(And its “Sidekicks:” Kale, Collard Greens, Swiss Chard, Arugula, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Bok Choy, Romaine Lettuce, and Seaweed)
A source of:
- Synergy of multiple nutrients/phytonutrients
- Low calories
- Plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Vitamins C and E
- B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, B6, folate)
(Try to eat 1 cup steamed or 2 cups raw most days)
You can usually recognize SuperFoods fans in the grocery store: their carts are loaded with spinach. Spinach, and its green, leafy sidekicks, are among the most nutritious foods on earth. Calorie for calorie, spinach provides more nutrients than any other food. Along with two of my favorites, wild salmon and blueberries, spinach is an all-star SuperFood that packs an incredible nutritional wallop. Low in calories and jam-packed with nutrients, spinach should be a regular part of your daily menu.
Spinach seems to be able to lessen our risk for many of the most common diseases of the twenty-first century. Overwhelming research has demonstrated an inverse relationship between spinach consumption and the following:
- Cardiovascular disease, including stroke and coronary artery disease
- Cancer, including colon, lung, skin, oral, stomach, ovarian, prostate, and breast cancers
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
In addition preliminary research suggests that spinach may help prevent or delay age-related cognitive decline.
Spinach has such a variety of health benefits that it’s hard to know where to start. The list of compounds that have been discovered in spinach is truly impressive. Beyond the iron that Popeye was yearning for, spinach contains carotenoids, antioxidants, vitamin K, coenzyme Q10, B vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, polyphenols, betaine, and, interestingly, plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids. This is a condensed list and it’s hard to convey the powerful impact of these nutrients as they work synergistically to promote health.
One cup of raw spinach contains almost 200 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin K, which is essential for bone health. It contains beta carotene as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which have been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach is also good for your brain. Animal studies have shown that it may protect the brain from oxidative stress and reduce age-related decline in brain function. And all of that is in addition to its anticancer, anti-cardiovascular disease, antiarthritis, and antidiabetes properties.
I am particularly interested in the role of spinach in promoting visual health. Here’s what we know about age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. The macula of the eye is responsible for central vision—which we need for close work like writing and sewing as well as distinguishing distant objects and color. Unfortunately, as many as 20 percent of all sixty-five-year-olds show at least some early evidence of age-related macular changes. By age 90, abut 60 percent of Caucasians will be affected by AMD, and close to 100 percent of centenarians reportedly have this leading cause of age-related vision loss.
Worse yet, there is no effective treatment for AMD. The good news is that nutrition can play an important role in preventing AMD. Among the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin are most strongly associated with decreased risk for AMD. Spinach and its sidekick green leafies are important players in preventing macular degeneration because of their rich supply of the carotenoids lutein/zeaxanthin and, coupled with dietary marine-based omega-3 fatty acids (see Wild Salmon), they can offer a powerful reduction of our risk for AMD.
Many people have asked why I include orange bell peppers as a spinach sidekick. They are far from green and just as far from leafy. Orange bell peppers are a worthy sidekick to green leafies because of their abundant supply of the carotenoid zeaxanthin. You can think of them as nature’s gift to those who do not like spinach and other green leafy vegetables. Most people, including children, enjoy eating strips of orange bell peppers with a dip or just plain. They’re also excellent in salads and stir-fries. On those days when you can’t work green leafies into your diet, rely on orange bell peppers to give your eyes their zeaxanthin boost.
People who consume some type of leafy greens several times a week have a lower rate of diabetes, stroke, colon cancer, bone loss, maturity-related muscle loss, memory loss, cataracts, and macular degeneration than people who do not.
*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.