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It has been known that a diet rich in fresh foods including fruits and vegetables is excellent for your health and immunity. Among these foods, leafy greens have gained utmost importance and are often recommended as a part of healthy diets. But, why is that? Why are leafy greens like spinach so essential for your health and what exactly are their benefits? You will find these answers in this article, which caters to introduce you to the health benefits and nutritional value of spinach along with some basic facts.

In short, it can be said that spinach is a highly functional food that has rich antioxidant content. It packs a number of vitamins and minerals, which provide it with health-promoting effects in the form of cancer prevention, cardioprotection, improvement of immunity and the management of diabetes and anaemia. The benefits of spinach in the diet have been recognised for individuals of all age groups and it can be an easy and healthy addition to the diet.

Some basic facts about spinach

Spinach is an annual flowering plant with edible leaves, which is grown in various parts of the world. It is considered to be the most important leafy vegetable. Here is what you must know about spinach leaves:

  • Scientific name: Spinacia oleracea
  • Family: Amaranthaceae
  • Common name: Spinach, Paalak, Paalak ke patte, Saag
  • Native region and geographic distribution: The native region of spinach is Southwestern Asia, but is now grown in all temperate regions of the world. It is commonly grown in India and is utilised as a food crop.
  • Parts used: Leaves
  • Types of spinach: There are 3 major types of spinach, which include savoy spinach, semi-savoy and smooth-leaved type, each having different properties. Red spinach is a subtype of the smooth-leaved type, which actually has red veins on its flattened leaves. Malabar spinach and other varieties are not botanically related to spinach but have their own nutritional benefits. Baby spinach is a type of spinach that has been harvested early and is also utilised as a vegetable.
  1. Spinach nutritional value
  2. Benefits of spinach for your health
  3. Spinach side effects

Spinach is packed with all the essential nutrients for your health, which include:

Nutrients and value per 100 gram

The above values are as per the USDA database.

Spinach has a number of health benefits, which is why it is recommended as a part of your daily diet. Here is what it does for your health:

  • As an antioxidant: The presence of vitamin A, C and several bioactive compounds makes vitamin C a potent antioxidant having several benefits for your hair and skin.
  • For anaemia: The intake of spinach has been negatively associated with the occurrence of iron deficiency anaemia as spinach is a rich source of iron. However, it is important that you increase the intake of meats to facilitate iron absorption.
  • For weight loss: Spinach aids in weight loss by enhancing the secretion of satiety hormones, which allows you to eat lesser. It is also quite low in calories.
  • For diabetes: The intake of spinach can help in the prevention of insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • For blood pressure: The presence of nitrates in spinach leaves make it possible for this food to assist the reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in as less as 7 days.
  • For heart: Spinach reduces your risk of cardiovascular disorders due to its rich antioxidant status, which imparts a cardioprotective effect to this food.
  • For cancer: Spinach reduces DNA damage and prevents apoptosis and is thus helpful in the management of cancer.
  • For babies: The rich nutritional value of spinach makes it a helpful dietary addition for children.
  1. Spinach as an antioxidant food for health
  2. Spinach for weight loss
  3. Palak for diabetes prevention
  4. Spinach for blood pressure management
  5. Spinach leaves for the heart
  6. Spinach for babies
  7. Palak for cancer

Spinach as an antioxidant food for health

Antioxidants are foods that help to reduce oxidative stress and damage in your body by fighting against the action of free radicals produced as a result of several body mechanisms. By having a scavenging action against these reactive oxygen species, antioxidants help to improve your health and minimise the risk of several diseases and disorders.

Researchers have found that spinach is an excellent antioxidant food due to the presence of vitamins like vitamin A and C in high amounts and bioactive compounds and phytochemicals. This means that the inclusion of spinach in your diet will have health-promoting benefits, which will be discussed ahead.

Further, studies have found that the intake of spinach is beneficial for individuals who have excessive oxidative stress that has been induced by high-fat or unhealthy diets. Spinach has been recognised as a potent antioxidant source, which improves the antioxidant status of your body.

