Spinach (Spinacia olercea) is a “functional food”, also known as a “perfect food”. This is due to the high abundance of nutrients identified in spinach. A rich variety of micronutrients and phytonutrients have been identified in spinach, making this food item an important addition to meals. Spinach is in the goosefoot (chenopodiaceae) family and is related to Swiss chard, and beets. Three types of spinach can be found at your local grocery store; flat-leaf, curly-leaf (Savoy) and slightly curly-leaf (semi-Savoy) spinach. The most common is the flat-leaf type eaten raw in salads, sandwiches and on flat bread dishes. Both savoy and semi savoy are used in cooking, with the savoy having darker leaves (1, 2).
Multiple health benefits
A new variety of spinach, USDA Red was released in 2019 according to the Agricultural Research Services of the USDA, and contains the phytonutrient betacyanin a potent anti-oxidant. Betacyanin gives spinach the red color. I have not seen the red variety in my local grocery stores, but I will be checking with the produce departments for availability. The minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients in spinach provide anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Spinach has benefits for eye, skin and bone health. The phytonutrients are also beneficial for the regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure. Spinach is also a good source of insoluble fiber for the health of the digestive system and has low calories. Molecules known as glycolipids from spinach have been shown to have anti-tumor activities in research reported in the scientific literature (3).
Versatile recipe options
The minerals iron, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium are abundant in spinach. The fat soluble vitamins A, E, K and the water soluble vitamins C, B1, B2, B6, B9 (folate) are also abundant in spinach. Carotenoids, lutein, quecertin, zeaxanthin, kaempferol and chlorophyll are a few of the phytonutrients found in this “perfect food”. Spinach can be eaten raw or cooked, added to salads, smoothies, cooked in egg dishes or included in soups, stews, pasta or flat bread dishes, making it a highly versatile vegetable to include in meals. Talk to your healthcare provider before consuming spinach if taking blood thinners. The information provided is for educational purposes and intended to encourage continued conversations with our healthcare providers.
Enjoy spinach for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
- Maeda et al. (2007) Nutr Cancer, 57:216-23.