Health Benefits of Spinach
Popeye was certainly justified in his love for spinach. This green, leafy vegetable is rich in certain nutrients that promote healthy vision, like lutein and zeaxanthin; carotenoid pigments that accumulate in the retina of the eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin are capable of absorbing blue light and can prevent a considerable amount of blue light from reaching structures of the eye involved in vision.
Lutein and zeaxanthin may therefore protect the eye from light-induced oxidative damage, which is thought to play a role in the development of age-related macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin act as antioxidants and can neutralize free radicals, further reducing oxidative damage to the eye. The dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin has been shown to be positively associated with the level of these carotenoids in the retina. The higher the levels of these carotenoids in the retina the lower the incidence of age-related macular degeneration.
One cup of raw spinach contains about 3.6 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin. Scientific evidence suggests that eating at least 6 mg a day of lutein and zeaxanthin from fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Spinach is also a good source of vitamins A, K and folate. Vitamin A performs essential functions in normal vision, and deficiency leads to a condition called “night blindness,” in which the eye fails to adapt to less light. Vitamin A is also involved in regulation of gene expression, production of red blood cells, and normal functioning of the immune system. Folate helps enzymes involved in metabolism to function. Vitamin K is essential for the functioning of many proteins involved in blood clotting.
Did you Know?
Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici of Florence, Italy in the 16th century. When she left Florence to marry the king of France in 1533, she brought with her a group of her own cooks, so that they could prepare spinach the way she liked. Since then, dishes prepared with spinach are called “a la Florentine”.
Ways to Enjoy Spinach
- Toss steamed spinach with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and pressed garlic. Sprinkle with some Parmesan cheese.
- Add layers of steamed spinach to homemade lasagna.
- Mix cooked spinach with pine nuts.
- Fresh spinach salads can be an easy meal or great as a side dish.
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