We’re all familiar with the popular cartoon character from the sixties, Popeye, and his source of strength, spinach. His famous words resonate in my head, “I’m strong to the finach (finish) cause I eats me spinach.” Was he right? Does eating spinach make a difference in our lives and longevity keeping us strong to the finish? My post today will consider the merits to his claim.
Spinach, like blueberries, is a nutrient-dense food, which is low in calories, glycemic index and glycemic load, yet loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. A cup of spinach (30 grams) contains only 7 calories. This green leaf veggie belongs to the amaranth family, which is related to beets and quinoa.
Popeye’s secret to his strength contains high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron and calcium. It also contains potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin B9, and vitamin E. Vitamin C boosts our immune system, and along with vitamin K protects our bones, eyes, brain, heart health, as well as preventing cancer. Vitamin K improves calcium absorption and acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins. The fiber helps with digestion and regularity.
Spinach contains powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory abilities. These phytonutrients include carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin (improves eye health), and beta-carotene (cancer fighting and immune building). Other phytonutrients include flavonoids such as kaempferol (prevents risk of cancer and chronic disease) and quercetin (prevents cancer and wards off infection and inflammation).
Spinach also contains two components, MGDG and SQDG, which may slow down cancer growth, and contains another phytochemical, chlorophyll, which has been shown to be effective at blocking the growth of cancer cells. Spinach also reduces the risk of both prostate and breast cancer. No doubt, this prevention is due to its many cancer-fighting plant compounds.
Eating foods that contain antioxidants like spinach promote healthy, glowing skin by fostering new skin cell growth, supporting the production of collagen, and protecting our skin from the damaging UV sun rays. Never underestimate the critical principle that healthy skin begins from the inside out.
The antioxidants in spinach do more than reduce the risk of cancer. They also help fight oxidative stress and aging, and reduce the risk of diabetes. The naturally occurring nitrates in spinach may help regulate blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Spinach contains alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recognizes spinach as a superfood. It counts as a free item due to its low calories.
Like blueberries, the antioxidants found in spinach work to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that is associated with a decline in cognition. They can also protect brain health from age-related diseases and even reverse existing damage that has taken place in the cerebral cortex of the brain following a stroke.
There are some people, however, who must exercise caution in eating large amounts of spinach. Spinach is high in both calcium and oxalates. Therefore, people who have a tendency to develop kidney stones or have kidney disease need to practice moderation and consider leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce, which have lower levels of oxalates. People with thyroid disease, or digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome also need to eat spinach in moderation. The high levels of vitamin K can also be a problem for those taking blood thinning medications. So check with your doctor.
Sautéing, boiling or cooking spinach for just one minute can improve its nutrient absorbability while not destroying its antioxidants and phytochemicals. Its mild flavor is easily disguised in smoothies. It can be eaten raw in salads flavored with healthy vinaigrettes. It’s best eaten fresh or frozen to make use of its many nutrients instead of canned like Popeye. I do recommend eating this delicacy of nature “organic,” as it is on The Dirty Dozen List and contains high levels of pesticides.
Popeye indeed had a method to his silly madness. Yes, there is truth to his claim. Who can argue against a God-given, green, leafy vegetable in nature that protects against cancer, boosts immunity, stabilizes blood sugar, supports bone health, preserves brain health, defends against heart disease, and promotes healthy skin and eyes? No one. If we want to keep strong to the finish, we must eat our spinach!
Sponge Bob could learn a thing or two! What’s your favorite way of getting this gift of nature into your diet?
Here’s to your health!