Botanical name: Spinacia oleracea
Obscurely referred to for years in England as "the Spanish vegetable," the name of this leafy green veggie was later shortened to the name we call it today. It’s thought to have originated in ancient Persia. Spinach cultivation spread to Nepal, and by the seventh century, to China, where it’s still called "Persian Greens." The Moors introduced it to Spain around the 11th century. No mere vegetable ever gained the fame that spinach did in the 1960s through the cartoon character Popeye. Often in vain, parents encouraged their children to eat their spinach so they would grow up to be big and strong.
There’s actually some truth to that…
Low in fat and even lower in cholesterol, spinach is high in niacin and zinc, as well as protein, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.
In other word, it’s loaded with good things for every part of your body! Abundant flavonoids in spinach act as antioxidants to keep cholesterol from oxidizing and protect your body from free radicals, particularly in the colon. The folate in spinach is good for your healthy cardiovascular system, and magnesium helps lower high blood pressure. Studies also have shown that spinach helps maintain your vigorous brain function, memory and mental clarity.
In order to retain the rich iron content of spinach while cooking – lightly – add lemon juice or vinegar.
Because of the potentially high incidence of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltri-chloroethane) contamination1, only buy organic varieties of this vegetable, as much as possible.
A known cause of cancer, birth defects and reproductive damage, DDT, while banned in U.S. in 1972, continues to be manufactured and exported to developing nations, most often to fight mosquito-borne malaria. Still widely used on crops imported to the U.S., significant amounts of DDT have been detected. Worse, it can stay in the soil for years. In fact, spinach grown in the U.S. and sprayed with DDT before 1972 has been found to contain traces of DDT.
Known to thrive better in cooler than warmer climates, Arab farmers were nevertheless able to successfully cultivate spinach in the arid Mediterranean climate through the use of a sophisticated irrigation system, possibly as early as the eighth century.
Low in calories but packed with nutrients, spinach is one of a number of leafy vegetables becoming more and more prevalent on the salad bar. Its versatility makes it easily adaptable in healthy vegetable drinks and smoothies, lightly sautéed as a stand-along side dish, and added to soups or stir fried vegetables. Best of all, this green superfood is packed with so many healthy attributes, it’s hard to list them all!
1 Chef Boy Ari, “Eats Yer Spinach,” ewg.org, June 2012