Nutritional Facts and Health
Benefits of Spinach

Spinach is believed to be of Persian origin and introduced into Europe in the 15th
century. Since the early 19th century, spinach has been a versatile and commonly
used vegetable in the United States. Spinach is so popular because of its taste,
nutritional value and potential health benefits. It contains low calories, potassium,
sodium, protein, iron, calcium, fibers, vitamins A and C.


Spinach leaves, containing several active components, including flavonoids, exhibit
antioxidative, antiproliferative, and antiinflammatory properties in biological
systems. Spinach extracts have been demonstrated to exert numerous beneficial
effects, such as chemo- and central nervous system protection and anticancer and
anti-aging functions.

Extracts of spinach leaves show high anti-oxidative activities and are well tolerated
in animal studies. No side effects are reported in these animal studies. [1]

Spinach may have benefits of cutting cancer risks.

Japanese researchers proposed to use spinach extracts as anticancer agent. They
found that spinach contained a large amount of sulfoquinovosyl diacylglycerol and
this compound is a potent inhibitor for certain human cancer cell proliferations. Of
the six subspecies of spinach (Spinacia oleracea) tested, "Anna" had the largest
amount of sulfoquinovosyl diacylglycerol, strongest inhibitory activity toward DNA
polymerase and greatest effect on human cancer cell proliferation. Other plants
containing this compound include parsley, green onion, chive, sweet pepper, green
tea, carrot and garlic. [2]

Longnecker MP et al from National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
observed the association between intake of fruits, vegetables (such as carrots,
spinach), vitamin A and lower risk of breast cancer in some studies. [3]

Spinach may have benefits in neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers from United States Department of Agriculture reported
six-month-supplementation of spinach (6.4 g/kg DEA) was linked to significant
retardation of age-effects on neurodegenerative diseases in a study of 344 rats.

Researchers from National Institute on Drug Abuse have shown that treatment
with diets enriched with blueberry, spinach, or spirulina reduced neurodegenerative
changes in aged animals. They further demonstrated that chronic treatment with
blueberry, spinach, or spirulina reduces ischemia/reperfusion-induced apoptosis
and cerebral infarction in a study of Sprague-Dawley rats. [5]

Researchers from University of South Florida reported 6 weeks of a
spinach-enriched diet ameliorated deficits in cerebellar-dependent delay classical
eyeblink learning and reduced the proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor
alpha (TNFalpha) and TNFbeta in the cerebelli of eyeblink-trained animals. Old
animals on the spinach-enriched lab chow diet learned delay eyeblink conditioning
significantly faster than old animals on the regular diet. [6]

Aging is associated with a decline in motor coordination and the ability to learn new
motor learning skills. This loss of function is correlated with a decline in cerebellar
beta-adrenergic receptor function.

Researchers from University of Colorado Health Sciences Center examined the role
of oxidative stress on this system by exposing young rats to normobaric
hyperoxia. This exogenous oxidative insult resulted in a decline in cerebellar
beta-adrenergic receptor function that resembleed what was observed in normal
aged rats. This effect of hyperoxia was blocked by antioxidants. They also
examined the effects of nutritional supplementation of aged rats with diets high in
antioxidant capacity. They concluded that foods such as blueberries and spinach
can prevent and/or reverse age-related declines in cerebellar noradrenergic
receptor function. [7]

Bickford PC et al, Boston, explained that reactive oxygen species are involved in
the decline in function associated with aging. Spinach diets or supplements
containing antioxidants reverse age-induced declines in beta-adrenergic receptor
function in cerebellar Purkinje neurons; benefit age-related deficits in motor
learning and memory. In addition, motor learning is important for adaptation to
changes in the environment and is thus critical for rehabilitation following stroke,
spinal cord injury, and the onset of some neurodegenerative diseases. [8]

In sum, increasing dietary intake of fruits and vegetables (such as spinach) high in
antioxidant activity may be an important component of a healthy living strategy
designed to maximize neuronal and cognitive functioning into old age. [9]

Spinach may have benefits of heart protection.

We know that doxorubicin produces clinically restorative responses in numerous
human cancers, but its cardiotoxicity has limited its usefulness. Israeli researchers
evaluated the prophylactic effect of spinach natural antioxidant on doxorubicin
-induced cardiotoxicity and oxidative stress in female Balb/c mice. They found that
pretreatment with spinach natural antioxidant before doxorubicin administration
decreased catalase and increased superoxide dismutase activities compared to the
doxorubicin group. [10]

Eating Spinach

Eating and preparing spinach is simple and easy, since it tastes good raw or
cooked. Spinach can be found fresh, frozen, or canned; it can be easily
incorporated into many dishes. Its versatility makes it easy to serve raw in salads
or sandwiches or as a complement to soups, meat, fish, or other vegetable dishes.

