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    Archive for the ‘spinach’ Category

    The Three Words Every Nutritionist Should Say

    mesclun_greens_11234220238“Eat more greens.”

    Yes, there is “eat more” advice that promotes health.  Unless you are drowning them in copious amounts of oil, greens don’t make a caloric dent.

    Dark, leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of many minerals (especially calcium as far as kale, bok choy, and mustard greens are concerned), phytonutrients, antioxidants, and flavonoids.

    Barring exceptions (ie: someone taking Coumadin), everyone can benefit from consuming a higher quantity of these vegetables.

    By the way, the key when taking Coumadin is to keep your intake of dark leafy green vegetables constant.  If you normally eat a lot, keep eating a lot.  If you normally don’t, keep your intake low.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Spinach Spaghetti

    41X-iqOQP6L._SS500_Are spinach spaghetti noodles more nutritious than regular ones?

    — Sandra (Last name withheld)
    Columbus, GA

    Slightly.

    Spinach spaghetti (and other kinds of dry pasta) are made from refined flour and spinach powder.

    As a refined grain, it does not offer as much fiber or as many minerals as whole wheat pastas.

    While the spinach powder offers significantly lower levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients than fresh spinach, it does offer quite a bit of vitamin K.

    Of course, a whole wheat pasta dish and with added spinach offers more “nutritional bang for your buck”.  Replace spinach with arugula, kale, or broccoli and you’re looking at an even more nutritious dish!

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    Who Said It?: Reveal

    QuestionMark-300x2991Spinach is full of pleasant surprises [and a top-ten “power food”].  It’s a natural source of iron… and a rich non-dairy source of calcium.

    Those sentences appear in The Sonoma Diet, penned by Registered Dietitian Connie Guttersen.

    I find it incomprehensible that a Registered Dietitian can make such an elementary mistake.

    Although spinach offers plenty of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, it is not a rich source of iron or calcium.

    Unlike other leafy greens (i.e.: bok choy, broccoli, mustard greens, and kale) which are very good sources of both those minerals, spinach is loaded with compouds known as oxalates.

    Oxalates bind to iron and calcium, significantly decreasing absorption of those minerals in our digestive systems.

    Consider the following:

    • A half cup of cooked Chinese cabbage delivers as much calcium as a cup of milk
    • One and a quarter cups of cooked bok choy deliver as much calcium as a cup of milk
    • Eight cups of cooked spinach deliver as much calcium as a cup of milk

    What makes this tricky is that the figures presented for spinach in terms of iron and calcium content do not take into account decreased absorption.  Therefore, you will see that a half cup of cooked spinach “provides” 115 milligrams of calcium (11% of the Daily Value).  Sadly, we only absorb 10 to 15% of that amount.

    Please share this tidbit with as many people as you can.  I am continually amazed by the amount of health professionals (dietitians, doctors, and educators) who keep this myth alive.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Leafy Green Vegetables

    mesclunI have a question about lettuce – is there really much of a nutritional difference between the various types (iceberg, leaf, romaine)?

    And, where, do things like “spring greens” and spinach fit in?

    — Rob Portinga
    (Location Unknown)

    There certainly is a difference between iceberg and romaine lettuce.

    A cup of iceberg lettuce provides:

    • 7% of the daily vitamin A requirement
    • 3% of the daily vitamin C requirement
    • 22% of the daily vitamin K requirement
    • 5% of the daily folate requirement
    • 1 gram of fiber

    That same amount of romaine lettuce, meanwhile, contains:

    • 120% of the daily vitamin A requirement
    • 30% of the daily vitamin C requirement
    • 100% of the daily vitamin K requirement
    • 35% of the daily folate requirement
    • 2 grams of fiber

    Additionally, since romaine lettuce is darker than the iceberg variety, it contains a higher amount of phytonutrients.

    Mesclun mixes are another great choice.  Since they contain a mixture of different greens, you are getting a much wider variety of antioxidants and phytonutrients than you would by solely eating one variety of greens.

    By the way, your typical mesclun mix is made up of four or five different types of salad leaves!

    Spinach is slightly different in that it is part of the Brassica family of vegetables, meaning it has more in common with bok choy and broccoli than it does with lettuce.

