Spinach is considered a superfood, because like other dark leafy greens, it’s a superb source of nutrients, such as iron and antioxidants. Spinach also happens to be a good source of dietary nitrates. Dietary nitrates are natural compounds that serve as a source of Nitric Oxide (NO) in the body. Nitrates are present in certain especially healthful vegetables, like beetroot and spinach.
It was only in recent decades that scientists discovered the importance of this exceptionally small, simple molecule. They knew that the body must have a way to signal certain types of smooth muscle cells to relax. These involuntary muscle cells line the walls of the body’s arteries and arterioles. Eventually, scientists discovered that NO is responsible for this crucial signaling function. They also demonstrated that NO is generated within the lining of the blood vessels themselves; a tissue called the endothelium.
When arterial muscle cells contract, they constrict the flow of blood through the vessel by narrowing its diameter. This tends to raise blood pressure and make the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. The body requires this capability to relax or constrict blood vessels in order to respond to rapidly changing demands for the oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood.
As it turns out, NO serves this signaling task handily, but it must be generated in the body from raw materials obtained through the diet. In this instance, the body needs an adequate supply of dietary nitrates. Nitrates should not to be confused with nitrites, which are ingredients added to deli meats to preserve color. Added sodium nitrite, for example, is actually linked to worse cardiovascular health, and may account, at least in part, for the finding that people who consume deli meats are at increased risk for various diseases.
In contrast, dietary nitrates, from natural vegetable sources, are exceptionally beneficial for cardiovascular health. Among other nutrients present in vegetable sources of nitrates, these compounds ensure a steady supply of NO. Since NO is used to relax blood vessels, higher intake of vegetables containing nitrates is linked to lower blood pressure and even reduced inflammation.
So, by all means, enjoy spinach to your heart’s content. Literally. Eat it raw in salads, sautéed with some garlic and olive oil, or add it to any number of dishes for a quick healthful boost. To help with that, here are some recipe suggestions:
Sautéed Spinach with Garlic
• 1-2 lb. washed baby spinach leaves
• 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• 4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• black pepper
• fresh lemon zest and splash of lemon juice
• Heat oil and garlic in a large pot on stove on low to medium heat.
• Sauté for one to two minutes. Do not let garlic scorch, or it will turn unpleasantly bitter.
• Add spinach, and stir.
• Cover and cook for about two minutes.
• Remove lid and raise heat slightly. Continue stirring until all the leaves wilt.
• Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice/zest mixture.
• Remove from heat and serve immediately.
(Note: garlic, spinach and extra virgin olive oil have all been linked to excellent cardiovascular health, due to a variety of beneficial compounds and phytonutrients.)
Spinach Soup with a Hint of Curry
• 1 Russet or Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
• 5-6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
• 12 c. fresh spinach—thoroughly rinsed to remove any sand
• 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
• 2 tsp. curry powder
• 4-5 c. chicken broth
• Squeeze of lemon juice, plus zest
• Add oil to large dutch oven and turn heat to low-medium.
• Add garlic and shallots; sauté for two to three minutes to soften.
• Add curry powder and stir.
• Add flour to pan. Allow flour to soak up oil, then continue cooking to form a roux; several minutes. Do not allow garlic or shallots to scorch.
• Add chicken broth, whisk to stir, and bring to a boil. Whisking should prevent the formation of clumps.
• Reduce heat and add spinach. Heat through until spinach wilts.
• Serve as is, or remove soup to a blender and blend briefly. Alternatively, use a handheld immersion blender to purée.
• Add lemon and serve hot.
(Note: Curry is an Indian spice blend that includes various ingredients, and may vary from one region to another. A foundational ingredient is turmeric. Turmeric is a vibrant yellow spice made from the dried rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant. It provides compounds collectively called curcumin, which have been linked to a wide range of extremely beneficial properties, including enhanced cardiovascular health.)
Learn more about our 100% drug free Berkeley Life Heart Health Supplements.