Follow a green diet
Spinach is not just for Popeye. Make it a part of your diet too.
Rich source of nutrients: Make spinach a part of the food.
AVID cartoon watchers would know that Popeye derived his superhuman strength from spinach, a popular green vegetable believed to be of Persian origin. The name comes from the Persian word esfenaj. The Arabs introduced it to Europe in the 15th Century and it became extremely popular. In India spinach or palak has always been a favourite.
Spinach or Spinacia oleracia (also referred to as Amaranthaceae) is closely related to beets and Swiss chard. But many other leafy vegetables are also called spinach, though they are only distantly related. Aizoaceae is known as "New Zealand spinach", Convolvulaceae as "water spinach", Basellaceae as "Malabar spinach" and Orach as "Mountain spinach". Various kinds of nightshade and legume are also known as wild spinach or African spinach.
Spinach has two common varieties. Flat-leaf spinach has unwrinkled, spade-shaped leaves. Savoy spinach has crinkly, dark green leaves. There is also a semi-Savoy variety that has slightly curly leaves. It is available round the year in most places. Apart from being tasty spinach is highly nutritious and low in calories. It is an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and K, calcium, potassium, iron, sodium, sulphur, folic acid and oxalic acid. It contains more protein than most vegetables.
A common myth about spinach is that it is rich in iron. Actually, it has about the same iron content as any other green vegetable. In 1870, Dr. E. von Wolf first determined the iron content of spinach. But a misplaced decimal point in his publication led to a figure 10 times too high.
In 1937, other chemists from Germany did fresh research about this "miracle vegetable" and soon found the mistake. It was corrected and written about by T.J. Hamblin in the British Medical Journal in December 1981.
However, spinach is a rich source of nutrients. It is highly recommended for anaemia not because of its iron content but because of its high chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is a fat-soluble substance that stimulates haemoglobin and red blood cell production and is known to have a chemical formula remarkably similar to that of haemoglobin.
Spinach also helps prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis and for its anti-inflammatory properties in easing the pain of arthritis. It is good for the heart and circulatory system and has energy-boosting properties.
Spinach has plenty of potassium, which supports a healthy nervous system, aids proper muscle contraction, stabilises blood pressure, regulates the transfer of nutrients through the cell membranes and, together with sodium, controls the body's water balance.
On the negative side, spinach is high in oxalates, which can contribute to gout. When eaten in large amounts spinach could damage an already damaged kidney.
Good-quality spinach has broad, thick and crisp dark green leaves and the stems will be unblemished. Avoid bunches that have thin, limp leaves that are pale-green or yellow or bunches with extremely large or blemished stalks.
Fresh spinach can be dried and packed loosely in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator crisper. If stored properly, it should remain fresh for three to four days.
As it grows in sandy soil it should be washed carefully before use. One easy way to get rid of the sand and mud is to add a little salt to a bowl of cold water, swish the leaves around and transfer it to a colander. The damp spinach can be microwaved without adding additional water.
Or it can be blanched by dropping the leaves in a pot of boiling water. Leave it in for a couple of minutes and then drain and squeeze the excess moisture. Blanched spinach is good for sautéing, braising or stuffing.
To improve iron absorption, eat spinach along with vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, orange or lemon juice. Spinach should form an important part of our diet. Make an unusual, tasty and colourful salad with steamed spinach and fruits such as apples, grapes, orange segments, papaya and melon. It tastes good with a bland or sweet yoghurt dressing. Or add chopped spinach to lasagne and soup.
Want to go low on calories? Add pureed spinach to yoghurt instead of cream for a version of creamed spinach. Or stir-fry spinach with garlic, grated ginger and shredded capsicum for a wonderful side dish.
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