    While spinach is a wonderful source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and many phytonutrients, its high oxalate content unfortunately means we are unable to absorb a large percentage of its iron and calcium content.

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    Who Said It?

    QuestionMark-300x299Spinach is full of pleasant surprises [and a top-ten “power food”].  It’s a natural source of iron… and a rich non-dairy source of calcium.

    Yikes!  Come back on Wednesday to find out who apparently didn’t pay much attention during the vitamins and minerals lesson in nutrition class…

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    891318One cup of cooked Swiss chard contains as much potassium as two medium bananas.

    FYI: The United States Department of Agriculture classifies medium bananas as those measuring anywhere from 7 to 8 inches.

    Score another point for dark, leafy green vegetables.

    Remember — they already get kudos for being good sources of calcium and vitamin K — two crucial nutrients for bone health.

    While most people equate potassium with bananas (and that’s not too off-the-mark; bananas are a good source of that mineral), other foods provide higher amounts.

    A medium banana contains approximately 420 milligrams of potassium (roughly ten percent of the daily requirement).  One cup of cooked Swiss chard, meanwhile, contributes 961 milligrams (slightly over a quarter of a day’s worth!).

    Take a look at these other potassium-rich foods that are often forgotten:

    • Spinach (1 cup, cooked): 835 milligrams
    • Lentils (1 cup, cooked): 731 milligrams
    • Edamame (1 cup): 676 milligrams
    • Nutritional yeast (3 Tablespoons): 640 milligrams
    • Baked potato (medium, with skin): 610 milligrams
    • Halibut (3 ounces, cooked): 490 milligrams

    A good list to keep in mind, particularly since the majority of adults in the United States do not meet daily potassium requirements.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    kaleleaf5A cup of cooked kale contains 1,100 percent more vitamin C than a cup of cooked spinach and as much absorbable calcium as two thirds of a cup of milk.

    All dark leafy green vegetables are certainly not created equal!

    While spinach has its own thumbs-up-worthy qualities, kale certainly goes above and beyond.

    One of kale’s best nutritional offerings is its absorbable calcium.

    While spinach contains a fair share of calcium, most of it is bound by oxalates, which prevent it from being absorbed by our bodies.

    (FYI: the calcium in broccoli is even more absorbable than that in milk!)

    Next time you’re at the store, I encourage you to pick up some kale.  It is absolutely delicious when sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.

    Alternatively, you can steam it along with other vegetables — I personally love to contrast it with the intense taste and color of butternut squash — and drizzle a healthy dressing over them.

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    You Ask, I Answer: E.Coli & Spinach

    spinach leavesThe recent articles on E.Coli are waaaaay scary.

    I am more scared about the leafy green vegetable aspect than the risk from eating meat.

    Can I minimize my risk by cooking my spinach instead of eating it raw?  Does that kill the bacteria?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    The particular strain of E.coli implicated in all these foodborne illness cases (E.coli 0157:H7) can be killed by cooking.

    More specifically, infected spinach is rendered safe if it is cooked for at least 15 seconds at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

    However, one common mistake many people make is using the same knife they used to cut up infected spinach to chop raw vegetables for a salad.

    In that case, even if the infected spinach is cooked for ten minutes at 300 degrees Fahrehnheit, those raw salad vegetables could very well be contaminated.

    PS: I have read some very inaccurate reports which claim that dunking spinach in ice water for 30 minutes kills E.coli.  It does not!  Also, “veggie washes” do NOT kill E.coli!

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    Numbers Game: Kale-rific

    kaleA cup of cooked kale contains  ____ percent more vitamin C than a cup of cooked spinach and as much absorbable calcium as ____ cup of milk.

    a) 400/one half
    b) 200/ one
    c) 1,100/ two thirds of a
    d) 500/ a quarter

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday for the answer.

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    The Lowdown on Calcium

    Calcium is one of the most misunderstood nutrients.

    The range of confusion varies from those who think dairy products contain the most absorbable type of this mineral to people who think spinach is a great source of calcium.

    Let’s clarify these points.

    Are dairy products a good source of calcium? Yes. After all, eight ounces of milk provide a third of the daily value of calcium.

    Are dairy products the only way to get calcium? Absolutely not.

    Do dairy products provide calcium with the highest bioavailability? No.

