LINKÖPING, Sweden — Spinach is an extremely healthy food for many reasons, one of them being that it’s rich in lutein, which is an antioxidant that studies show can reduce inflammation. A lot of people choose to get their spinach in through making smoothies with the superfood, but depending on the liquid you blend it with, you may not be getting its maximum benefits. In fact, a new study finds blending a spinach smoothie with soy milk can actually ruin all of that antioxidant goodness.
“Lutein is a bio-active compound. We have studied lutein in a similar way to studying a pharmaceutical drug. In this study, we looked at lutein liberation from fresh spinach,” explains Rosanna Chung, the study leader and assistant professor in the Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences at Linköping University.
Since we can’t make lutein on our own and have to rely on food for it, a team of researchers from in Sweden set out to explore how to best optimize its intake from foods. They looked at the impacts of several different products on the release of lutein in smoothies, testing both dairy and non-dairy liquids. Study authors blended spinach with each product before stimulating digestion using digestive enzymes. They then compared the amount of available lutein that was absorbable in smoothies blended using water.
“We could see that only 4 of the 14 examined products increased the liberation of lutein from spinach compared to water. Cow’s milk with a high fat content as well as coconut milk improved lutein liberation. Yoghurt, however, which is regarded as comparable to cow’s milk and is often used in cafés and similar, did not show particularly good results,” explains Chung in a media release.
Scroll down to read about the other health benefits of spinach
Yogurt may have yielded different results than milk due to the fermentation process. Further, plant-based drinks, which are usually nut, oat, or legume-based, demonstrated significantly different results. “Plant-based liquids have become increasingly common in smoothies. We saw that soymilk was actually less effective than water when it comes to liberating lutein in spinach smoothies. In other words, soymilk had a negative effect on lutein liberation in our study,” says Jan Neelissen, doctorate student and one of the study researchers.
The team didn’t find the same effects with the other non-dairy alternatives studied.
The Swedish researchers also emphasize that, regardless of the liquid, it’s important to drink smoothies right after you make them because lutein breaks down quickly. They also mention that their work only looked at how much lutein could be available for absorption, not how much is actually absorbed by the body. In light of this, the team agrees that a human study that takes things a step further to measure that will be crucial for revealing the bigger picture.
The findings are published in the journal Nutrients.
Why is spinach so healthy?
Spinach is considered a healthy food because it is packed with nutrients and provides various health benefits.
- Rich in vitamins and minerals: Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate. It also provides essential minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
- High in antioxidants: Spinach contains various antioxidants, aside from lutein, including zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, which help protect the body from oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals.
- Low in calories: Spinach is low in calories, making it an ideal addition to a weight management or weight loss diet.
- Good source of fiber: Spinach contains dietary fiber, which supports digestive health, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and promotes satiety.
- Supports heart health: Spinach contains nitrates, which can help lower blood pressure, and is a source of potassium, which helps maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes and supports heart function.
- Promotes healthy skin and hair: The vitamin A in spinach helps maintain healthy skin, while vitamin C supports collagen production, which is essential for skin and hair health.
- Bone health: Spinach is rich in vitamin K, which plays a vital role in maintaining bone health by helping the body to utilize calcium effectively.
- Immune system support: The vitamins and minerals in spinach help support a healthy immune system, protecting the body from infections and diseases.