iron, but oxalic acid (a naturally-occurring chemical in spinach leaves) binds the iron into an insoluble compound the body cannot absorb.

• Only 2 to 5 percent of the iron in spinach is actually available for absorption.

• One cup of chopped fresh spinach leaves has 0.7 g dietary fiber, 2,813 IU vitamin A (1.2 times the RDA for a woman, 95 percent of the RDA for a man), 58 mcg folate (15 percent of the RDA), 84 mg vitamin C (1.1 times
the RDA for a woman, 93 percent of the RDA for a man), and 0.8 mg iron (4 percent of the RDA for a woman, 10 percent of the RDA for a man).

How to Serve Nutrition In The Spinch 

• Fresh, lightly steamed, to protect its vitamin C.

• With a cream sauce. The sauce, which can be made of low-fat milk, provides the essential amino acids needed to complete the proteins in the spinach.

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Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food

• Low-calcium, low-oxalate diet (for people who form calcium-oxalate kidney stones)
• Low-sodium diet

How To Buying This Food

Look for:

Fresh, crisp dark-green leaves that are free of dirt and debris.


Yellowed leaves. These are aging leaves whose chlorophyll pigments have faded, allowing the carotenoids underneath to show through. Wilted leaves or leaves that are limp and brownish have lost vitamin C.

How To Storing This Food

• Refrigerate loose leaves in a roomy plastic bag. If you bought the spinach already wrapped in plastic, unwrap it and divide it up into smaller packages so the leaves are not crowded or bent, then refrigerate.

How To Preparing This Food

• Wash the spinach thoroughly under cool running water to remove all sand and debris. Discard damaged or yellowed leaves. Trim the ribs and stems but don’t remove them entirely; they are rich in food fiber. If you plan to use the spinach in a salad, refrigerate the damp leaves to make them crisp.

What Happens When You Cook This Food

• Chlorophyll, the pigment that makes green vegetables green, is sensitive to acids. When you heat spinach, the chlorophyll in its leaves will react with acids in the vegetable or in the cooking water, forming pheophytin, which is brown. The pheophytin turns cooked spinach olive-drab or, if the spinach leaves contain a lot of yellow carotenes, bronze.

• To keep cooked spinach green, you have to keep the chlorophyll from reacting with acids. One way to do this is to cook the spinach in a lot of water (which dilutes the acids), but this increases the loss of vitamin C.

• Another alternative is to cook the spinach with the lid off the pot so the volatile acids can float off into the air. Or you can steam the spinach quickly in very little water so that it retains its vitamin C and cooks before there is time for the chlorophyll/acid reaction to occur.

spinach food

• Spinach also contains astringent tannins that react with metals to create dark pigments. If you cook the leaves in an aluminum or iron pot, these pigments will discolor the pots and the spinach. To keep the spinach from darkening, cook in an enameled or glass pot.

How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food

Canning and freezing.

Canned spinach, which is processed at high heat, is olive or bronze rather than green. Like cooked spinach, canned spinach and frozen spinach have only 50 percent of the vitamin C in fresh spinach.

Amazing Medical Uses and/or Benefits

Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, decline of brain function, and other diseases of aging.

Antioxidants prevent free radicals, fragments of molecules, from hooking up with other fragments to produce compounds that damage body cells, thus lowering your risk of
heart disease, cancer, memory loss, and other conditions associated with aging or damaged cells.

• In 1996, researchers at the USDA Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (Boston) showed that, ounce for ounce, strawberries, blueberries, and spinach were the most potentially potent antioxidants of 40 foods tested.

• While blueberries scored number one in the Tufts study, antioxidant ranking of these foods may vary
depending on growing conditions, season, and other variables.

Lower risk of some birth defects.

As many as two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States each year may have cleft palate or a neural tube (spinal cord) defect due to their mother’s not having gotten adequate amounts of folate during pregnancy.

• The current RDA for folate is 180 mcg for a woman and 200 mcg for a man, but the FDA now recommends 400 mcg for a woman who is or may become pregnant. Taking folate supplements before becoming pregnant and continuing through the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of cleft palate; taking folate through the entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects.

Possible lower risk of heart attack.

In the spring of 1998, an analysis of data from the records for more than 80,000 women enrolled in the long running Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard School of Public Health/Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, demonstrated that a diet providing more than 400 mcg folate and 3 mg vitamin B6 daily, either from food or supplements, might reduce a woman’s risk of heart attack by almost 50 percent.

• Although men were not included in the study, the results were assumed to apply to them as well. However, data from a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December 2006 called this theory into question.

• Researchers at Tulane University examined the results of 12 controlled studies in which 16,958 patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease were given either folic acid supplements or placebos (“look-alike” pills with no folic acid) for at least six months.

• The scientists, who found no reduction in the risk of further heart disease or overall death rates among those taking folic acid, concluded that further studies will be required to ascertain whether taking folic acid supplements reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lower risk of stroke.

Various nutrition studies have attested to the power of adequate potassium to keep blood pressure within safe levels. For example, in the 1990s, data from the long-running Harvard School of Public Health/Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of male doctors showed that a diet rich in high potassium foods such as bananas, oranges, and plantain may reduce the risk of stroke.

• In the study, the men who ate the higher number of potassium-rich foods (an average of nine servings a day) had a risk of stroke 38 percent lower than that of men who consumed fewer than four servings a day.

• In 2008, a similar survey at the Queen’s Medical Center (Honolulu) showed a similar protective effect among men and women using diuretic drugs (medicines that increase urination and thus the loss of potassium).

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Adverse Effects Associated with This Food

Nitrate/nitrite poisoning.

Spinach, like beets, celery, eggplant, lettuce, radish, and collard and turnip greens, contains nitrates that convert naturally into nitrites in your stomach and then react with the amino acids in proteins to form nitrosamines.

• Although some nitrosamines are known or suspected carcinogens, this natural chemical conversion presents
no known problems for a healthy adult.

• However, when these nitrate rich vegetables are cooked and left to stand at room temperature, bacterial enzyme action (and perhaps some enzymes in the plants) converts the nitrates to nitrites at a much faster rate than normal.

• These higher-nitrite foods may be hazardous for infants; several cases of “spinach poisoning” been reported among children who ate cooked spinach that had been left standing at room temperature.

How to Food/Drug Interactions

Anticoagulants Spinach is rich in vitamin K, the blood-clotting vitamin produced naturally by bacteria in the intestines.

Consuming large quantities of this food may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin).

• One cup of drained canned spinach contains 988 mcg vitamin K, 16 times the RDA for a healthy adult; one cup of shredded raw spinach contains 144 mcg vitamin K, nearly three times the RDA for a healthy adult.

MAO inhibitors.

Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are drugs used as antidepressants or antihypertensives. They interfere with the action of enzymes that break down tyramine, a chemical produced when long-chain protein molecules are broken into smaller pieces.

• Tyramine is a pressor amine, a chemical that constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. If you eat a food rich in tyramine while you are taking an MAO inhibitor, the pressor amine cannot be eliminated from your body and the result may be a hypertensive crisis (sustained elevated blood pressure).

• There has been at least one report of such an interaction in a patient who consumed New Zealand prickly spinach while using an MAO inhibitor.


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