    Consider the following:

    Eight ounces (one cup) of milk contain 300 milligrams of calcium.

    A half cup of cooked bok choy provides 79 milligrams of calcium.

    To someone unfamiliar with nutrition, the conclusion might seem obvious: “I need two cups of bok choy to get as much calcium as a cup of milk!”

    Alas, nutrition science isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

    You actually only need one and a quarter cups of cooked bok choy to match the calcium you would get from a cup of milk since the calcium in bok choy is more absorbable than the one in dairy products.

    The same thing happens with Chinese cabbage. A half cup of this cooked vegetable offers 239 milligrams of calcium, but that equals the amount of absorbable calcium in a cup of milk.

    Let’s now turn our attention to spinach. I am continually amazed by the amount of self-touted (though, clearly, not really) nutritione experts who list this vegetable as a good source of calcium.

    A half cup of cooked spinach offers 115 milligrams of calcium. However, due to its high amount of oxalates (organic acids naturally found in spinach that inhibit calcium absorption), it takes EIGHT cups of cooked spinach to equal the amount of absorbable calcium in one cup of milk.

    It just so happens that unlike spinach, the Brassica family of plants — including broccoli, kale, bok choy, cabbage, and mustard greens) does not accumulate oxalate, thereby providing highly absorbable calcium.

    I know some people like their nutrition advice in absolute form (“NEVER eat this, ALWAYS eat this), it’s not my style.

    My suggestions provide you with plenty of choices. If you like milk, drink it — it provides a significant amount of calcium.

    If you don’t like it or don’t want to include it in your diet, no need to worry about calcium as long as you include greens from the Brassica family and other non-dairy sources (tofu, tempeh, almonds, calcium-fortified alternative milks, etc.) in your diet.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Vegan Spinach-Walnut Pesto

    Here is a different spin on traditional pesto I often whip up at home.

    It omits cheese (you’re welcome, vegan and lactose intolerant readers), replaces pinenuts with walnuts for an Omega-3 boost, and adds some spinach for extra nutrition.

    YIELDS: 6 servings

    INGREDIENTS

    3 garlic cloves
    1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
    1/2 cup spinach leaves
    1/3 cup raw walnuts
    1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 teaspoon salt (preferably coarse sea salt)
    Pepper, to taste
    1 cup water
    1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional, but recommended)

    INSTRUCTIONS

    1. Place whole garlic cloves in food processor. Pulse until diced.
    2. Place rest of ingredients (except water) in food processor.
    3. Pulse; add water and pulse again.

    IMPORTANT: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer, rather than the refrigerator.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving)

    220 calories
    1.5 grams saturated fat
    14 grams monounsaturated (heart healthy) fat
    190 milligrams sodium
    4.5 grams fiber
    7 grams protein
    350 milligrams ALA Omega-3 fatty acids

    Excellent Source of: Vitamin A, Vitamin K, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, B vitamins

    Good Source of: Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber

    Although you can obviously drizzle this over some pasta (preferrably whole wheat; be sure to include roasted red peppers for a wonderful complementary taste), I also recommend using it as a topping for seitan, tofu, or grilled chicken.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Oxalates

    I know that spinach is not considered a good source of iron because it contains oxalates, which bind iron during digestion so your small intestine cannot absorb it.

    I have heard, though, that cooking spinach will decrease the amount of oxalates.

    Is this rumor true?

    — Christine (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    The rumor is true, but irrelevant.

    Yes, boiling reduces oxalate levels in food. However, this reduction is minimal, and it also leeches out vital water-soluble nutrients.

    By the way, oxalates also bind the calcium in spinach, so if you’re looking to get that mineral from a green vegetable, broccoli is a smarter bet.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin K

    What does Vitamin K do? What foods is it in?

    — Name Withheld
    Brooklyn, NY

    You kind of have to feel sorry for Vitamin K. It appears to be the least popular vitamin, and many people don’t even appear interested in getting to know it better.

    If Vitamin D is the life of the party, Vitamin K is standing by the punchbowl, futilely attempting to make small talk with other guests.

    I would definitely suggest being familiar with it, though, since this nutrient plays a very important role in blood clotting and bone density.

    You may wonder why its blood clotting properties are perceived as beneficial, particularly when one of the outed benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids is their blood thinning properties.

