Spotlight on: Spinach, Carotenoids and Tasty Recipes

The ‘study’ returns! A new section on nutrition, diet and gaining the maximum benefit from what we eat

– because students can’t afford not to!

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Back to the ‘study’ part of my blog title – it has been forever! Plus between baking and writing and researching I often find a cakey post takes a little too much time so I am going to start a new series focusing on the science of food methods, ingredients and supplements.

Carotenoids are an often forgotten group of vitamins but if avoiding illness is high on your priority list, carotenoid-rich foods may be the answer. With deadlines looming and winder flu season approaching, carotenoids may help promote stronger immune systems, reduced cancer risk and healthier eyes (Johnson, E.J. 2002). Many fruits and vegetables are listed as rich sources of carotenoids such as watermelon, carrots, sweet potatoes, squashes, tomatoes, oranges and papaya, often identifiable by their bright red, yellow and orange hues.

 

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But new research points to other, new sources of carotenoids

New studies claim that we cannot just rely on colour to identify these important food stuffs when wandering around the supermarket.

Cruciferious veggies such as kale and collards (Hendler and Rorvik, 2008)  have been named as rich sources of this important vitamin group. However, many studies highlight spinach as the most important and accessible source of carotinoids even compared to the usual orange-pigmented sources. Recent evidence drafted the genome for cultivated spinach (Spinacia oleracea) containing over 25,000 protein-coding genes, most of which highly repetitive as transposable elements. Despite a lack of recent whole-genome replication events in Spinach, transcriptome sequencing of 120 cultivated and wild spinach accessions showed over 420,000 variants (Chapman, M. pers comm.). Therefore spinach is a very important resource for comparative genome studies as well as a very important part of our healthy diet. Ultimately, the study revealed spinach as a key and accessible source of carotenoids which should be a integrated into our daily diets.

So how to eat them? Lots of people don’t have the love affair with spinach. When bought frozen it can be tasteless and mushy, while fresh spinach can quickly wilt into nothing and add little to your recipe.

Here are some of my favorite recipes:

  • Fiery Shakshuka, similar to my Huevos Rancheros recipe, this North African baked eggs recipe is healthy and fast. Normally baked into a spicy tomato based sauce but this can be adapted for Green Shakshuka, a spinach-base with coriander, jalapenos and parsley.
  • Simple but creamy Bacon and Spinach and Pasta. I love this, its so fast, student-budget friendly and filling. Just fry off the bacon, add spinach in any form, garlic and maybe some fried onions. Creme fraiche or soft cheese forms the creamy sauce stirred through hot spaghetti.
  • For an extra simple addition try wilting some spinach to provide a bed for the centerpiece of the dish. Salmon and Spinach are perfect (and the bed helps keep the fish warm!) with a tartare sauce to bring out the flavours. I often use it to provide a healthy touch of green, sauteed in the same pan as the main ingredient to absorb the flavours like in my Teriyaki Chicken sushi bowl recipe. Also throw spinach into smoothies for a green glow!
  • Lasagne is super simple and can be adapted to use up almost anything you have in the cupboards! My Vegetarian Lasagne uses a variety of yummy veggies or this Spinach and Mushroom version from GoodFood is lovely as a more summery option.

For more recipes definitely check out Pinterest and BBC GoodFood, as well as Deliciously Ella, Hemsley + Hemsley and Oh She Glows for plenty more recipes, from smoothies to curries.

Hendler SS, Rorvik DM, eds. PDR for Nutritional Supplements. 2nd ed. Thomson Reuters; 2008.

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