March’s Food-of-the-Month: Spinach!

Posted on Mar 15, 2012 in Food and Fitness | 69 comments

In the spirit of celebrating all things GREEN this coming Saturday, it is my pleasure to place on our monthly food pedestal one of my absolute favorite “addictions:”  spinach!  Hopefully you already know and love this gorgeous green which “has more demonstrated health benefits than almost any other food” (SuperFoods Rx, Steven Pratt, M.D., and Kathy Matthews).  But if spinach is anything less than a DAILY part of your diet, please stick around and let me try to convince you to increase your affection and consumption.

Remember Popeye?  It was supposedly the iron which made the Sailor Man become a powerhouse after eating a can of spinach.  Back then, “nutritionists were working with an 8-pack of crayons; today we’re looking at the 250-pack.  Based on what we know and are learning daily about micronutrients, we understand it’s the synergy of the wide range of all the nutrients and phytonutrients in green leafies that make them superstars” (Pratt/Matthews).  Along with two other of my personal favorites–salmon and blueberries–spinach is right up at the pinnacle of all-star foods.

This dark green “leafy” is heart-healthy and cancer-fighting.  Countless studies have found the more spinach we eat, the less risk we have of developing cardiovascular disease–including stroke and coronary artery disease–and “almost every type of cancer” (Pratt/Matthews).  Former smokers in particular can benefit from the powerful antioxidants in spinach… by eating one serving daily (1/2 cup cooked or one cup raw), they have a significantly reduced risk of developing lung cancer.

As the daughter of an ophthalmologist, especially interesting is that two of the most powerful phytonutrients in spinach–lutein and zeaxanthin–combat against the very sad, untreatable eye condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), as well as the very common yet fixable cataracts.  I remember when my grandmother was forced to stop driving because of AMD… this is a tremendous loss to a person who is otherwise healthy.  The macula of the eye is responsible for central vision, and macular pigment protects against AMD.  As macular pigment decreases, the risk for AMD increases, and there is no way to restore 20/20 vision.  But there is “preventative medicine”… called spinach!  “We know for sure that as the lutein and zeaxanthin levels increase in the macula of the eye, there is a significant decrease in the amount of harmful light rays that reach the retinal cells that produce vision…. Virtually every study on eye health has come to the same conclusion:  the more lutein and zeaxanthin-rich food consumed–particularly spinach, kale, collards, and broccoli–the healthier the eye” (Pratt/Matthews).  A Tufts University study found that “frequent spinach eaters had a 43 percent lower risk of AMD” (the Abs Diet for Women, David Zinczenko).  Very cool!

One last quick fact:  spinach is a rich dietary source of Vitamin K–a vitamin which “is not stored by the body in appreciable amounts and must be replaced on a daily basis” (Pratt/Matthews).  Low levels of Vitamin K have been linked with lower bone density and an increased risk of hip fracture in women, yet just one serving of spinach a day significantly reduces that risk by providing a whopping 190% of our daily requirement of Vitamin K!

Now you know a few reasons WHY to eat spinach, but do you know how?  Call me stuck in old ways, but I STILL eat a close variation of “Laurie’s Daily Scramble” (a recipe featured in the Oxygen Magazine article on my website) almost every day of my life!  Sometimes I add fresh tomato, nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, and/or brown rice, but a staple ingredient is ALWAYS a heaping amount of fresh baby spinach in my 10-inch skillet.  I also like to saute a HEAPING amount of the fresh baby variety with a little extra virgin olive oil and some onions and/or mushrooms.  This “side dish” is AMAZING on its own or paired with salmon.

Finally, what salad is more delicious and nutritious than fresh baby spinach and strawberries?  Following is the recipe for the pretty salad I have pictured above.  Please note it is important to eat spinach both raw and cooked:  cooking “liberates” the phytonutrients, somehow boosting the lutein, but heat degrades some important vitamins and minerals.  Just another wonderful reason to eat Dr. Pratt’s and my recommended two servings a day!

There are MANY more benefits and ways to prepare and enjoy spinach, but I hope this information provides a good start! As always, happy, healthy eating!

 

Spinach Salad with Strawberries (The World’s Best PowerFoods by Robert Kennedy Publishing)

6 cups fresh spinach leaves (I use bagged, pre-washed, ready-to-eat)

1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup dried, unsweetened cranberries

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 1/2 Tbsp. agave nectar

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss spinach, sesame seeds, strawberries and walnuts in a large salad bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until needed.  Whisk together remaining ingredients in a small bowl.  Pour dressing over salad and serve.

“My soul with be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (Psalm 63:5)

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