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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Spinach benefits health

April 6, 2005

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Q: How healthy is spinach to eat?

A: Spinach is extremely high in healthful antioxidants.

Eating spinach helps protect health against many diseases, including heart disease, cancer and age-related macular degeneration.

One cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked spinach equals one serving. Each 1/2 cup steamed spinach has: 21 calories; 3 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; and 0 grams fat.

One cup of raw spinach has: 7 calories; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; and 0 grams fat.

Spinach contributes fiber, carotenoids (which the body converts to vitamin A), vitamins C and K, B vitamins including folic acid, iron, and many other nutrients to the diet. Spinach is the second best source of folate and carotenoids behind kale.

Just for a bit of trivia, a recipe with the word "florentine" means it contains spinach. The expression honors the French queen, Catherine de Medici, who loved spinach and was from Florence, Italy. New Zealand spinach is a leafy green vegetable, but it is not really spinach. It can, however, be used in similar ways.

Q: Is it true that spinach begins to lose its nutrients as soon as it is harvested?

A: It is known that fresh vegetables begin losing nutrients as soon as they are harvested. How fast they lose nutrients can depend on many factors, one being storage.

Researchers at Penn State University conducted a study on how storage temperature and time affects the retention of folate and carotenoids in commercially packaged spinach. Because of its short 14-day shelf life, spinach must be stored properly to retain nutrients.

Spinach samples were stored at 39 degrees, 50 degrees and 68 degrees. For each temperature, samples were stored for eight days, six days and four days. Samples were analyzed for retention of folate, carotenoids, color, weight loss, chlorophyll, microbial activity and enzyme activity.

Results for nutrient retention showed that folate levels decreased an average of 53 percent of the initial amount for all time periods.

For the carotenoids, losses increased as temperature and time increased, with 54 percent retention at 39 degrees after eight days storage. Therefore, at colder temperatures, the nutrients had a better retention rate.

Look for fresh, crisp dark green leaves and tender stems. Smooth leaf varieties are easier to clean. Avoid spinach with wilted, yellow, discolored, damaged or slimy leaves, or with long or tough stems. For optimum nutrition from spinach, keep it refrigerated and consume as soon after purchasing as possible.

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