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A Thing Or Two You Need To Know About Spinach

May 5, 2008
Spinach is an annual flowering plant native to central and southwestern Asia. It is believed to have been originally cultivated in Persia in the 6th century and was introduced to Europe only within the 15th century. Its name comes from the Persian word "ispinai" which means "green hand." Because of its good taste, it can be eaten either raw or cooked. It has become one of the versatile and commonly used vegetables in the United States because preparing it is both simple and easy. It can effortlessly be added or mixed into many dishes. It can even be served raw with salads and in sandwiches or simply as a complement to different soups, fish, meat or other vegetable dishes.

Aside from its palatability, spinach is widely used because of its high nutritional content. It is a good, low-calorie source of non-heme iron (iron found in plant sources), essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, B9 (or folate), C and K, minerals such as protein, magnesium and calcium, fibers and several vital antioxidants. Iron and magnesium are nutrients essential in muscle development. Iron is also vital in transporting oxygen from the lungs through your body. Other health benefits from eating spinach include protecting your body against heart disease, maintaining good eye health, helping preserve healthy bones, reducing the chances of brain damage after a stroke, and helping reduce the risks of certain cancers such as colon and prostate cancer.

Spinach is marketed fresh (either loose, bunched, or in prepackaged bags), canned or frozen and is basically divided into three varieties. One is savoy which has dark green, crinkly and curly leaves. They are usually sold fresh in most grocery stores. Another is the flat or smooth-leafed variety. As its name suggests, it has broad, smooth spade-shaped leaves that are milder tasting than savoy. This variety is commonly canned and frozen and is widely used for soups, baby food and other processed foods. Lastly, there is the semi-savoy variety. This variety has slightly curly leaves and has a texture similar to savoy but it is easier to clean. It is sold in the market either fresh or processed.

When buying fresh spinach, you should choose ones which have no limp or damaged leaves. Be sure you pick ones that have a nice fresh scent and leaves that are crisp and green, free from blemishes and slime. It grows in sandy soil so be sure to wash it thoroughly to get rid of grit and any grainy particles. It is important if you separate the leaves and place them in a large bowl of water and wash them repeatedly until the leaves are clean.

It should be noted however that certain nutrients such as calcium and iron found in plant sources are not easily absorbed by the body. Spinach has oxalic acid (sometimes referred to as oxalate), a chemical which binds with iron and calcium making them hard for the body to absorb. However, your body's ability to absorb these nutrients can be improved by eating foods that are rich in Vitamin C such as fruits like oranges, cantaloupes, strawberries and grapefruits.
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