Popeye was the poster boy for spinach. He could swallow down a can of it and be able to knock out Bluto who was twice his size. Popeye was probably pretty healthy too, avoiding the pitfalls of aging and disease that come from a diet lacking in flavonoids and other nutrients found in spinach. Look what spinach can do for you.
Spinach gives a knockout punch to cancer
Scientists in Japan studied some of the glyconutrients from spinach and found they inhibited the destruction of DNA, cancer cell growth, and tumor growth. They then used the glyconutrients to suppress the growth of colon cancer in mice. After a two-week period of ingesting the nutrients, a 56.1% decrease in solid tumor volume occurred without any side effects. And the nutrients reduced the ability of tumors to supply themselves with blood which they need to fuel their growth. Markers of cell proliferation were drastically reduced.
Spinach is good for combating ovarian cancer too. A study from the Harvard Medical School evaluated the association between dietary flavonoid intake and ovarian cancer risk. Of all the flavonoids they tested, apigenin, found in spinach as well as parsley and celery, showed the highest correlation.
In another study, Harvard researchers calculated flavonoid intake in 66,940 women participating in the Nurses Health Study that ended in 2002. Their work revealed that women eating diets rich in the flavonoid kaempferol had a 40% reduction in ovarian cancer risk compared to women who ate the least amount of foods containing the flavonoid. In addition to spinach, foods high in kaempferol include kale, tea, and blueberries.
Prostate cancer responds to a carotenoid found in spinach and other green leafy vegetables. Researchers have found that this carotenoid, named neoxanthin, induces death in prostate cancer cells. Then it converts to a different compound in the intestinal tract. In that state, it lulls prostate cancer cells into a state of rest, preventing their replication.
Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences studied the correlation between breast cancer risk and diets high in beta carotene and vitamin A. They found that eating spinach and carrots more than twice weekly, compared to not eating them at all, was associated with an odds ratio of .56. This means that the risk of having breast cancer was reduced by 44% in the women who consumed spinach and carrots.
Spinach is great brain food
All those flavonoids that help prevent cancer also act as potent antioxidants that slow the effects of aging on the brain. Researchers have found that spinach helps protect the brain from free radical damage and slow age-related decline in brainpower. Feeding spinach to aging laboratory animals significantly improved their learning capacity and their motor skills.
Diets rich in spinach, as well as spirulina and blueberries, have been shown to reduce neurodegenerative changes in aged animals. To study whether these diets have neuroprotective ability when blood supply to the brain is limited, animals were fed one of the three dietary components and studied for the effects. Animals receiving each of the supplements had significant reductions in the volume of infarction in the cerebral cortex and an increase in post-stroke locomotor activity.
The Chicago Health and Aging Project, reported by World’s Healthiest Foods, suggested that eating just three servings of green leafy, yellow, and cruciferous vegetables each day could slow down cognitive decline by 40%. This equates to about five years of younger age, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Their cohort study used 3,718 participants. Mental function was assessed on several tests at the beginning of the study, after three years, and again after six years. Researchers found that consuming an average of 2.8 servings of vegetables each day was what it took to produce the 40% decrease in cognitive decline. Of the different type of vegetables, green leafy ones such as spinach had the strongest association. There was no relationship found between fruit consumption and cognitive decline, perhaps because vegetables contain high amounts of vitamin E. Since vegetables are often eaten with fats, such as olive oil or dressing, the body’s ability to absorb this fat-soluble vitamin is increased.
Spinach improves and protects eyesight
Lutein, another important carotenoid, is a major fighter against eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Spinach is loaded with lutein as are blueberries. Since lutein is fat-soluble like vitamin E, it should be eaten with fat. This makes a spinach salad dressed with olive oil a great idea. Spinach added to quiche or omelets is another winner.
Spinach is a great source of iron, often needed by women. Iron is an integral part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells. Iron is a key part of an enzyme necessary for energy production and metabolism.
Spinach is packed with nutrition
Spinach is one of the best sources of Vitamin K, which functions in retaining calcium in the bone matrix where it leads to bone mineralization. Its other minerals include manganese, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. This combination makes spinach a great fighter of osteoporosis.
Spinach is an excellent source of Vitamin B1, B2, and B6, and a good source of B3. Spinach is also rich in mood-relaxing tryptophan, and cancer-preventing fiber. One cup of boiled spinach contains over 5 grams of protein, and a decent amount of omega 3 fatty acids. And of course a load of Vitamin A.
What else you need to know about spinach
Spinach is among the 12 foods on which the highest levels of pesticides have been most frequently found. If you want to avoid the health risks posed by pesticides, buy only organic spinach.
Spinach contains goitrogens which are naturally occurring substances in some foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Cooking helps to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds, but the risk to those with thyroid problems is not fully known.
Spinach contains purine. Gout and kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of problems related to excessive consumption of purine-containing foods.
Spinach contains measurable amounts of naturally occurring oxalates. When oxalates become overly concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause problems with kidneys and gall bladder.
All this means that spinach should be a part of a diet that is composed of a wide variety of whole foods.
There’s a reason Popeye’s girlfriend was named Olive Oyl
Spinach and olive oil belong together. The fat in the oil releases the nutrients in spinach and makes them more bioavailable, and the two create a terrific taste when used together.
Saute spinach leaves in olive oil, and top with fresh-pressed garlic, lemon juice, and sea salt. Or sauté in olive oil and add pine nuts and dried cranberries.