The Mayan Spinach: A Superfood With More Than 2x The Nutritional Value Of Spinach

The Mayan Spinach: A Superfood With More Than 2x The Nutritional Value Of Spinach

SUPERFOOD: CHAYA LEAVES

WHAT IS IT
Chaya is a leafy vegetable used for food and medicine.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
Chaya contains a far higher nutritional value than spinach and it is an inexpensive, sustainable source of protein, yet it remains relatively unknown outside of the native regions. Recent scientific studies have also confirmed medicinal properties that natural healers have known for centuries. (1)

WHERE IS IT FROM
Chaya is native to the Yucatan Peninsula and southeast area in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras. It is most often found planted in home gardens or as an ornamental or living fence-post, rather than grown in agricultural fields although it has the potential for agriculture. (1)

This leafy green tolerates poor growth conditions (given its survival in the thin, limestone soil of the Yucatan Peninsula) and resistance to pests and disease - suggesting it is a valuable potential crop that can benefit people in other parts of the world. (1)

WHY ISN’T IT MORE POPULAR?
Younger generations have placed a stigma on Chaya as a food of the poor because of its use during times of extreme scarcity. Now as the price of meat has dropped, Chaya has decreased in popularity. (1)


NUTRITIONAL VALUE

COMPARED TO OTHER LEAFY GREEN VEGETABLES
Chaya has two to threefold greater nutritional value than most edible leafy green vegetables. Substantially greater amounts of nutrients than spinach. 
(1)

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OVERALL NUTRITIVE VALUE
Chaya leaves [14.9] compared to:
  • Spinach [6.4]
  • Amaranth [11.3]
  • Chinese cabbage [7.0]
  • Lettuce [5.4] 
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RICH IN ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS
  • High in protein (5.7%) - builds muscles. One 100g serving equals the same amount of protein as an egg.
  • Crude fiber (1.9%) - helps eliminate waste from the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Calcium (199.4 mg/100 g) - builds strong bones. More calcium than any other vegetable.
  • Potassium (217.2 mg/100 g) - regulates blood circulation against artery walls and reduces the risk of a stroke.
  • Iron (11.4 mg/100 g) - good for healthy blood and more energy. 2x the iron of Spinach.
  • Vitamin C (164.7 mg/100 g) - builds strong bones, protects against infections and helps the body absorb iron. 
  • Carotene (0.085 mg/100 g) - prevents night blindness and protects body against infections.

CULINARY USES

HOW OFTEN TO EAT IT
The recommended daily consumption is 2 to 6 leaves per day.  (2)
 
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POPULAR USES
  • Chaya Tea
  • Boil the leaves and use it as spinach in a salad
  • In the form of a burrito - boiled chaya greens covered with ground roasted pepita seeds, cooked tomato and chile in a corn tortilla
  • The larger mature leaves are preferred for use as wraps
  • The young shoots and tender leaves of chaya are cooked and eaten like spinach
  • The broth is usually consumed in addition to the greens
  • Chaya greens are frequently combined with other vegetables and/or meat in soups and stews

COOKING METHOD

Raw (warning) - It is very important that it be cooked with water, as it can be toxic if eaten raw. It should only be eaten raw if mixed with acidic fruits like guayaba or lime. Chaya contains a toxic compound, hydrocyanic glycosides, that causes tissue damage. Hydrocyanic glycosides decreases during cooking to below the allowable levels established for lima beans, cassava, and many leafy vegetables that also contain this compound. (2)

Cooking (recommended) - Often chaya leaves are eaten after boiling them in water with salt. It allows extraction of the nutrients, therefore increasing the percentage of mineral elements while decreasing moisture content. (1)
  • Cooking time is usually 10–20 minutes
  • It should not be boiled in aluminum containers; preferably in clay, pewter, or glass.
  • B-carotene is conserved during cooking 
  • Cooking chaya leaves leaches vitamin C from the leaves and transfers it to the cooking water but a mere 25 g of chaya greens with their cooking broth can provide the vitamin C daily requirement of an adult.

Drying: significantly reduces chaya leaves high content of vitamin C, b-carotene, and protein, and arerich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. (1)

MEDICINAL USES

TRADITIONAL USES BY NATURAL HEALERS

Prevents diabetes & kidney stones - The ground or blended leaves are often made into a shake, usually with other vegetables such as Calabaza. Sometimes the Chaya roots are crushed and poulticed or taken orally to treat kidney disorders and back pain. (1)

Prevents varicose veins and hemorrhoids - Oral treatment or poultices are the most commonly prescribed remedy. (1)

Improves vision - Eating the leaves is claimed to improve vision due to its b-carotene content. The water in which the leaves were boiled can be used as an eyewash to treat vision disorders or discomfort. (1)

Gum disease & skin disorders - Chaya is known to contain proteolytic enzymes that can have a positive effect on skin ailments. The sap of the plant is applied directly to the affected part. (1)

Combats arthritis, muscle disorders, fatigue, or rheumatism - Rub or beat the affected part of the body with the stems or leaves of the plant. The painful stinging is caused by the trichomes or spines is supposed to revive the disabled muscles or joints. (1)

Other health benefits
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Helps digestion
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Helps reduce weight
  • Prevents coughs
  • Augments calcium in the bones 
  • Decongests and disinfects the lungs
  • Prevents anemia
  • Improves memory and brain function
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SCIENTIFIC PROOF
A study conducted by the Mexican National Institute of Nutrition confirmed what natural healers / shamans have known for centuries. Chaya combats diabetes and it is also effective in treating arthritis. (1)

Anti-Diabetic properties
  • Eating a small amount of Chaya after or as part of a meal will lower blood glucose levels but further research is needed to determine effective dosage.(1)
Evidence of positive health benefits
  • A recent study has found that chicks fed diets high in chaya leaf meal experienced significant reduction in mortality and an increase in absolute heart mass, liver mass, red blood cell count. This merits further research to evaluate benefits in humans. (1)
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HOW TO USE MEDICINALLY
Eat cooked leaves or drink infusions/teas. (1)


JOIN US

IN PERSON:
A Unique Experience led by a Local Expert
We will be participating in a cooking class with Yucatan locals, where we will learn to cook an authentic Chaya dish. Join us on our upcoming Tulum Retreat for this experience and more. Learn more here.

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INSTA PALS:
#UntetherFromYourRoutine and try one of the Chaya recipes for your next meal!

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SPREAD THE WORD
Chaya is an incredible superfood with powerful nutrients and healing properties. Share with your friend who is always first in line to try a new Superfood..


SOURCES

(1) Purdue
(2) Yucatan Today