At the supermarket, you can find spinach packaged fresh, canned, or frozen. Fresh
spinach is usually found loose or bagged. For the best quality, select leaves that
are green and crisp, with a nice fresh fragrance. Avoid leaves that are limp,
damaged, or spotted. If you are in a rush, grab a bag of fresh, pre-washed
spinach. The ready-to-eat packaging makes it easy to be on the go and still stay
Fresh spinach should be dried and packed loosely in a cellophane or plastic bag and
stored in the refrigerator crisper. If stored properly, it should last 3 or 4 days.

Spinach grows in sandy soil, so wash it thoroughly to get rid of the grainy, sandy
particles. Make sure to tear off the stem. Separate the leaves, and place them in a
large bowl of water. Gently wash leaves, and let the sand drift to the bottom of the
bowl. Remove leaves from the water, and repeat the process with fresh water until
the leaves are clean.
If spinach is to be eaten raw, dry it completely by using a salad spinner or by
blotting it with paper towels. Slightly damp spinach can be steamed or microwaved
without adding any additional water.

Blanching Drop leaves into a large pot of boiling water. Once the leaves slightly
wilt, drain and squeeze out excess moisture. This method is used to quick-cook
spinach or to prepare it for sautéing, braising, or stuffing, and usually takes 2 to
5 minutes.

Microwaving This method can be used instead of blanching. Place washed, slightly
wet spinach in a microwavable dish, loosely cover, and cook until tender (4 to 7
minutes for ½ pound of spinach).

Sautéing Blanched spinach can be sautéed quickly with a quick spray of oil. If
cooked in a non-stick pan, only a spray is needed for several cups of chopped
spinach. Try adding some garlic for flavor.

Steaming If you plan to steam the spinach, do not dry leaves after washing.
Steamed spinach makes a great side dish and usually takes only 5 to 10 minutes.

Tips to improve iron and calcium absorption from spinach
Preparation Iron and calcium in plant foods are not highly absorbed by the body.
Spinach contains a chemical called oxalic acid, which binds with iron and calcium and
reduces the absorption of these minerals. To improve iron absorption, spinach
should be eaten with vitamin C-rich foods such as orange juice, tomatoes, or
citrus fruit.

REFERENCE: [1] Lomnitski L, et al, Composition, efficacy, and safety of spinach Nutr Cancer.
2003;46(2):222-31.extracts. [2] Kuriyama I, et al, Inhibitory effects of glycolipids fraction from spinach
on mammalian DNA polymerase activity and human cancer cell proliferation. J Nutr Biochem. 2005
Oct;16(10):594-601. [3] Longnecker MP, et al, Intake of carrots, spinach, and supplements containing
vitamin A in relation to risk of breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1997 Nov;6(11):887-92.
[4] Joseph JA, et al, Long-term dietary strawberry, spinach, or vitamin E supplementation retards the
onset of age-related neuronal signal-transduction and cognitive behavioral deficits. J Neurosci. 1998 Oct
1;18(19):8047-55. [5] Wang Y, et al, Dietary supplementation with blueberries, spinach, or spirulina
reduces ischemic brain damage. Exp Neurol. 2005 May;193(1):75-84. [6] Cartford MC, et al,
Eighteen-month-old Fischer 344 rats fed a spinach-enriched diet show improved delay classical eyeblink
conditioning and reduced expression of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha ) and TNFbeta in the
cerebellum. J Neurosci. 2002 Jul 15;22(14):5813-6. [7] Bickford PC, et al, Effects of aging on cerebellar
noradrenergic function and motor learning: nutritional interventions. Mech Ageing Dev. 1999
Nov;111(2-3):141-54. [8] Bickford PC, et al, Antioxidant-rich diets improve cerebellar physiology and
motor learning in aged rats. Brain Res. 2000 Jun 2;866(1-2):211-7. [9] Galli RL, et al, Fruit
polyphenolics and brain aging: nutritional interventions targeting age-related neuronal and behavioral
deficits. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Apr;959:128-32. [10] Breitbart E, Effects of water-soluble antioxidant
from spinach, NAO, on doxorubicin-induced heart injury. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2001 Jul;20(7):337-45.
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