Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

What’s So Great About Spinach?

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1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stem...

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stems. See Image:spinach_leaves_stems.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Popeye know something? Whose idea was it that this cartoon character pulls out his can of spinach before attempting feats of strength? In every Popeye the sailor cartoon (c.1930), he invariably pulls a can of spinach from his shirt, and eats the entire contents. Upon swallowing the spinach, he displays superhuman powers and he is easily able to save the day from threatening villains.

Spinach originated in Nepal in 647 but spread around the world; by the eleventh century it had reached Europe via North Africa. Often “Florentine” is described when referring to a spinach dish which is attributed to Catherine de” Medici in Florence Italy. Catherine married a French King Henry II  where she taught cooks to prepare spinach, her favorite food.

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. One serving (1 cup) contains 1111 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin K and 377 percent of vitamin A. It is also rich in vitamins B6, C, and E, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, calcium, thiamine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients appear in greater concentrations in cooked and frozen spinach. A preferred cooking method is to sauté it in olive oil and pine nuts for a short time to preserve the vitamin and mineral content.

One cup serving of cooked spinach  contains only about 41 calories, 5.4 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of total fat, and 4.5 grams of fiber.

Popeye may not have known that spinach contains a compound called neoxanthin reported to help prostate cancer cells self- destruct. It contains other cancer fighters called flavonoids that in one study slowed down cell division of stomach cancer cells in mice. Another study reported that women  who ate more spinach, the less incidence of breast cancer.

One problem: The Environmental Working Group listed spinach as one of the top twelve foods most contaminated with pesticides. If this is true, eating the organic varieties may be prudent.





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