There is probably a book out there somewhere written solely about spinach. When you’re a child and you first look at spinach you think: “well then… a leaf.” Then you see cartoons like Popeye the Sailor crush everyone after a quick fill of this same leaf. So here I am… a 12 year old kid… witnessing this cartoon character turn from a helpless weakling into a spectacular, brutal killing-machine-stud-like-robot after eating… some leaf? It comes as no surprise that the “got-milk” and Wheaties marketing campaigns were more successful at attracting a crowd (with their star-studded lineup of world class athletes). Its also no surprise that when in need of calcium we turn to milk. Interestingly enough 3.5 ounces of milk has 113 mg of calcium while spinach has 100 in the same 3.5 ounces. Spinach has 20 calories though as compared to milks 60 for this same amount. Milk also boasts 3.25 grams of fat to spinach’s… 0.4 grams… and inversely… spinach boasts 2.2 grams of fiber to milk’s… 0 (although I am sure there are some fortified ones now). So let us take a deeper look at this wonder leaf:
- Spinach contains Vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E (all useful in some way to your everyday health).
- Spinach contains 18 of the 20 amino acids (except glutamine and asparagine)
- The 0.4 grams of fat it does contain include vegetable oils such as Oleic acid which is packed with anti-inflammatory, disease fighting properties.
- Least impressive sounding, but likely important : Fiber.
Now fiber is something that merits further exploration. Most of us in the western world receive much less fiber than we should due to the immense amount of processed food out there (breads, pastas, and rices in particular). There is plenty of evidence that fiber is great for both colon and cardiovascular health. In the colon it speeds up transit time of feces and increases its bulk (absorbing plenty of toxins on the way). The way it affects cardiovascular health is much more complex (and not fully understood). The best understood mechanism has to do with fiber rich food effects on blood sugar levels (as compared to their processed, low-fiber counterparts). Foods that are low in fiber and nutrition are easily and quickly digested by the body. This fast digestion leads to an abrupt blood sugar surge in our bloodstream. This in turn leads to a reflex insulin surge as the body attempts to control the rising blood sugar levels. Repeated cycles of this abrupt insulin release leads to increased insulin receptor resistance (they become desensitized). Continued desensitization ultimately leads to loss of proper function and we get the fertile ground for development of type II diabetes (which is primarily caused by this same insulin resistance mechanism). As some of you may know a diagnosis of diabetes quintuples your risk for acquiring cardiovascular disease. Another issue is that consumtion of these processed foods (namely white rices, pastas, and breads) in the long run lead to a chronic state of huger. Nutrition and not bulk is most important in satiety mechanisms in the body. If you constantly consume fiber-rich, nutritionally packed foods your body will not be deficient in nutrients (and hence will not be hungry all the time). When we constantly consume empty calories all we get is hungrier and hungrier…while our belly gets bigger and bigger. This same belly fat is one of the best indicators for progression to systemic cardiovascular and diabetic disease development. The larger your waist the higher the chance of developing illnes. The link between high fiber diet and lower cardiovascular risk becomes clear. There are other mechanisms currently being explored such as fiber causing an increased excretion of bile salts (and in this fashion increasing cholesterol excretion), but further research is being done on that front. So next time you feel like having a salad… dump the lettuce and turn to Popeye’s favorite treat.