Spinach is an edible flowering plant in the family Amaranthaceae native to central and western Asia. Its leaves are eaten as a vegetable. It is an annual plant growing as tall as 30 cm.
Outstanding Broad-Based Nourishment
Spinach is already widely-enjoyed as a food, and its commonplace appearance in salad bars as well as many different types of cuisine may lead us to forget just how impressive this leafy is in terms of nourishment. We’ve created the chart below using our WHFoods Rating System to summarize the unique status of spinach as a nutrient-rich food:
|Nutrient||Nutrient Type||Spinach Ranking Among All 100 WHFoods||Spinach Rating Using Our WHFoods Rating System|
|Vitamin B2||Water-Soluble Vitamin||2nd||Excellent|
|Vitamin B6||Water-Soluble Vitamin||2nd||Excellent|
|Vitamin K||Fat-Soluble Vitamin||2nd||Excellent|
|Vitamin E||Fat-Soluble Vitamin||2nd||Excellent|
|Vitamin A||Fat-Soluble Vitamin||2nd||Excellent|
It’s also worth noting in this context that spinach also serves as a very good source of 6 additional nutrients, including fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, protein, and choline, and as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B3, pantothenic acid, and selenium.
In research studies on spinach, it is not difficult to trace an ongoing interest in the anti-inflammatory benefits of this green leafy vegetable, especially with respect to events inside our digestive tract. We suspect that much of this interest is due to the multi-faceted nature of spinach in terms of anti-inflammatory nutrients. In the phytonutrient category, spinach flavonoids are important in this regard, since spinach is known to contain a glucuronide and glucopyranonside forms of the flavonoids spinacetin, patuletin, and jaceidin. Also well-studied in spinach are a subgroup of flavonoids known as methylenedioxyflavones. All of the flavonoids listed above have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and some have been investigated for their ability to decrease cancer risk as well.
Carotenoids are a second category of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that you will find in plentiful supply from spinach. Spinach is our Number 2 source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin at WHFoods (following right after kale). It is also a rich source of neoxanthin and violaxanthin. These carotenoids fall into the subdivision of carotenoids known as epoxyxanthophylls. Like all of the flavonoids listed earlier, each of these carotenoids has been shown to provide us with anti-inflammatory benefits.
As mentioned earlier, improved control of inflammation—especially within the digestive tract—has been linked to the unusual nitrate content of spinach, and the role of digestive tract bacteria in converting nitrate into nitric oxide.
Spinach is by no means a high-fat food, but it does contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as diacylglycerols (which are molecules that contain fatty acids within them). Omega-3s play a critical role in regulation of inflammation throughout our body, since many anti-inflammatory messaging molecules are made directly from omega-3s. Spinach is a good source of the omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and its diacylglycerols can also contain stearidonic acid (SDA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) —two additional omega-3s. Of these three omega-3s, however, ALA appears to be the most consistently present and is present in the most readily measurable amounts. By contrast, in some nutrient databases, you will not find either SDA or EPA listed as components of spinach, with only ALA showing a measurable amount. From our perspective, however, the varying amounts of these different omega-3 fatty acids is less important than their very presence in spinach which many people would not expect to be a source of any omega-3 fats. When all of these different nutrient groups are combined together—flavonoids, carotenoids, nitrates, and omega-3s—what emerges is a vegetable profile with broad-based anti-inflammatory benefits.
Other Health Benefits
As mentioned earlier in this profile, studies on the chlorophyll and thylakoid content of spinach have raised interesting possibilities for this food as one that can help regulate hunger, satiety, and also blood sugar levels. These studies have been especially interesting to us at WHFoods, since spinach serves as our Number 1 source of chlorophyll with about 24 milligrams per cup. The hunger and satiety research on spinach involves the ability of thylakoid-rich extracts from spinach to delay stomach emptying, decrease levels of hunger-related hormones like ghrelin, and increase levels of satiety-related hormones like glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). The blood sugar research is an offshoot of this GLP-1 research, since prescription drugs that mimic the activity of GLP-1 (called GLP-1 agonists) are currently used to help treat type 2 diabetes. While it would not be accurate to equate routine intake of fresh spinach with use of a prescription drug or with the use of a food extract (like a thylakoid extract), it would also be wrong to ignore the potential connections here between the nutrient composition of spinach and our experience of hunger and satiety, as well as our body’s blood sugar regulation. Future studies should help us piece together the exact nature of these relationships.
Excessive inflammation, of course, typically emerges as a risk factor for increased cancer risk. (That’s why many anti-inflammatory nutrients can also be shown to have anti-cancer properties.) But even when unrelated to cancer, excessive inflammation has been shown to be less likely following consumption of spinach. Particularly in the digestive tract, reduced inflammation has been associated not only with the flavonoids found in spinach, but also with its carotenoids. Neoxanthin and violaxanthin are two anti-inflammatory epoxyxanthophylls that are found in plentiful amounts in the leaves of spinach. While these unique carotenoids may not be as readily absorbed as carotenoids like beta-carotene or lutein, they still play an important role in regulation of inflammation and are present in unusual amounts in spinach.
Nutrients in Spinach
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0.4 g||0%|
|Saturated fat 0.1 g||0%|
|Polyunsaturated fat 0.2 g|
|Monounsaturated fat 0 g|
|Cholesterol 0 mg||0%|
|Sodium 79 mg||3%|
|Potassium 558 mg||15%|
|Total Carbohydrate 3.6 g||1%|
|Dietary fiber 2.2 g||8%|
|Sugar 0.4 g|
|Protein 2.9 g||5%|
|Vitamin A||187%||Vitamin C||46%|
|Vitamin D||0%||Vitamin B-6||10%|
Diseases cure by Spinach
Spinach is very notable for improving anemic blood conditions, where your blood has a lower than normal amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin. This is also known as an iron-deficiency. Iron, found in several foods, though especially rich in spinach, can help strengthen the hemoglobin and increase the amount of red blood cells found in your body. Often times anemia can result in feeling weak and chronically tired or fatigued.
- Healthy Bones, Healthy Body
Spinach is also high in vitamin K, which helps strengthen and keep your bones healthy. Spinach also helps keep your calcium levels in check and provides better calcium absorption. This is incredible for people who are deficient in calcium because your body is naturally less and less able to absorb calcium as time goes on. Spinach can be a key factor in helping prevent and maintain this.
Spinach is wonderful for keeping your skin and hair healthy thanks to a high vitamin A content. Vitamin A helps produce a compound called sebum which will keep your hair moisturized and aid in reducing hair loss and helps aid the development of new body tissues such as skin and hair. This means that not only will it keep you glowing, it’s fantastic at helping you heal faster and potentially look younger thanks to skin regrowth and fuller hair.
Spinach is high in iodine content, and often recommended to people who are suffering from problems with their thyroid glands. This may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to essential nutrients the body needs, but the thyroid absorbs iodine to create thyroid hormones and keep your body and emotions balanced. This nutrient can be hard to find in other foods – even the iodized salt you may have in your pantry often has a message in fine print stating “this is not a sufficient source of iodine.”
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