Spinach is a typically winter vegetable . Spinach , is a dark green leafy vegetable belonging to the Amaranthaceae family , which also includes beets and beets.
Spinach: what they are
It is an herbaceous plant with an annual cycle, capable of reaching even 70 cm in height: it is cultivated for its edible, tasty, fleshy and crunchy leaves , provided with a 5-10 cm long petiole and a smooth or blistered surface long between 10 and 20 cm.
The leaves are gathered in a rosette and the flowers are small, greenish, female or male. Male plants are characterized by leafless flower stems, while female plants have complete leaves up to the end of the stems. The female flowers are monovular and give rise to a dry monosperm fruit. The duration of the germination faculty of the “seed” is 2-3 years.
Spinach is grown mainly in the northern European regions , where the climate is more favorable, and they are harvested when the flowering phase has not yet started, that is from November to March . In fact, subsequently, in fact, the leaves harden and become fibrous and with a sour taste.
Spinach cultivation is believed to have originated in Persia and later spread to other parts of Asia and then also to Europe . The first writing that mentions the cultivation of spinach is Chinese and dates back to 647 AD .: They were referred to as “the herb of Persia”.
Furthermore, they arrived in Europe with the Arabs around the year 1000 and their first area of diffusion was Sicily. Their propagation subsequently affected Spain and Northern Europe.
Spinach: nutritional properties
They are made up of about 90% of water, small quantities of protein, carbohydrates and only 0.7% fat.
100 grams of spinach contain only 31 calories and 2 g of fiber , equal to 8% of the recommended daily dose (RDA). In addition, they are a valuable source of minerals , especially:
But, if it is true that the iron content disappoints the expectations of all those who grew up in the Popeye myth, spinach is extraordinary for the content of natural antioxidants and vitamins .
But, they are also one of the richest plant sources of lutein , a carotenoid, and phenolic compounds that have the function of acting as antioxidants, antimicrobials, antivirals, antifungals and as protective agents . Among the commonly consumed green leafy vegetables, spinach contains about 40% and 70% more phenols compared to cabbage and lettuce, respectively.
In fact, a dish of only 100 g of spinach contains a sufficient amount of different vitamins to meet or even exceed their recommended ration, including vitamin K, vitamin A, folate and vitamin C.
Here are the nutritional values in detail.
Spinach: health benefits
Let’s see what benefits we can enjoy by bringing them to the table.
Spinacea oleracea is believed to possess antidiabetic, anti-hyperlipidemic and antithrombotic activities by virtue of its many natural antioxidants. Their combination includes flavonoids , polyphenols (quercetin and luteolin) and vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, K and folic acid). Hence, this wide range of antioxidant phytoconstituents makes them a powerful agent against free radicals and other harmful derivatives for our body .
Inflammation is a natural immune response to trauma or infection: if it were prolonged over time it could contribute to the development of serious diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.
Phenols and lutein help increase the spinach’s anti-inflammatory properties while zeaxanthin helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts . The abundant presence of beta – carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, also plays an important preventive role for vision health.
Vegetable-rich diets, especially broad-leaved, dark green vegetables, are associated with a reduced risk of many cancers. Epidemiological studies have shown a protective role of spinach in breast, colon and esophagus cancers thanks to the content of lutein and chlorophyll. In addition, studies conducted in North America and Europe show that the consumption of a spinach dose of 73 grams per week is associated with an 11% reduced risk of colon cancer.
Regular inclusion of spinach in the diet can therefore be chemo-preventive for people who frequently consume red meat.
Spinach against obesity
The scientific community, in studying solutions capable of combating obesity, is paying particular attention to the use of nutraceuticals to induce satiety and decrease calorie intake. Thanks to the presence of thylakids, they have been shown to induce satiety in humans and reduce food intake in animals . This is because thylacoids slow down the digestion and absorption of fats.
Therefore, the effect that they could induce is to eliminate fats through the feces, which in this way would not be absorbed and used as a source of caloric energy.
The thylacoids present in spinach are useful in the control of postprandial blood sugar and insulinemia . In fact, they interfere with glucose absorption and attenuate insulin secretion.
Although the effects are short-lived, consumption can represent a valid help to counter hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels), which is one of the clinical manifestations of metabolic syndrome (from which obese subjects suffer) and a factor of risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.
High triglycerides in the blood are considered to be a significant risk factor for pancreatitis, liver disease and cardiovascular disease. Once again thylacoids and other phytochemicals contained in spinach come to the rescue , which prove to be of great help in counteracting hypertriglyceridemia.
