The Surprising Health Benefits of Spanakopita
Spanakopita, from σπανάκιspanáki 'spinach', and πίτα píta 'pie') is a Greek savory spinach pie. It often also contains cheese, typically feta, along with other greens and oftentimes rice is added. There are many variations throughout Greece, as well as a version without cheese and eggs that is eaten during religious fasts throughout Greece.
Before diving in on the health benefits of spanakopita in particular, we must take a look at Greek cuisine in general. According to the U.S. World News Report, a team of 25 nationally recognized health professionals found that the Mediterranean diet is the No. 1 diet in the world.
"It's generally accepted that the folks in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less than most Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments," U.S. News and World Report said. "The not-so-surprising secret is an active lifestyle, weight control, and a diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods."
The foundation of the Greek diet lies in the eating habits of Southern European countries - specifically, the people and produce of Greece. Mediterranean gastronomy is based largely around fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein like fish and chicken, with the occasional piece of red meat. Proteins from non-meat sources like beans and legumes are also popular in soups, stews, and salads
In addition to providing a healthy, balanced diet, Greek food is famous for their love of olive oil when cooking, which is rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It's also lower in saturated fat than butter, making it great healthful alternative to cook with. Other foods, such as nuts, avocados, and oily fish also contain monounsaturated fats, which have been found to lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels.
As for spanakopita, an article from windycitygreekarchive.com touches on the details:
Spinach: The star of spanakopita
"Spinach is considered a superfood and it’s easy to see why. It’s been found to help prevent cancer, improve heart health, prevent diabetes, boost immunity, and improve brain function. The list goes on!
For a leafy green, it’s high in protein. Per cup, cooked spinach has more protein than raw, due to the increased density per serving. Spinach is also high in niacin and zinc, two essential micronutrients necessary for immune, nervous, and reproductive systems to function properly.
Spinach is high in magnesium. While certain preparation methods affect the potency of certain nutrients in the green, magnesium is not one of them. As a result, spinach is one of the best sources of magnesium available through cooked foods.
Alarmingly, most Americans do NOT get the daily recommended amount of magnesium needed for optimal health and prevention of disease. It’s been estimated that 66% of Americans are deficient in this micronutrient. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to a variety of disorders such as, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Additional symptoms of magnesium deficiency include tremors, anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, poor memory, confusion, and even difficulty swallowing!
It’s worth mentioning that a recent study has also linked elevated c-reactive proteins (a blood marker that predicts likelihood of heart attack or stroke) to magnesium deficiency. It’s generally recommended to keep this inflammatory marker as low as possible through diet and lifestyle for optimal cardiovascular health. Another strong reason to add spinach or better yet, spanakopita to your diet!"
Spinach, fiber, and butyric acid
"Spinach is high in fiber. While overcooking vegetables can result in significant loss of certain nutrients, fiber is not affected.
The benefits of consuming large amounts of fiber are huge. One benefit is the formation of butyric acid.
Butyric acid, or butyrate, is a short-chain fatty acid produced by our gut bacteria from undigested fibers. This production occurs in the large intestine, specifically in the colon.
The colon houses a variety of bacteria — the majority good — and fiber from our diets help to feed these bacteria, which in turn release butyric acid.
Even though 70% of spinach is insoluble fiber (many benefits there!), 30% of it is soluble fiber, making it the type of fiber needed for the formation of butyric acid.
Substances that cause the production of butyric acid (i.e. soluble fiber and/or resistant starch) by gut bacteria are butyrogenic. The bacteria that make butyric acid are also considered butyrogenic.
Butyrate helps to maintain a healthy intestinal lining, relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, prevents loss of intestinal permeability (often acutely evident in ulcerative colitis), and has been linked to lowering the risk of colon cancer.It also lowers blood markers for inflammation, reduces heart attack risk, and alleviates symptoms of diabetes. In addition, “impaired” gut linings amplified by lack of butyric acid have been linked to all sorts of health issues, including fatty liver, heart failure, and autoimmune disorders.
Butyrate’s role doesn’t end in the gut. It’s absorbed into circulation, and has been found to exert effects on the rest of the body as well. Specifically, it’s been found to be potently anti-inflammatory.
Eating a diet high in butyrogenic foods (fiber) such as spinach (and spanakopita!) is one of the easiest and most effortless ways to keep your digestive system AND gut bacteria healthy and happy."