The Power of Spinach
There can be little doubt that spinach is very healthy for you, but just how amazing the effects can be is only just becoming known.
This is mainly due to the fact that spinach is very rich in phytonutrients. Research is still being done on these substances and the full potential of them is as yet unknown. What is known however is that they have potent cancer fighting properties.
Not only are they rich in phytonutrients, but also rich in a whole host of vitamins and minerals, such as: Vitamins A, B2, B6, C and K. Minerals, magnesium, folate, calcium, potassium, folic acid, copper, phosphorous, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a good source of iron, but nowhere near as good as people think. This is due to an error made by Dr. E. von Wolf, who originally classified the nutrient value of spinach in 1870. Unfortunately, in his notes he misplaced a decimal point and thus spinach was thought to have 10 times the iron content it does. The mistake wasn’t discovered for some 70 odd years.
However, iron aside, there are not many ingredients available that can pack all that punch.
It also contains a carotenoid called neoxanthin, which has been shown to lower incidence of breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men.
The high levels of folate help to neutralise the harmful effects of homocysteine, which raises the risks of both heart disease and stroke.
The high calcium and Vitamin-K can reduce risk of osteoporosis in women.
It has anti-inflammatory nutrients, which make it good for arthritis sufferers.
Spinach contains lutein, which has been shown in government studies to not only protect against macular degeneration, but also against cataracts. Now that’s one hell of an ingredient!
There are many different varieties of spinach, and it is also related to chard, beets and sorrel. If you are lucky enough to live near an Asian supermarket you should try some swamp spinach (also known as kangkong). This is just as beneficial but quite a lot cheaper as it does not need to be cultivated. It comes in big bunches and looks a little like long thin pak choi. It is eaten all over Asia, which is where all spinach is native to, South-western Asia to be precise. The more common varieties that you will find in the supermarkets are;
Smooth Flat leaf – This variety usually comes washed and ready to eat. It is excellent raw in salads and also wilted to serve as a garnish on dishes such as you would in a restaurant.
Semi-Savoy – Crinkly edged yet similar to a light cabbage leaf, this lends itself to being used as a side of green vegetables with a meal or tossed into a stir fry at the very last minute for a few seconds.
Savoy – This is the most hardy of spinach and is best suited for shredding and adding to bold soups such as Ribollita or Pistou soup. It needs a good washing as the wrinkles in the leaves gather a lot of grit and soil.
Whichever type of spinach you use or whatever the dish that you use it in, there is one fundamental basic to using spinach. If you are cooking with it, you must not cook it longer than 20-30 seconds, this is known as ‘al minuto’ in restaurants, which means ‘to the minute’. If you don’t exceed this then you will have bright vibrant tasty spinach with lots of colour and texture. However, if you cook it for too long you will end up with mushy, bitter tasting brown sludge that will have all the appeal of tinned spinach!
The first recorded instances of spinach being consumed as a vegetable date back to the 7th century in China before becoming popular in the courts of Europe.
It was particularly popular amongst the Italian aristocracy. Catherine de Medici (the Medici’s were a very powerful medieval family from Florence in the middle ages) was so fond of it that when she married the king of France, she brought her own chefs to cook it the way that she liked it. Since then dishes served with of on spinach have been known as ‘A la Florentine’
As far as vegetables go, nutritionally speaking, spinach is hard to beat. And wilted in a wok, in a little olive oil or butter, with black pepper and a little grated nutmeg……. What’s not to like!???