Pasalaikkeerai or Indian spinach, portulaca quadrifida, is a dark green leafy vegetable. It is both a creeper and a climber with some difference in physical properties. The climber variety is fully green with bigger leaves and the creeper variety is green to purple or red with small leaves. It is a smooth and slippery leaf or plant.
Chemical properties, nutrient content, usage and benefits derived from both varieties are similar.
It is totally different from ‘Palak’ or ‘Spinach’ though more often it is referred to as spinach in the market places. People has to identify Pasalai keerai particularly as it has more nutritional value than others. It is consumed as a regular leafy vegetable by cooking with other spices and dhal.
It is low in calories but high in nutrients. In a cup of cooked leaf (approx. 50 gm.) 41 calories of energy, 5.3 gm. Protein and 4.3 gm. Dietary fiber are available. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals. In the same quantity, it contains 943 micro gram vitamin A, 888 mg vitamin K and a number of B vitamin compounds such as, thiamine, niacin, folate, riboflavin, pantothenic acid etc. Minerals present in it are Iron 6.43 mg, calcium 245 mg, magnesium 157 mg, phosphorous 101 mg. potassium 839 mg and zinc 137 mg.
Besides being a regular food item, this leafy vegetable provides lot of health benefits. Some of them are highlighted here.
Vitamin K is abundantly present in this high quality vegetable. In just one cup serving it provides 1000% Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of vitamin K, which is essential in promoting bone density. Synthesis of osteocalcin, important to improve bone density is enhanced by vitamin K. All the essential nutrients required to maintain strong bones, namely calcium, potassium and vitamin K are present in Indian spinach. Moreover, the high protein content in it promotes building strong muscles and enhances collagen growth, thereby preventing osteoporosis. The anti-inflammatory properties of nexanthin and violaxanthin present in it prevent bone diseases due to inflammation, like arthritis and osteoporosis.
Vitamin A, essential for the health of eyes is present in good amount in Indian spinach. It also contains anti-oxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin which protect the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration occurring in elders. The dietary carotenoid and zeaxanthin in the leaf is well absorbed by retina leading to enhancement of light filtering functions. The high level of vitamin A maintain healthy mucus membranes so as to ensure normal eye sight.
Controls blood pressure
Calcium, vitamins A and K present in it in combination maintain the sodium to potassium balance in the body and controls hypertension. Peptides present in it lowers blood pressure.
Helps cardiovascular system
Maintaining the blood pressure is vital for a healthy heart. Lutein in Indian spinach prevents the thickening of walls of arteries by fat as it breaks down the fat thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks. The high quality nitrite present in it not only prevents attacks but also cures heart diseases caused by deposition of fat. A healthy heart requires a healthy and relaxed body. Zinc and magnesium present in Indian spinach keep the body relaxed and replenish lost energy instantaneously and provides quality sleep which are vital to prevent any heart disease or attack. By aiding carboxylation, vitamin K fights cardiovascular diseases and paralytic stroke.
Prevents nervous problems
Folate, vitamin K and vitamin C present in Indian spinach facilitate synthesis of sphingolipids, essential to guard the nerves by forming myelin sheath around nerves. The hormone production of the nervous system is modulated by vitamin A and C and folate, particularly in old age prone to malfunctioning of the brain and nervous system.
Boosts immune system
Vitamin A in the leaf prevents infection of mucus membranes, respiratory system, urinary and intestinal tracts with high level of lymphocytes present in it. One cup of cooked Indian spinach provides 337% RDA of vitamin A which boost the immune system, particularly respiratory tract and prevents asthma.
Flavonoids, vitamin c, tocopherol, chlorophyll, folic acid and fiber present in Indian spinach have anti-cancer properties. Beta-carotene and vitamin C protects the colon from the cancer causing free radicals produced in the body during metabolism. Moreover, folate present in it protects the colon cells from mutations and damage.
Iron present in Indian spinach is helpful in maintaining the hemoglobin level. This is by carrying oxygen to the tissues and carbohydrates back from the tissues. This process increases the red blood cells and correspondingly hemoglobin level. Iron also increases the energy level. Dietary fiber aids digestion and prevents constipation and all of these enhance the energy level and prevent anemia.
Good for pregnant women
Regular consumption of Indian spinach help growth of the nervous system of the fetus and lungs due to folate and vitamin A present in it. It is also very helpful during breast feeding.
How to consume Indian Spinach?
Consumption of Indian spinach with green grams cure strangury, liver and spleen disorders and constipation. It also prevents hair fall and hair split besides strengthening the hair
Indian spinach is consumed either steam cooked or boiled. Olive oil, garlic and spices are also added to enhance flavor and taste. Over cooking should be avoided in order to retain the nutrients intact. Water remaining after boiling the leaves is also consumed to cure vomiting and lack of appetite.