The love of all things spinach isn’t new. It has been eaten for centuries. It started out as a native crop in ancient Persia and began its spread across the world and had reached China, via India by the 7th Century. The Chinese still refer to it as the ‘Persian Green.’ It also spread from Persia into Spain by the 12th century and then across Europe into German in the 13th Century followed by France and England in the 14th Century. Eventually it found its way to the rest of the world following colonisation.
Across history it found brief fame in medical and agricultural documents in the Mediterranean in the 10th Century, was expressed in art in the middle ages as the green pigment for paint and in the hands of a super strong cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man in the 1930’s.
It is interesting that this unremarkable looking leafy green should be embraced across so many cultures for centuries and still find itself being exalted by many even today. Given its health benefits, it isn’t surprising at all. Spinach is very good for you.
Spinach contains 15 vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. It contains high levels of vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium and potassium. It is even said to have more potassium that a banana!
It also provides vitamin B1, phosphorus, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, selenium and dietary fibre, among other things. It also contains a lot of water and raw spinach is about 90% water, as you will experience when you fill a pot to cook it and are left with a small amount at the bottom! They have 5% less water than is found in a cucumber.
There is a misconception that spinach is extremely high in iron, however due to flawed research and the fame of Popeye back in the 1930’s, the misunderstanding spread into the realm of common knowledge. Much of the iron in spinach is in a form that is unavailable to humans. To compound this problem, spinach contains high levels of oxalates, which prevent the absorption of iron. However, all is not lost, liquifying or boiling spinach for at least two minutes will release stored beta-carotene and enable the iron to be absorbed more readily. Another option is to accompany spinach with a food that is high in Vitamin C. Unlike other vegetables, spinach is one that benefits from being cooked and releases 3x the nutrients available in fresh spinach so enjoy it in a stir fry, quiche, tossed in with pasta, turned into soup or popped in an Indian curry or blitzed in a smoothie. There are so many ways to enjoy spinach. Half a cup of spinach accounts for one of your five a day fruits and vegetables. It is even said to help satiate appetites and help you to feel full.
It is certainly a controversial vegetable and the high amounts of Vitamin K can cause problems for some people as it can cause blood clotting and may interfere with blood thinning medication. This ability was utilised during World War I as spinach juice was given to injured soldiers with the intention of thickening their blood to reduce severe bleeding.