    We come back to the ever-present ideal of balance.

    Over-thinning of the blood is problematic, as it increases the risk of internal bleeding.

    Additionally, without blood clotting factors, something a small cut could result in excessive blood loss.

    Vitamin K helps with bone density by regulating calcitonin, a protein that locks calcium in the bone matrix, thereby making it more difficult for cells known as osteoclasts from breaking it down.

    If osteoclasts are more active than osteoblasts (which help create new bone tissue), your risk of osteoporisis increases significantly.

    What’s interesting about this nutrient is that we get it two different ways.

    K2, the more biologically active form, is synthesized by beneficial bacteria in our intestinal tract.

    Since babies start off with bacteria-free intestines, they are given a Vitamin K shot within hours of being born.

    The plant form — K1 — is found abundantly in leafy green vegetables. Although our intestinal bacteria produce some Vitamin K, we still need to get some from our diet.

    A mere half cup of steamed kale, spinach, and collard greens each pack in six times the Daily Value!

    A single cup of raw romaine lettuce provides three quarters of a day’s worth.

    Anyone who has ever been on blood-thinning medication (i.e.: warfarin, more commonly known as Coumadin) has been told to be mindful of their Vitamin K intake so as to prevent unwanted drug-nutrient interactions.

    Here’s why.

    Warfarin, an anticoagulant, decreases clotting (this is why it is mostly prescribed to heart disease patients.)

    A lot of people inaccurately think that the best thing to do when put on warfarin is completely eliminate Vitamin K from the diet.

    Not so! The key is to keep vitamin K intake consistent.

    Suddenly increasing Vitamin K consumption renders Coumadin ineffective, whereas decreasing it too much in a short amount of time will overly thin the blood.

    Remember, too, that antibiotics kill all flora in the gut — the negative AND positive bacteria (this includes the one that produces Vitamin K.)

    Therefore, when on antibiotics, do not drastically alter your Vitamin K intake.

    A clinical dietitian I know at New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital recently told a most interesting anecdote about a patient who was put on coumadin.

    A dietary recall revealed that her diet was very high in Vitamin K. Not a problem, but definitely important in the scheme of things.

    Soon thereafter, she fell very ill, to the point where she stopped eating. Mind you, she was still on Coumadin.

    In other words, her vitamin K drastically decreased (from about 1200% of the Daily Value a day to absolutely nothing).

    To counteract the illness, she was given antibiotics (remember, she is still on Coumadin).

    The antiobiotics wiped out gut flora.

    So, she now had a high Coumadin dose (based on her standard Vitamin K intake) but no Vitamin K from her diet OR her intestinal tract.

    Not surprisingly, she bled internally and had to be rushed into surgery.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee, 93 percent of the United States population does not meet the daily requirement for Vitamin E.

    Since Vitamin E plays an important role as an antioxidant, low intake levels allow free radicals more of an opportunity to advance cellular damage.

    It is worth nothing that this statistic is not relaying that 93 percent of the population has a vitamin E deficiency.

    However, failing to meet daily requirements still has health consequences.

    Adults need 15 milligrams (22 International Units) a day, and can rely on seeds, nuts, oils, and vegetables as good sources.

    Take a look at this table, outlining the percentage of the daily value contributed by some foods:

    Fortified cereals (1 cup): 50 – 70%
    Almonds (1 oz.): 40%

    Sunflower seeds (1 oz.): 30%
    Peanut buter (2 Tbsp.): 20%

    Tomato sauce (1/2 cup): 15%
    Avocado (1 whole): 15%

    Olive oil (1 Tbsp.): 12/5%
    Broccoli (cooked, 1/2 cup): 6%

    Spinach (cooked, 1/2 cup): 6%
    Mango slices (1/2 cup): 6%

    Collard greens (cooked, 1/2 cup): 5%

    Why swallow a pill when you can eat delicious foods in the name of health?

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    You Ask, I Answer: Osteoporosis

    I am a 56 year old woman diagnosed with osteoporosis.

    I would like to know the best way to incorporate calcium [in]to my diet.

    — Maria Barbosa
    Argentina

    Before I answer your specific question, let’s briefly discuss the larger issue.

