Popeye might have been on to something with his spinach-only diet. Spinach is one leafy green that can be a great addition to any meal.
You can prepare spinach in various ways: eat it raw, cooked, or blended. You probably won’t get instant bulging biceps, but a diet high in spinach can help contribute to better bone, skin, and hair health.
Megan Ware, RDN, L.D., calls it a superfood because it’s packed with essential nutrients while being low in calories. Ware says consuming spinach may improve glucose management in diabetic people, lower the risk of cancer, and improve bone health, while providing various vitamins and minerals.
Yes, one little leaf can do all that…well, technically many leaves.
Spinach contains protein, iron, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, folate, fiber, vitamin K, phosphorus, and thiamine. Spinach also contains other beneficial compounds called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. The phytonutrients it contains include flavonoids and carotenoids, specifically lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. These are often classified as antioxidants. They combat damaging free radicals and harmful reactive oxygen species, lowering the risk of diseases associated with them.
To expand, the World’s Healthiest Foods provides that just one cup of cooked spinach contains 987 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K, 105 percent of vitamin A’s, 73 percent of manganese’s, 66 percent of folate’s, and good amounts of many more nutrients.
They also claim that spinach has anti-inflammatory properties, especially in regards to the digestive tract due to the phytonutrients it contains. The omega-3 fatty acids it has also play a role in regulating inflammation.
According to Meenakshi Nagdeve, spinach has the following health benefits:
- Improves eyesight
- Regulates blood pressure
- Strengthens muscle
- Prevents age-related macular degeneration
- Relieves symptoms of hemophilia
- Reduces risk of cataracts
- Encourages cognitive function and other neurological benefits
- Aids in digestion
- Enhances bone health
- Improves skin health
- Reduces atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke
- Assists fetal development
- Helps prevent cancer
The health benefits aren’t the only appealing thing about spinach either. NutritionValue.org shows that 100 g of spinach is only 23 calories. So, if you’re on a calorie-restricting diet, spinach is a good way you can get those essential nutrients without taking up a majority of your calories for the day.
The Vegetarian Times says that spinach doesn’t lose any of its nutrients when sauteed or steamed. The only difference between raw and cooked spinach is the oxalic acid. Raw spinach contains oxalic acid and cooked does not.
Oxalic acid could reduce the absorption of certain nutrients, like calcium. Because oxalic acid is broken down when spinach is cooked, you’re more likely to absorb more of the nutrients it would usually interfere with when eating cooked spinach.
Additionally, some spinach is better than another. Spinach that is older and not as fresh will be paler in color and may have less concentrations of nutrients.
Spinach is great to use in salads, veggie burgers, smoothies or juice, pastas, soup, eggs, burritos, and other foods. Oh and take note that spinach cooks pretty fast so probably add it to the skillet last.
It is not recommended to save spinach for later and have it for leftovers, because nitrites may be produced by certain bacteria, which can be harmful.
Also, the vitamin K spinach contains could interact with certain drugs. If you have questions about this, be sure to consult with your doctor.
Oxalic acid might crystallize as stones in the urinary tract, drinking water would help maintain normal urine output.
Spinach could contain goitrogens too. These can interfere with thyroid hormone production and cause thyroxin deficiency in those with thyroid dysfunction.
Thyroxine plays a role in heart and digestive function, metabolism, brain development, bone health, and muscle control. People with hypothyroidism don’t produce enough thyroxine; thyroxine deficiency can reduce metabolic rate, cause weight gain, memory problems, infertility, fatigue, and muscle stiffness.
Spinach has some serious health benefits, but there are some cautions to be aware of if you want to adopt more spinach into your diet, However, on the whole, spinach is a versatile leafy green vegetable that can supply your body with many essential nutrients.
Be sure to add this mighty leaf to your grocery list. Like Popeye, go eat some spinach (maybe not out of a can though--fresh is best)!