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Health benefits of spinach – Part 2

If there was one article I wrote that generated so much interest and comments, this article on spinach I wrote two weeks ago will easily occupy that position. A lot of comments have been made, questions have been asked and some readers have also asked for the name of this vegetable in the three major languages of Nigeria. This follow up has been very encouraging and heartwarming and I want to begin the part two of the article thanking all the readers of this column for their interest. For the sake of everyone connected to this column, here are the names of spinach in the three major languages in Nigeria: Efo tete or Amunututu in Yoruba (literally, a cool appetizer to the stomach), Akwukwo nri in Ibo and Ganye alayyafo in Hausa. (Many thanks to Pastor Ayodeji Olulani of Health Awareness Forum for getting us those names).

Some readers wanted to know where they could buy spinach. Spinach is a common vegetable that is sold in the markets in Lagos. To add to that, there are some markets where fish and vegetables are predominantly sold. For example there is Anjorin market in Apapa and the market under the Falomo Flyover near Law School in Victoria Island. There is also Amuwo Odofin market in FESTAC.

About the types of food that spinach can be used for cooking, I have this to say; spinach is a versatile vegetable both in culinary uses and preventive medicine (indeed in some curative functions). Spinach can be eaten raw, steamed, lightly cooked in common Nigerian soups and stews. It can also be added to salads, juices and smoothies.

Researchers have studied the anti-inflammatory function of spinach quite extensively and I have decided to present their findings in this part 2 of my write up on spinach – the super food.

The anti-inflammatory effect of spinach is as a result of its content of anti-inflammatory nutrients. These anti-inflammatory nutrients are known as phytonutrients (phytochemicals sourced from plants).

1. Flavonoids. The first of this group is known as flavonoids, which come in two main groups referred to as glucoronide and glucopyranonside. Another sub-group of flavonoids found in spinach is known as methylenedioxyflavones. All these flavonoids exhibit anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Carotenoids. The second category of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients richly found in spinach is known as the carotenoids. Common among these carotenoids are lutein and zeaxanthin. To a lesser extent, there are other carotenoids such as neoxanthin and violaxanthin. Collectively, these carotenoids are called epoxyxanthophils. Like the flavonoids, these carotenoids also have anti-inflammatory properties.

3. Omega 3 Fatty Acid. Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the most predominantly found omega 3 fatty acid in spinach. Others that may be found in spinach are stearidonic acid (SDA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Most of the anti-inflammatory messaging molecules that regulate inflammation in the body are made directly from omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids can therefore be said to exert its anti-inflammatory function through the messaging molecules that regulate inflammation.

Another area whereby the versatility of spinach may have been boosted is in the reduction of the risk of obesity. Spinach is loaded with chlorophyll (the pigment that gives the green colour to plant leaves). Chlorophyll is stored in the membrane of cells known as chloroplasts. Sunlight, nutrients and chlorophyll together form energy in the chloroplasts. Extracts from chloroplasts have been found by researchers to delay stomach emptying and decrease levels of hunger-related hormones. They also increase levels of satiety-related hormones such as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). These three processes together may help to lower the risk of obesity.

Let spinach, a versatile culinary and medicinal vegetable be part of your meals, salads, side dishes, smoothies and juices as often as 5 to 6 times weekly as you take care of your health and wellbeing.

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