This implies that spinach effectively helps to improve the health of your skin and hair by providing with them a lustre and strength.

What’s more is that the intake of spinach caters in the prevention and management of anaemia, particularly the type caused due to iron deficiency. But, it is important that you increase the intake of meat and other non-vegetarian foods to ensure that this iron is effectively absorbed by your body.

Spinach for weight loss

Weight issues are very common in the modern times due to an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle. While losing weight can actually be a daunting task, dietary changes and an increase in physical activity is sure to help you in reaching your goals. The foremost change that needs to be made is the inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet, which replaces junk and fast food items. And of these natural foods, spinach is the most commonly advised.

Spinach is a perfect low in calorie food, which is high on nutrition. So, it will ensure that you do not suffer from any nutritional deficiencies or weakness while you cut down on some calories. How spinach helps in weight loss is by having an impact on the secretion of satiety hormones, which are responsible for making you feel full after you take a meal. The intake of spinach increases the release of these hormones allowing making you feel full earlier. As a result, you will binge lesser and will be able to cut down on some calories, thereby losing weight.

Along with the management of obesity, the intake of spinach also helps to prevent health conditions that could be caused due to an excessive weight like high blood pressure or diabetes.

(Read more: Weight loss foods)

Palak for diabetes prevention

Diabetes is characterised by an elevation of blood sugar levels beyond normal ranges. As simple the problem may seem, it actually has debilitating effects on your health having an impact on every body system and is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders. Since diabetes is not reversible, it is better to take measures in advance that cater to prevent this condition. A healthy diet and lifestyle form pillars of this management.

Concerning this, studies have found that the intake of spinach helps to prevent diabetes and even insulin resistance. This implies that the intake of spinach leaves improves your body response to insulin thereby reducing blood sugar levels. This is said to have occurred due to an improvement in the status of nitric oxide.

Spinach for blood pressure management

High blood pressure may not have pronounced symptoms of its own but certainly has a poor impact on the health of your heart. It is known to increase the risk of atherosclerosis and stroke. However, it is possible to manage blood pressure even for hypertensives with the help of dietary measures. The inclusion of leafy greens in your diet can be one step in that direction.

Studies on spinach indicate that this food has a significant role in the management of elevated blood pressure when employed as a targetted approach. Within 7 days, an improvement in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure was noted in research participants. This was said to occur due to the intake of dietary nitrates present in spinach leaves.

(Read more: Diet for hypertensives)

Spinach leaves for the heart

Cardiac health is of utmost importance to your overall well-being. It has been well-known that high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are significant risk factors for the occurrence of cardiovascular disorders. While the remaining have already been discussed above in relation to spinach, the hypolipidemic properties of spinach have also been recognised by several studies. When consumed in the diet, spinach has a cholesterol-lowering action.

By having an effect on all risk factors, the intake of spinach helps to improve your heart health and it can thus be a great addition to your diet. Cardioprotective effects of spinach leaves can also be attributed to its rich antioxidant status, which helps in reducing damage to the heart caused due to the activity of free radicals. Further, it has been found that spinach leaves help to improve endothelial function thereby improving heart health. So, get your bowls ready.

Spinach for babies

Spinach is always recommended in the diet of babies, but what exactly are its benefits for kids? Well, spinach packs a blend of nutrients including several important vitamins and minerals, that can assist in proper growth and development of the baby. Its rich nutritional content also imparts immunity-boosting properties, which can cater to protect young ones from the risk of illnesses and infections. Young kids are generally more prone to diseases and infections because of an under-developed thymus (organ which is responsible for the immune response of the body). Thus, the intake of healthy, nutritious and protective foods is all the more important for your children.

What’s more is that spinach packs ample amounts of calcium, so, it facilitates the proper development of bones, which majorly occurs during childhood and adolescence.

