A spin on spinach

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 3/8/2018, 12:40 p.m.
When I was a kid, the only way my mom got me to eat my spinach was to sing a ...

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 bow-legged women. 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 eat all 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 any bully who was threatening the life of his skinny girlfriend, Olive Oyl. She probably didn’t eat her spinach. Well, even today, I don’t enjoy 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, fights cancer and gives longevity to healthy eyes. Spinach is loaded with vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B-6, folic acid and iron. The importance of vitamin B-6 and folic acid is that it lowers the compound homocysteine, which causes heart attacks and strokes. Spinach keeps muscles in tune and bones strong because of its high concentration of calcium, magnesium and potassium.

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

Because of the high concentration of oxalates in spinach, this compound might 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 ensure healthy green leaves. The fertilizers consist of herbicides, fungicides and insect repellents. It is obvious that spinach must be washed thoroughly to ensure a healthy edible product. Many farms today grow organic spinach, which is not treated with these poisons. Instead, farmers are using cow manure. This waste product of animals in many cases contain the E. coli bacteria, which are found in the gastrointestinal tracts of the animals. If the bacteria are not eliminated by a through washing of the spinach leaves, they can survive to cause food poisoning. 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, the result is nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The bacteria produce a toxin that causes these conditions. 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 found in products such as Gatorade and in salty chicken broth. Diarrhea will respond to over-the-counter products such as Imodium. When excessive fluids are lost, however, a person might need further fluid replacement, which might require hospitalization to prevent kidney failure.

Oh, by the way, Popeye stayed healthy also because he loved his girlfriend Olive Oyl. As you know, virgin olive oil will keep your cholesterol in check and prevent 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 still remain one of our healthiest green leafy vegetables.