Welcome back to The Naturopathic Kitchen where our goal is to learn about eating healthy and embracing food as medicine. This week we will take a closer look at spinach. Spinach is a great way to introduce leafy greens because it has a mildly sweet flavor and lacks the bitterness associated with other leafy greens.
Popularized in the US in the 1930s by the iconoic comic and cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man, spinach is a member of the Amaranth family, making it a relative of beets, chard, and quinoa. Spinach has a long history of use in nearly all cultures around the world. In fact, it was a favorite of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, who ordered it be served for every meal! Even in modern times, many dishes that are made with spinach are often called “Florentine” as a nod to her birthplace- Florence.
Where does spinach come from? Where can I find it?
The origin of spinach actually predates written record. Spinach is believed to have originated in ancient Persia, and from there spread to India and China where it became known as “Persian Vegetable” before making its way to Europe in the 1300s. Spinach became very popular in Europe because it grows during a time when other vegetables are scarce, and religious events such as Lent invoke dietary restrictions that discourage the consumption of other foods.
Today, spinach is sold loose, bunched, packaged fresh in bags as well as canned or frozen. It is important to note that spinach is particularly susceptible to nutrient degradation with prolonged storage beyond a few days. Refrigeration slows this effect, but for prolonged storage, freezing, cooking, and canning are preferable to preserve its nutrients.
The average American eats about three pounds of spinach each year. There are three basic variants of spinach: savoy has leaves that are dark green and curly, the semi-savoy is a hybrid variety that has less curly leaves (thus making it easier to clean), and the flat or smooth leaf type (probably the most common and familiar in the US).
How does spinach help my health?
Spinach boasts an impressive array of nutrients. It is a great source of vitamins A, C, K and E, as well as B6, riboflavin (B2), and folate (B9). Rich in fiber and carotenoids like lutein, spinach also contains minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, are recognized as having substantial health-promoting activities that are attributed to their nutrients and other non-essential chemical compounds. For example, the lutein compounds in spinach have been shown to provide some reduction in the risk of degenerative eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration.1 Spinach contains nutrients known to aid in reducing inflammation of the vascular system.2 Consuming spinach has also been shown to reduce cravings for sweets.3
What medical conditions/symptoms is spinach used for?
When should spinach be avoided?
Eating excessive amounts of spinach can result in impaired ability to absorb certain minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and others. The reason spinach can interfere with the body’s mineral absorption capacity is because it contains a lot of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is known to bind to mineral compounds and inhibit their absorption. This can mean our body does not get enough of these essential minerals which can impair the normal function of bodily systems and even result in disease related to mineral deficiency like anemia.
Additionally, those with a history of gout, kidney stones, or blood clotting issues should be cautious with excess spinach intake. Spinach contains large amounts of purine compounds. Purines are chemical compounds that when ingested, can be converted into uric acid. Uric acid can combine with calcium to form kidney stones or be deposited in the joints resulting in gout. People taking blood clotting medications like Warfarin should also be cautious, as the vitamin K content of spinach can interfere with the effectiveness of the medication.
Let’s try out spinach with these tasty recipes!
Lemony Garlic Spinach
12 c fresh spinach
1 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced
zest of 1 medium lemon
1 T fresh lemon Juice
sea salt, to taste
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
red chili flakes (optional)
- Heat large frying pan on medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Cook garlic until fragrant and translucent.
- Add spinach (it will shrink and cook down). Gently stir the spinach until it’s all cooked and wilted, but not mushy.
- Add sea salt and pepper to taste. Add optional red chili flakes if you want a little heat. Then add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir it all into the spinach.
Thank you to bestrecipeboc.com for the wonderful recipe!
Pan-roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spinach
2 large sweet potatoes, med diced
12 spinach leaves, fresh
3 t honey
1/2 t dried rosemary
2 pinches chili powder
3 T olive oil
2 pinches of salt
- Heat sauté pan on medium heat.
- Dice potatoes in medium sized dice.
- Add oil to pan, let the oil get hot and add potatoes, cook until fork tender with no lid.
- Potatoes should be fork tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add honey, rosemary, salt, and chili powder and cook for one more minute.
- Add spinach and stir until spinach is wilted.
Thank you to pbs.org for this tasty recipe!
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