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.
Mustard and turnip greens
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.
Before plunging into all the nutrients and cell protectors found in citrus fruits, it is worth stating an important fact once again. That key concept is that with these foods, as with most super foods, the benefits add up to much more than the sum of its parts. To put it another way, you can’t take the specific molecules, even in the amounts proportionate to what they are in the fruit, and reap the same rewards. These compounds work together. This writer can think of no other comment on this amazing aspect of many foods than the word miraculous. To profit fully from these foods, eat them as they are – the whole food. Even juices are often far inferior to their original containers. And really, why do we want to add time, effort and expense to our diet?
Numerous anticancer compounds are found in citrus fruits, maybe more than any other food, and per the National Cancer Institute a complete package of natural cancer inhibitors. Some of these cancer fighters include the following:
Pectin which is a soluble fiber, impairs growth factors that cancers need to keep growing. This same compound benefits the cardiovascular system as well. The white lining of citrus fruit is especially high in pectin.
Citrus flavonoids in the juice, pulp and skin are antioxidants (protecting cells from free radical damage – something that comes from many sources including normal energy production and inflammation). They are also antimutagenic – preventing the cell mutations that are the first step in cancer development. Flavonoids are also anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. They also strengthen blood vessels as well as tendons, cartilage and ligaments.
Folate in citrus is another compound that helps protect the DNA. Folate also helps protect the cardiovascular system.
Limonene is a phytonutrient (nutrient found in plants) in the oil of citrus peel. They function to detoxify – another cancer fighting action of citrus. Animal research has shown this compound can help shrink tumors. These chemicals may also have antimicrobial properties. Add citrus zest to fruit dishes and coleslaw.
Vitamin C helps protect against nitrosamines, carcinogens associated with GI cancers such as stomach cancer. Vitamin C’s effects are strengthened by bioflavonoid polyphenols that are also found in citrus. C also decreases stroke and cataract risk.
Carotenoids are found in particular in tangerines and grapefruit. These also fight cancer. Citrate levels in urine are increased with orange juice consumption and that helps stop kidney stone formation. This was noted in David Grotto’s book 101 Foods that could save your life (Nutrition Housecall, 2007).
Other references: Tonia Reinhard’s Super Foods (Firefly Books, 2014), Eat This and Live by Don Colbert (Siloam, 2009) and Fourteen Foods that will change your life SuperFoods (HarperCollins, 2004).