Eat your spinach, it’s good for your heart

January 14, 2019 - 06:00

If you want to take care of your heart, you may want to eat more spinach or other greens. But eat it raw.

Patients with heart failure often suffer from long-term inflammation. Research from Sweden suggests that vegetables such as spinach can curb inflammation. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Inflammation is the body’s normal response to infection or tissue injury, but when it becomes chronic it can cause major health problems. It’s a central player in people with atherosclerosis, where inflammation increases the risk of having a heart attack and angina.

When researchers at Linköping University in Sweden measured the degree of inflammation in the blood of people with cardiovascular disease, they found a connection between inflammation and low levels of the antioxidant lutein.

Lutein is a fat-soluble substance that is found in many green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, parsley and peas. Lutein is also found in other vegetables, including citrus fruits, but not at the same levels as in the greenest of the greens.

Cuts inflammation

The same research group also studied patients who had heart problems. Often, these patients suffer from chronic inflammation, even though they have been treated with medicines and have made lifestyle changes. The inflammation increases the likelihood that they will have new heart problems.

However, when these patients ate a lot of lutein, the inflammation in their immune cells was diminished.

Cold, not cooked

The researchers also found that people can store lutein in their immune cells.

In a new study, they tried to determine the best way possible for people to build up their lutein reserves.

They decided to study spinach, both raw and cooked in different ways. What they found was that cooking spinach tended to break down lutein, reducing the benefits of eating it.

However, chopping spinach and adding it to dairy products — that’s right, a recipe for a spinach smoothie — was extremely effective in releasing the most lutein possible, the researchers found. When the spinach is finely chopped, the spinach leaf releases more antioxidants. And the fat in the smoothie increases the lutein's ability to dissolve in the liquid.

Eat your spinach, but eat other healthy foods too

Norwegian nutritionist Tine Sundfør says that the best advice she can give people is to eat a variety of different healthy foods, and not focus on one “superfood”, even if it is something as healthful and innocuous as spinach.

She says that it’s simply not true that the more you eat of one single nutrient, the better, because there's a limit to how much benefit you can get from any one food.

Additionally, there is no research that supports the health benefits of various food trends, says Sundfør. If you slavishly follow a specific diet or trend and only eat “superfood”, you may not get enough important nutrients, she says.

She also believes that vitamin supplements are a total waste of money.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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