Popeye and Spinach
Popeye’s Favorite Food
It has been noted that the sale of spinach increased by 30 percent during the decade that the Popeye cartoon first came out. Moreover, a recent study done in 2010 also noted that children are more inclined to eat spinach after watching Popeye the Sailor Man. Coincidence? Whether it was to save Olive Oyl, Sweet Pea or other Popeye characters, Popeye would always require his trusty spinach to be able to be fast and quick enough to save them. Also, Popeye needs his spinach to be strong enough to fight off different villains like Bluto or the Sea Hag. Is there a truth behind the fiction?
Spinach is actually an edible flowering plant that grows mostly in temperate climates especially in Asian countries. It was historically thought to have originated in Iran and its neighboring nations as Arab traders brought spinach into India and China. It was earlier referred to as a Persian vegetable wherein the ancient Chinese noted that it originated from Nepal around 647 AD. Moreover, it was even noted that the Queen of France, Catherine de’ Medici, liked the spinach so much that she insists it be served every time.
There are actually a couple of different types of spinach available. There are older and newer varieties of the plant that differs in its physical attributes and taste among others. The savoy is a darker and curlier variety and makes it a little harder to clean. The flat or smooth-leaf spinach has a broader and smoother leaf and is often used in canned and frozen spinach. It is also used typically for baby foods, soups and other processed foods. However, a new variety referred to as semi-savoy has slightly crinkled leaves that are favored as fresh market produce and processed food. Spinach is often sold in pre-packaged bags, frozen or canned. The nutritional value of spinach declines with storage; however, refrigerating it does slow down the nutritional decline for an estimated eight more days until it loses its foliate and carotenoid content. If you are planning to keep it longer, the freezer can extend its viability up to eight months!
Spinach is also found to be rich in calcium, copper, foliate, folic acid, iron, lutein, magnesium, manganese, niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorous potassium, protein, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and zinc. It was also recently discovered that spinach contains opioid peptides, specifically rubiscolins that mimics the results of opiates that influences the brain. An abundance of folic acid or vitamin B9 makes the spinach a good source of nutrition for pregnant women. It is extremely important for pregnant women to meet their daily folic acid requirements to minimize the risk of a number of congenital mutations that include neural tube defects. Neural tube defects affect the formation of the spine, brain and skull that can possible result in anencephaly or spina bifida among others. Boiling spinach will cause the foliate level in spinach to cut in half hence; it is often advised to microwave it since it does not significantly affect the foliate content.
Spinach, especially when steamed, quickly boiled or fresh, is very nutritious and rich in anti-oxidants. It was initially thought to be rich in iron however; it turned out to be an error of a misplaced decimal point by Emil von Wolff that led people to believe that spinach has 10 times more iron than it actually has. This misconception went on from 1870 and continued until the 1930s.
The primary rationale behind Popeye’s strength is his penchant for spinach that was then thought to contain huge amounts of iron. Like other green and leafy vegetables, the spinach is definitely still a good source of iron as attested to by the United States Department of Agriculture. The studies show that 180 grams of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of iron while 170 grams of ground burger patty would only contain 4.42 mg at best. However, spinach contains a particular iron absorption-inhibiting agent that can combine the iron to form ferrous oxalate that technically leaves most of the iron unusable by our body. The high levels of oxalates also induce the body to remove the iron through various waste discharges. Nevertheless, researches found out that oxalic acid improve the iron absorption in rats over that of a spinach diet without oxalic acid.
Another notable nutritional content found in spinach is calcium but the same oxalate content also combines with calcium thus decreasing the amount of calcium the body absorbs. Researchers also noted that the body has a better chance of absorbing up to 50 percent of the calcium from broccoli than in spinach, which the body can only get 5 percent. The Environmental Working Group reported that spinach is one of the heavily contaminated produce. Pesticides, like DDT, dimethoate and permethrin, are often found in spinach. Moreover, spinach is packaged with air or nitrogen gas to further its shelf life. What’s even more surprising is that some spinach is exposed to harmful radiation to eliminate any lingering bacteria on the leaves.
The Food and Drug Administration allows for the radiation treatment of spinach leaves of up to 4 kilograys (kGY) but there are criticisms that the use of radiation to disinfect the spinach diminishes its nutritional values. However, the Agricultural Research Service conducted its own study of radiation treated spinach and found no significant decrease in vitamins B9, C, E, K and four other carotenoid contents. This proves that radiation treatment does not adversely affect the nutritional values of spinach and it also eliminates the risks of transmitting the potentially fatal bacteria.
This was good to know especially with the recent E coli outbreak back in September 2006 wherein there were over a hundred reported incidents with already five deaths. This infection has affected 26 states in the country and by early 2007, there were an additional 206 reported cases and three deaths attributed to the contaminated spinach. Moreover, in 2007, there was also a potential Salmonella contamination where 8,000 carts of spinach were recalled after a test came back positive for the bacteria.
This lapse in the food safety got the attention of lawmakers to make more stringent guidelines for the Food and Drug Administration to follow. This would include increased awareness of how to properly clean your vegetables and strongly advising against consuming raw spinach leaves, which Popeye loves to do in most of the Popeye cartoon shows.
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