    Osteoporosis — a condition in which bone tissue deteriorates and bone density decreases, thereby weakening the skeletal system (see accompanying illustration) — is especially prevalent among women.

    In the United States alone, it is estimated that approximately 10 million adults currently live with osteoporosis, and an astounding 75 percent of them are women.

    In case you are wondering about the difference between these two groups, a decline in estrogen at menopause is associated with decreased bone density.

    Men, meanwhile, are protected by testosterone. Although testosterone levels decrease with age, they are still at a sufficient range to guard against the onset of osteoporosis.

    Since osteoporosis is “symptom free” (you don’t feel weak, bloated, tired, or get headaches), it is completely feasible to develop it and be completely unaware of this for years.

    To discuss how osteoporosis starts – and how to make the necessary changes once diagnosed with it – let’s go back to the beginning.

    Our bones are a vast storage unit for a handful of minerals, especially calcium.

    It’s important to have a strong reserve of calcium because we lose it on a daily basis.

    All bodily excretions (sweat, urine, and feces) contain calcium, and our nails require it for production and growth.

    Calcium is also needed for a variety of bodily functions (i.e.: forming blood clots).

    Consume adequate amounts of this mineral every day and you easily replenish any losses.

    If calcium intake is insufficient, that’s where the problem begins.

    The body, desperate for calcium, doesn’t find any circulating in the blood and goes to the trusted storage unit for some.

    In turn, bones are demineralized and broken down.

    Imagine this happening on a daily basis for ten, twenty, even thirty years!

    By the time you hit the fifty or sixty year-old mark, your bones are — not surprisingly — quite fragile and acutely demineralized.

    Although many people automatically equate osteoporosis with calcium, there are other factors to keep in mind.

    A crucial one is Vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium (this is why you often see calcium supplements also containing Vitamin D).

    As I have explained before, Vitamin D is not found in many foods (the best source is actually the sun).

    If you live in an area of the world that does not receive much sunlight for five or so months of the year, or if your dermatologist has strongly recommended you always use UV-proof skin lotions, you run the risk of being significantly deficient.

    The solution? Reach for a daily supplement! Aim for 1,000 International Units a day.

    Protein also plays a role in preventing osteoporosis.

    Both sides of the spectrum – not getting enough or getting too much – are problematic.

    A lack of protein in the diet will hinder the body’s ability to repair and rebuild bone tissue.

    An excess, meanwhile, results in urine outputs with higher calcium levels than normal.

    Phosphoric acid is also worth paying attention to. Found in regular and diet sodas, it disturbs the body’s calcium balance mechanism, often resulting in calcium being leeched from bones.

    Sodium – a mineral the majority of people in the United States overconsume– also plays a role in osteoporosis.

    High sodium intakes increase calcium losses through the urine (a result of the body attempting to keep various mineral levels proportional).

    With all that in mind, how can you be proactive about lowering your risk of developing osteoporisis (and maintaing what bone mass you do have at the time you are diagnosed with it)?

    From a nutritional standpoint, make sure you get sufficient amounts of calcium and Vitamin D and that you do not surpass maximum recommendations for sodium and protein.

    Aim for 800 – 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.

    To answer your question, all dairy products are a great source, as are tofu, almonds, oats, and any fortified products.

    Spinach, however, is one food that gets way too much credit.

    Although it offers substantial amounts of various nutrients, don’t put it in your osteoporosis defense kit.

    Spinach offers significant amounts of calcium, but also contains high levels of oxalate, a compound that binds to calcium and greatly reduces its absorbability in our gastrointestinal tract.

    The good news is that oxalates only affect calcium absorption of the food they are in.

    So, if you’re having a spinach and tofu stirfry, only the dark leafy green vegetable’s calcium will be practically rendered useless.

    Aside from nutrition, one of the best things you can do to minimize your risk of developing osteoporosis (and prevent further bone demineralization if you have already been diagnosed) is weight-bearing exercises.

    This does not mean you need to necessarily start lifting heavy weights or buildmuscles. It’s really just about performing physical activity in which the muscles have to resist weight.

    Remember, bone strengthens up when stressed. Hence, challenging it with weights on a regular basis helps to maintain — and even increase — its density.

    As you can see, there are helpful steps you can take at any stage of the game. There is no reason to give in to osteoporosis.

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