Eating Spinach May be Good for Several Reasons

Our bodies can make a long list of building blocks that are needed for us to live, grow and fight disease. However, there are some compounds that we just can’t make and so we must get these from our diet. These nutrients are called essential nutrients. There are essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and essential vitamins. The list of essential nutrients contains a powerful antioxidant called lutein. Lutein is a complex compound which belongs to the carotenoid family that plants are able to synthesize, but the human body can’t.

Lutein has many uses in the body. For some time researchers have been looking at the role lutein and other antioxidants play in protecting the skin against the effects of the sun. The sun´s rays contain UVA radiation. This radiation can cause the formation of free radicals in cells that have been shown to be a first step in the chain leading to cancer; they may also be responsible for the aging process that affects skin. It has been estimated that sun exposure is the largest factor contributing to skin aging caused by external factors.

Lutein is found in the skin and perhaps, not by chance, in highest concentrations in nasal skin - the part of the body that is often the most exposed to sunlight. The chemical structure of lutein gives it its antioxidant power and therefore it can protect against free radical damage caused by UVA radiation.

Several leafy vegetables contain large quantities of lutein including spinach, swiss chard and kale.

Table 1
Good Sources of lutein
Foodlutein content (micrograms / 100 g food)
collard greens16,300
swiss chard11,000
lutein structure
  1. Reference
  2. Wingerath T, Sies H, Stahl W (1998) Xanthophyll esters in human skin.W Arch. Biochem. Biophys.15:3551
  3. O’Connor, I, et al., Modulation of UVA light-induced oxidative stress by beta-carotene, lutein and astaxanthin in cultured fibroblasts, Journal of Dermatological Science, March 1998: 16(3) pp. 226-230.2
  4. Lutein Information Bureau3

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