By Dr. John Bagnulo, Director of Nutrition
In light of a recent paper in the journal Nature, in which researchers share their concerns about a lack of reproducibility in the area of health-based research, it’s important to know about some undeniably beneficial foods.
A food can have amazing medicinal qualities, but it has to taste good in order to become a regular part of our menus, and has to be available where we live. Also: Is it affordable? Are its nutrients absorbable? Can it be eaten in a variety of ways, from fresh to heavily cooked? These are important questions to consider when assessing any food’s potential to influence our health.
Tomatoes and spinach meet the above criteria and are nutritional powerhouses, consistently shown to be the most protective by a large number of peer-reviewed investigations.
The Mighty Tomato
Who doesn’t like a really fresh, vine ripened tomato or cherry tomato? All right, there might be a few of you, but most individuals appreciate the flavor and sweetness of this superstar.
In addition to the research around cancer prevention, I really like that they have a lot of potassium (very cardio and stroke-protective) and very little fructose. Also, tomatoes’ benefits vary, depending on whether they’re raw or cooked: They contain more glutathione when raw (great for detoxification), and more lycopene when cooked. You can’t go wrong.
Leafy Green Superhero
Some people avoid tomatoes because they’ve heard that, as a member of the nightshade family, they might cause or exacerbate arthritis. Similarly, some avoid spinach because they have been told that the oxalic acid will weaken their bones. There is no evidence of either effect, but we know that no matter how you prepare spinach, from tossing it into a salad to cooking it in a stir-fry, the dark green offers us so much.
In addition to being nutrient dense (one cup of cooked spinach provides more than 25 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance for folate, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and magnesium), spinach is loaded with an amazing carotenoid: lutein. We can make vitamin A from lutein, and if we don’t need the vitamin A, it gets incorporated into our eyes to act as a natural free-radical scavenger, helping prevent cataracts and similar disease processes. When eaten raw, spinach is another great source of glutathione. High levels of potassium nitrate make it a great addition to help regulate blood pressure.
Don’t limit yourself to how you use greens … consider smoothies, casseroles, and egg combinations. But make sure to purchase organic spinach, as it is on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list (of foods most likely to hold pesticide residue) week after week.
Reliable nutrition, versatility, availability, and taste make spinach and tomatoes star players in your garden and kitchen!
Dr. John Bagnulo is the Director of Nutrition at Functional Formularies and leads nutrition research and development initiatives. Learn more about Dr. Bagnulo here.