Sunday, January 24, 2010

Strong to the Finish, 'Cause we eat our Spinach...

Seriously my loyal readers, despite the humorous title (adapted from our beloved Popeye, of course), spinach is no laughing matter---in fact, it's a powerful food tool for any healthy lifestyle. Full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, spinach is a nutritionally dense food that boasts a whole host of health benefits.

Please, check this chart out. One cup of boiled spinach has just 41.40 calories, and is an excellent source of Vitamin K (1,110% of the RDA--recommended daily amount), Vitamin A (377%), Manganese (84%), Folate (65.7%), Iron (35.7%), Vitamin C (29.4%)and Calcium (24.5%). This serving of spinach also contains roughly 17% of the RDA for Dietary Fiber and, for protein, 10% of the RDA. What a powerhouse!

So where did this vegetative heavy hitter come from, you might ask? Excellent question! Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (then known as Iran). Spinach made its way to China in the 7th century when the King of Nepal sent it as a gift to this country.

Spinach has a much more recent history in Europe than many other vegetables. It was only brought to that continent in the 11th century, when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact, for a while, spinach was known as "the Spanish vegetable" in England. Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici, a historical figure in the 16th century. When she left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought along her own cooks, who could prepare spinach the ways that she especially liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as "a la Florentine."

Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like spinach, with its delicate texture and jade green color, provide more nutrients than any other food. Although spinach is available throughout the year, its season runs from March through May and from September through October when it is the freshest, has the best flavor and is most readily available. Spinach grows well in temperate climates. Today, the United States and the Netherlands are among the largest commercial producers of spinach.

We all know that Popeye made himself super strong by eating spinach, but you may be surprised to learn that he may also have been protecting himself against a variety of cancers (prostate and colon cancers among them), arthritis, and other diseases at the same time. Indeed, if Popeye truly loved his Olive Oyl, let's hope that he fed her some spinach from time to time as well, as his spinach would have been a weapon in the fight for her against osteoporosis, ovarian cancer, and heart disease.

Colorful history and reputable health benefits aside, I'm willing to admit that spinach seems to be a "love it or hate it" vegetable for most folks. Interesting how both our Humble Farmer and the Farmer Babe HATED spinach as children, but now love it as adults. We eat it raw, boiled, creamed, souffled, and as an integral part of other dishes (check out this spinach lasagna recipe, courtesy of the Food Network). For the sake of our children (collectively speaking), I'm all for moving beyond the mundane boiled spinach and suggesting these recipes for Spinach and Potato Cakes , and kid-friendly spinach meatballs. As a child, one of my most favorite Sunday dinners was spaghetti and meatballs at my Gram's if we can encourage healthy eating in our children by including this green dynamo in more typical meals, then why not do it? Not only for it's culinary versatility and subtle flavor, but for the extraordinary, vitamin-rich superfood that spinach is?

In conclusion, I hope that you've enjoyed learning more about Spinach and its benefits to our healthy eating lifestyles. My hope is that the next time you happen to cross paths with a bunch of spinach, you'll roll up your sleeves, grab your nearest cookbook and make this veggie an integral part of your next family meal. If you do, let me know how it goes...I'd love to include your responses in an upcoming blog. If you are interested in more family friendly and healthy spinach recipes, contact me for ideas and suggestions.


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