The A-Z of Indian Superfoods: Spinach
Packed with the goodness of vitamins, protein, calcium and more, spinach benefits your eyesight, brain, heart, bones—the list goes on. Find out how you can add more of this leafy green to your diet.
Looking for more reasons to bank on spinach than just Popeye’s recommendation? Rest easy. Spinacia oleracea, an edible flowering plant of the Amaranthaceae family, is nutrient-dense, versatile and easily accessible to all. Rich in vitamins B, K, beta carotene, protein, iron, amino acids and more一spinach benefits us from head to toe. This leafy green is also known for its phytonutrients (plant compounds) like lutein and zeaxanthin that protect against a variety of chronic ailments, inflammation and more.
For a vegetable that is so healthy, spinach leaves are also mighty tasty. You can eat them raw in your salads, steam or sautée them or even blend or bake them into a horde of different delicacies一though gout patients should note that it is high in oxalates and administer caution as per your doctor’s instructions. Take a look at why and how you should stock up on this wonder food.
Some of the many nutritional benefits of spinach
- Protects your eyes: The presence of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the carotenoids responsible for the colour of some vegetables, can do wonders for our eyesight. Research suggests that these pigments protect our eyes against damage from sunlight (Annual Review of Nutrition, 2003), macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Reduces cancer risk: Spinach is high in flavonoids and antioxidants that may protect against cancer. Naomi Maeda et al suggest in their 2010 Elsevier paper that the chemical composition of spinach may inhibit human cultured cancer cell growth and internal tumour development with oral administration, making it a functional food with anticancer properties.
- Improves your heart health: Heart disease, cholesterol, stroke, blood pressure一the high nutrient content of spinach can protect your arteries from all these and more. Presence of antioxidants, vitamins A and C, magnesium and beta carotene in spinach can aid in reducing the amounts of unstable molecules of free radicals in our system一thus promoting cardiovascular health.
- Checks cravings and blood sugar: According to a 2016 paper published in the journal Food and Function, consuming spinach encourages the release of satiety hormones, which can help us control cravings. The hypoglycemic (low sugar) contents also keep blood sugar in check.
- Great for bone health: According to a Nutrition paper, “Vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people but also actually reduce fracture rates”. With a winning combination of Vitamin K, calcium and magnesium, spinach helps in strengthening and protecting your bones and teeth.
- Boosts your brain function: Spinach might be doing as good for your mind as it does for the rest of your body. A 2018 study published in the journal Neurology concludes that even one serving of green leafy vegetables a day can lower the rate of cognitive decline with age.
- Combats iron deficiency: Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common nutritional disorder in the world, says a 2018 study published in the IOP Conference Series Earth and Environmental Science. Consuming iron-rich vegetables like spinach, along with Vitamin C, can be an effective way to increase daily iron intake. Healthy iron levels also contribute to proper functioning of haemoglobin and key enzymes, thereby boosting energy and metabolism.
Easy and delicious ways to eat more spinach
- Indulge in classic desi dishes: Though delicious just as a sautée, the versatile spinach is a staple in a variety of Indian delicacies like palak paneer, sarson ka saag and palak makhani. Pair them with a steaming plate of pulao or a bread of your choice.
- Add to your breakfast: Not just a main course, spinach is a great addition to quick and easy healthy breakfasts. Blend it in a smoothie with your favourite fruits, milk and honey or bake a tray of delicious egg, paneer and spinach frittatas for a protein kick.
- Whip up warm soups and dals: Winter is nearly here and what better way to cozy up than with a bowl of soup? Be it a creamy broth, a clear soup or with noodles or pasta一the possibilities of spinach and soup combos are endless. Spinach contains folic acid, which helps pregnant women by reducing the risk of neural tube diseases. So add some in your dals for a daily dose of folate, as well as vitamin A and calcium.
- Try a spinach chutney: There’s no end to what can be “chutneyfied”, why should spinach be left out? Wash and steam spinach leaves and blend with mint, roasted chana dal, mint leaves, garlic, green chillies and salt, adding small amounts of water for desired consistency. Temper with oil, urad dal and curry leaves. Store in an airtight glass container and consume within 48 hours.
The above information has been reviewed by Dr Lakshmi K, Ph.D Food Science & Nutrition, University of Georgia (USA), Head Nutritionist, URlife
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