Super Star Spinach

Super Star Spinach

Spinach is not only listed as one of the super foods in Dr. Steven Pratt’s SuperFoods Rx (also by Kathy Matthews, NY, NY, 2004), he considers it so rich in so many important nutrients, it is almost in a class by itself. But before I start singing its praises, I have to add his important note that there are other similar foods that also have many of the same impressive substances.

Spinach Knock-offs

  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Swiss chard
  • Mustard and turnip greens
  • Bok choy
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Orange bell peppers (yes, that struck me as a pretty distant relative too)

 

On to the resume for these super stars (using spinach as the proto-type)

  • The carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin (both associated with lower macular degeneration and cataract rates), and beta-carotene
  • The antioxidants glutathione (protects DNA), alpha lipoic acid (anti-aging nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin E
  • Vitamin K (important for blood clotting and thus to be avoided if taking warfarin (Coumadin) a blood thinner)
  • Coenzyme Q10 (needed for cell energy production)
  • B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, B6, and folate (cancer fighter)
  • Chlorophyll (a potential cancer fighter), Polyphenols, Betaine (may help lower arterial disease risk)
  • Plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids

 

Which is better, raw or cooked spinach? There are benefits to each. Cooked spinach makes the carotenoids more available and increases lutein, but decreases the vitamin C and folate. So, it is probably best to consume raw and cooked spinach each day. Also, adding olive oil, nuts or avocado to cooked spinach will increase the carotenoid absorption.

One more note about the “knock off” vegetables. Kale, as noted in Super Foods by Tonia Reinhard (Buffalo, NY:  Firefly Books, 2014) has more than twice the level of antioxidants compared with other leafy greens. Okay kale, you’ve got my vote, and a place of prominence in my garden.

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Garlic and Onions and Leeks, Oh my!

Garlic and Onions and Leeks, Oh my!

It isn’t fair to stereotype these wonderful foods as doing nothing more that causing bad breath. There is so much more to these foods than that. Oh, there are more beautiful and more tasty foods out there, but do they really deliver the nutrients as well as this root-based vegetable family? With 1,200 onion varieties in the world, I guess it isn’t such a small family.

Onions are especially valued for their quercetin. This is a powerful antioxidant, rendering harmful compounds unable to cause their damage to human cells. This is why they help our body fight cancer. Quercetin has also been found helpful in lessening allergy symptoms. Onions possess other nutrients such as vitamin C, B6, potassium and manganese.

Research has also uncovered that onions may help alleviate the symptoms of upper respiratory infections. Lowering the risk of osteoporosis is another possible benefit from onions. If the strong flavor of onions decreases your intake of onions, you’ll be relieved to learn that cooking does not affect the flavonoid (including quercetin) or phenol compounds in these wonderful vegetables.

Leeks are related to onions and wonderful too. They are also high in the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, making them good antioxidant additions to the diet. They are also high in vitamin C and K, as well as manganese.

Garlic is just plain a superstar. It too is high in manganese, and a good source of vitamin C and vitamin B6. It also contains phytochemicals (chemicals that come from plants) and some of the benefits aren’t available until the garlic is crushed and allowed to sit for ten minutes before being eaten. Garlic also has strong antimicrobial properties, helping to kill bacteria, viruses and even fungi and parasites! Its anti-inflammatory effect makes it a potential aid in treating asthma and allergies. As if that isn’t enough, it can help lower blood pressure and decrease blood clot formation.

All three of these root vegetables (or are they herbs?) have been linked to cholesterol lowering as well. If you add that to the other vitamins in them, and consider their very low calorie content, surely they’ll start to look pretty beautiful. If you like to garden, all three are easy to grow as well. Enjoy these white roots and add all three to your diet on a regular basis.

References:  Tonia Reinhard, Super Foods, the Healthiest Foods on the Planet, 2nd edition. New York:  Firefly Books, 2014.

Dr. Don Colbert, Eat this and Live!  Lake Mary, FL:  Siloam, A Strang Company, 2009.

This information is not intended to replace the care of your Primary Care Provider.