The benefits of spinach have also been found for the eyes in that it helps in improving vision and eyesight due to the presence of vitamin E. So, spinach can be one of the healthiest addition to the diet of young ones.

You must, however, consult your doctor before including it in the diet of very young babies. When feeding spinach for the first time, digestive changes may be noted in children, but if any severe symptoms are observed, it is important that you visit a doctor. You must also note that spinach cannot be added to the diet of very young babies or infants since breastmilk must be the only source of their nourishment. The only way of including spinach in the diet of infants is by increasing maternal intake of this food so that its nutrients reach the baby via breastmilk.

(Read more: How to increase appetite in children)

Palak for cancer

Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases. But, even its prevention of cancer is possible with the help of dietary changes. Studies have found that the intake of spinach is helpful in the prevention of cancer since it prevents DNA damage, which is responsible for cellular changes. Plant chloroplast glycoglycerolipids found in spinach leaves have been considered to be responsible for these actions.

MCDG compounds present in spinach have been well-researched and indicated in therapeutic combination for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Cytotoxicity to mutated cells and their apoptosis (planned cell death) has been described as the possible mechanism. So, the inclusion of spinach in the diet can be helpful in the prevention of cancer in the presence of other risk factors.

Even food as healthy as spinach can have side effects on health if not consumed correctly. Following are these side effects:

  • Mild side effects of spinach include digestive issues like diarrhoea, bloating or gas, which go away soon.
  • It is not recommended to eat raw spinach as it has anti-nutrient actions that is, it hampers the absorption of other nutrients and deprives your body of its required nourishment. This can be prevented by boiling spinach leaves and straining them before using it in your dishes.
  • Spinach must not be boiled for long as its nutrients can bleach out. You must not over boil or overcook this food or even store it for too long for its nutrition to be intact.
  • Excessive intake of spinach can cause an iron overload, which has detrimental effects on your cardiac and overall health. It even elevates your risk of cancer. So, you must be careful to not consume this food in excess.
  • When taken in excess, spinach also increases the risk of arthritis, gout and kidney stone. So, if you suffer from any disorder, it is recommended to talk to your doctor before adding spinach to the diet.
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References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Basic Report: 11457, Spinach, raw. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release; Agricultural Research Service
  2. Sang-Heui Ko, Jae-Hee Park, So-Yun Kim, Seon Woo Lee, Soon-Sil Chun, and Eunju Park. Antioxidant Effects of Spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) Supplementation in Hyperlipidemic Rats Sang-Heui Ko,1 Jae-Hee Park,2 S. 2014 Mar; 19(1): 19–26. PMID: 24772405
  3. Roberts JL, Moreau R. Functional properties of spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) phytochemicals and bioactives.. 2016 Aug 10;7(8):3337-53. PMID: 27353735
  4. Li T, Lu X, Sun Y, Yang X. Effects of spinach nitrate on insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction markers and inflammation in mice with high-fat and high-fructose consumption. 2016 Sep 9;60:32010. PMID: 27616738
  5. Jovanovski E, Bosco L, Khan K, Au-Yeung F, Ho H1, Zurbau A, Jenkins AL, Vuksan V. Effect of Spinach, a High Dietary Nitrate Source, on Arterial Stiffness and Related Hemodynamic Measures: A Randomized, Controlled Trial in Healthy Adults.. 2015 Jul;4(3):160-7. PMID: 26251834
  6. Maeda N, Matsubara K, Yoshida H, Mizushina Y. Anti-cancer effect of spinach glycoglycerolipids as angiogenesis inhibitors based on the selective inhibition of DNA polymerase activity.. 2011 Jan;11(1):32-8. PMID: 21034405
  7. Akasaka H, Mizushina Y, Yoshida K, Ejima Y, Mukumoto N, Wang T, Inubushi S, Nakayama M, Wakahara Y, Sasaki R. MGDG extracted from spinach enhances the cytotoxicity of radiation in pancreatic cancer cells. 2016 Nov 22;11(1):153.PMID: 27876069