In studies to investigate the beneficial effects of these substances, men and women who consumed a meal containing 50 g of thylakoid reported significantly lower levels of free fatty acids than those who did not consume spinach. In this sense, research is working to gather more information on the effects of spinach and their constituents compared to the level of blood lipids.
Thanks to the high fiber content , they also have an important laxative effect.
In particular, the good water and fiber content promotes intestinal motility and functionality , optimizing the emptying of the colon.
Spinach: side effects
Spinach, like beets, have a significant oxalate content , which could favor the appearance of calcium oxalate stones . For this reason they are not recommended for those suffering from kidney problems.
Another characteristic is that of being among the vegetables that store a significant quantity of nitrates, which become dangerous for human health when they turn into nitrites. These molecules can chemically bind to hemoglobin, transforming it into methemoglobin, preventing the normal transport of oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues.
In addition, they can establish chemical bonds with amines (organic compounds present mainly in protein foods, such as meat, salami and cheeses) in the digestive phase, creating compounds called nitrosamines, considered carcinogenic. Fortunately, to reduce the production of nitrosamines, the gastric system defends itself by secreting vitamin C in small quantities, generating a protection process.
Also for this reason it is advisable to consume them with lemon.
The added vitamin C , together with that already naturally contained in spinach, promotes the absorption of iron and eliminates the negative effects of nitrosamines.
Those who are being treated with blood anticoagulants due to the high content of vitamin K must lend it : this, in fact, can interfere by reducing the effectiveness of the drug.
How to wash and cook spinach
Unless you buy them in ready-to-use or frozen packs, wash them thoroughly before preparing them, as they grow and grow in close contact with the soil and often retain the earthy root.
Cleaning them is simple. If necessary you can do a prewash.
After draining them, remove the roots . After cleaning them, wash them in plenty of water until the spinach has no soil. At this point, you can consume them raw in salad or boiled in a little water (to avoid the dispersion of vitamins) or steamed .
The ideal cooking for the conservation of all the nutritional principles, including flavonoids and lignans, remains, however, that in the microwave . With this cooking, frozen spinach even increases their concentration of lutein by up to 91% compared to raw ones. If you do not want to consume them immediately but within 2 or 3 days, you can keep the spinach in a cool place in a covered container or in the refrigerator , in the special compartment for vegetables, wrapped with a damp tissue.
Instead, after cooking, they should be consumed immediately.
How to choose the perfect spinach
At the time of purchase, they must have dark green, shiny, fleshy and whole leaves, with stems no longer than 10 cm , with no signs of wilting.
If you have the opportunity to visit the production areas in Italy, take the opportunity to taste some local spinach varieties .
An Italian excellence, registered nationally among the Traditional Agri-Food Products, is the Spinach typical of the Val di Cornia, in Tuscany.
Spinach: alternative uses
Spinach, and in this perhaps they can really amaze, are also formidable for our beauty . The nutrients they contain are in fact useful for energizing the skin, making it firmer and healthier .
Seeing is believing! Here’s how to make a spinach mask.
15 spinach leaves
In a container, overlap the spinach leaves and pest them with energy, until they begin to throw out their liquid. At this point you can apply this very natural green mask, placing the leaves on the face for about 20 minutes . Then, remove the leaves and rinse.
Green tonic “do it yourself”
When I read the spinach, it preserves the cooking water: it is very rich in nutrients and can be used as a tonic to be passed on the face with cotton pads. Effectiveness and savings are guaranteed!
How to use spinach in the kitchen
Spinach in the kitchen is extremely versatile. They can be eaten raw or cooked, steamed, boiled and seasoned with a drizzle of oil and lemon or stir-fried with a clove of garlic .
They are an ingredient that can be found from appetizers to main courses and side dishes, alone or with other foods, and which is also suitable for the preparation of centrifuges and smoothies.
The recipes with spinach
Among the first courses, spinach is an excellent condiment for pasta and risotto and a perfect ingredient for delicate velvety . They are the vegetable that is normally chosen to give certain pasta shapes the characteristic green color. And when they do not enter the dough, the spinach enters the filling (of ravioli, cannelloni, crêpes or other formats).
They accompany any type of meat, white or red , not only as a side dish but also as an ingredient in the filling for elaborate meat dishes. Raw and combined with fresh and dried fruit (pears, walnuts), cheeses or fish, they enrich tasty salads . They are also an excellent base for preparing rustic cakes, omelettes and pies , as well as an ingredient for healthy smoothies , combined with fruit and vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, apple and orange.