Often referred to as the “power food”, spinach is packed with essential nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamins. Unfortunately it is not appreciated by children who regard it as a foul tasting vegetable that they are urged to eat for reasons of health.
Spinach is believed to have originated in Iran but today it is cultivated and eaten all over the world. It grows in temperate climates.
There are two varieties of spinach, distinguishable by the fact that one is the curly leaf variety while the other is the flat leaf variety. The flat leaf variety is preferred by most people as it has a milder flavor.
 Nutritional Value
Spinach contains vitamins K, E, C, B6 and A. In addition it contains manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, protein, phosphorous, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and selenium. It is a good source of dietary fiber.
 Health benefits
Spinach contains several flavonoid compounds which act as anti-cancer agents. Some researchers were so impressed by the benefits of the compounds that they created spinach extracts to study their effects on various types of cancers. Their studies showed that these flavonoids slow down the division of stomach cancer cells and also reduce skin cancer. A good intake of spinach also helps to prevent colon and breast cancer. A carotenoid called neoxanthin that is found in green vegetables such as spinach actually induces prostrate cancer cells to self-destruct.
Spinach contains a large amount of vitamin K which is important for bone health. It also contains other nutrients that are good for building up bones such as calcium and magnesium.
Prevents heart disease
Spinach has a number of nutrients that are beneficial to people who suffer from diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart problems. The most notable of these nutrients is beta-carotene which helps to reduce the amount of free radicals in the body. Beta –carotene does not allow cholesterol to get oxidized. Oxidized cholesterol is dangerous because it sticks to the walls of the blood vessels and can eventually block them, causing a heart attack or a stroke.
Contains Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients
Spinach contains nutrients like beta-carotene and vitamin C that prevents inflammation or reduces it and is particularly helpful to people suffering from conditions like asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, the magnesium contained in spinach helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
Reduces effects of ageing on brain
Mental capacity declines with age but researchers have found that spinach helps slow down the age-related decline of the brain and improves the learning capacity and motor skills of people. Improves Eyesight
Spinach contains lutein, which protects an individual from eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataract. It is found in green vegetables such as spinach.
Spinach is an excellent source of iron and is very beneficial for people who suffer from iron deficiency. Cooked spinach does not lose its iron content. One cup of boiled spinach provides approximately 35% of the iron required daily for the body.
 How to Select and Store
Always select leaves that are deep green, fresh and tender. Avoid leaves which are wilted or bruised or have a slimy coating on them. Spinach can be placed in a plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator. Wash just before using as washing will hasten the process of decaying. It will last for about five days. Cooked spinach does not have a good shelf life so it is better to cooked it when needed. Wash the leaves thoroughly by immersing them in a large bowl of water. Repeat this process several times to make sure all the dirt is washed away. Dry the leaves before cooking. Adding spinach to your diet
- Add layers of lightly steamed and chopped spinach in lasagna recipes
- Make spinach soufflé
- Spinach soup is delicious and nutritious
- Lightly sauté spinach with pine nuts
- Make a dish of macaroni, steamed and chopped spinach and mushrooms in a cheesy white sauce
- Add tender spinach leaves to a tossed green salad
 Health risks
Surprisingly, that spinach is commonly associated with allergic reactions. Some of the most symptoms that indicate this allergy include a headache, itchy eyes, wheezing, gastrointestinal disturbances, depression, eczema, hives, skin rash and occasionally insomnia.
Spinach is a food on which pesticide residues are frequently found. Some people may want to avoid eating unless they are sure that it is grown organically.
Spinach is extremely rich in oxalic acid, which may lead to the occurrence of kidney stones in some people.
Spinach has been associated with E.coli. In September 2006, there was a major outbreak of a disease caused by the E. coli strain in the U.S.A. The symptoms take a week to appear. They include abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. These symptoms do not reduce even with antibiotics. A small percentage of people eventually come down with hemolytic-uremic syndrome. This is a severe form of kidney failure that can be fatal or cause long-term health problems
 Did You Know?
- The volume of spinach decrease by three quarters when cooked.
- September 2006 saw the outbreak of a disease caused by eating spinach infected with E.coli. The disease was eventually traced to the use of water contaminated by the feces of cattle.
- The antioxidants in spinach are better absorbed by the body if a little oil is added to the spinach while cooking it.
- Half a cup of steamed spinach provides two thirds of the daily value for folic acid
- Organically grown food is considered a safer option but E.coli from water used for irrigation or from manure can taint even organically grown spinach.
- The word "florentine" which is associated with recipes means it contains spinach. The term was coined in honor of the French queen, Catherine de Medici, who loved spinach and who belonged to Florence in Italy When she married the king of France she brought her own cooks with her so that they could prepare spinach the way she loved it. Since that time dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as "a la Florentine."