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Keep your healthy eyes on spinach

Gerald W. Deas | 5/3/2012, 4:40 p.m.
When I was a kid, the only way my mom got me to eat my...
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When I was a kid, the only way my mom got me to eat my spinach was to sing a song about Popeye and his muscles. I'm sure you remember the words to that song: "I'm Popeye the sailor man, I live in a garbage can. I like to go swimmin' with bowlegged wimmin'. I'm Popeye the sailor man."

Another verse states: "I'm Popeye the sailor man. I live in a garbage can. I'm strong to the finish, 'cause I eats my spinach. I'm Popeye the sailor man."

When Popeye ate that can of spinach--can you imagine spinach in a can?--he was able to knock the socks off of any bully that was threatening the life of his skinny girlfriend, Olive Oyl. (She probably didn't eat her spinach.)

Well, even today, I don't enjoy just plain spinach unless it is flavored to my taste, whether in a salad or out of the pot. Spinach is one of those leafy vegetables that is filled with vitamins and minerals that protect the heart by reducing heart attacks, fighting cancer and giving longevity to healthy eyes. Spinach is loaded with vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, folic acid and iron.

The importance of vitamin B6 and folic acid is that it lowers the compound homocysteine, which causes heart attacks and strokes. Spinach keeps muscles in tune and bones strong due to its high concentration of calcium, magnesium and potassium.

An important vitamin, beta carotene, is found concentrated in spinach. This vitamin is known as a free-radical absorber, which prevents the production of cancerous cells. Healthy eyes also depend upon beta carotene and on lutein, also found abundantly in spinach.

However, the high concentration of oxalates in spinach may prevent the absorption of calcium and iron from the intestinal tract, thus causing a deficiency in calcium and iron. Kidney stones have also been associated with high concentrations of oxalates.

Spinach grows close to the ground, and the deep grooves in the leaves contain a great deal of dirt, sand and fertilizers. Fertilizers are used to ensure healthy green leaves but can contain herbicides, fungicides and insect repellents. It is obvious that spinach must be washed thoroughly to ensure a healthy, edible product.

On many of today's farms, they are growing organic spinach, which is not subjected to these poisons. Instead, farmers use cow manure. This animal waste product may, in many cases, contain the bacteria E. coli, which is found in the gastrointestinal tract of the animal. If the bacteria is not eliminated by a through washing of the spinach leaves, it can survive to cause food poisoning. Likewise, if spinach is handled by hands that have not been washed after a bowel movement, the germ can contaminate the product. Often, when spinach is being harvested, fecal material from contaminated hands can be transferred to the spinach.

When one is infected with E. coli, it causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The bacteria produces a toxin that causes these symptoms, and the mere washing of the spinach often does not eliminate the toxin. It is important when losing a lot of fluid from the body to replace it with electrolytes, which can be found in products such as Gatorade and salty chicken broth.

Diarrhea will also respond to over-the-counter products such as Imodium. When excessive fluids are lost, however, a person may need further fluid replacement and require hospitalization to prevent kidney failure.

Oh, by the way, Popeye stayed healthy because he loved his girlfriend Olive Oyl. As you know, virgin olive oil will keep your cholesterol in check through preventing heart attacks.

Finally, when cooking spinach, it is important to conserve the minerals and nutrients by the following method. Add spinach to one cup of boiling water, cover it and let it cook no longer than five minutes. After draining, season to taste with olive oil and fresh garlic. A pinch of salt can be added if desired.

With safety precautions, spinach will remain one of our healthiest, green, leafy vegetables.