The Real Spinach
Spinach is a green leafy vegetable that belongs to the Amaranthaceae family, which originated from Persia. This plant’s real name is Spinacia oleracea, it is an edible vegetable that can be consumed raw or cooked. Mostly consumed in Mediterranean and South-East Asian cuisine, with a rich nutritional profile.
There are a couple of Spinach benefits you might not know of yet, and some interesting stories that make it such a popular, vegetable rock star.
- The Real Spinach
- Nutritional Profile of Spinach
- Health Benefits of Spinach
- 1. Boosts Immune Function
- 2. Supports Eye Health
- 3. May Improve Nervous System Function
- 3. May Improve Digestion
- 4. Supports Bone Health
- 5. Has potent antioxidant properties
- 6. Acts as a Beauty Tonic
- 7. Supports Cardiovascular Health
- 8. Improves Blood-Flow | Nitrate-rich Vasodilator
- 9. Promotes Hair Growth & Healthy Scalp
- 10. Aids in Diabetes management
- 11. May Help with Blood clotting
- Ways to eat spinach?
- Frequently Asked Questions
Spinach became part of creamy sauces and dishes known as Florentine a long time ago. Florentine originates from the place in which Catherine de’ Medici, the Queen consort of France, and wife of Henry II was born, the Republic of Florence. Catherine was a big fan of spinach and she suggested serving spinach with every meal.
Popeye & spinach
Even though I am not strongly convinced that what Popeye ate was spinach, let’s just make it a temporary truth, for the sake of this article.
In one of the most popular cartoons, Popeye consumed spinach to improve his strength, muscle growth, and endurance. This superfood loaded with Iron, Zinc, and Potassium doesn’t fall short of that.
Improved muscle performance is believed to be correlated with high levels of inorganic nitrate spinach contains, rather than Iron content. Nitrate can raise Nitric Oxide levels and improve blood flow through vasodilation, therefore increasing oxygen transport and improving exercise performance. (1)
The Iron Paradox
The story of Spinach being the highest Iron-containing food is a myth, resolved a long time ago. Many other foods like broccoli, kale, or Brussels sprouts have higher levels of Iron.
This myth dates back to 1870, when Erich von Wolf, a German chemist printed out the wrong number for Iron content by making a little “one decimal” mistake. Instead of typing 3.5 grams, the Iron content was raised by 10 times, reaching 35 grams.
The Protein Paradox
Let’s be real here. We’ve all heard that Spinach is one of the richest protein vegetables out there. The thing is, spinach contains 30% of its calories as protein. That being said, if we look at the calorie content, spinach is very low on the scale. It is one of the most nutrient-dense and low-calorie superfoods out there.
The protein paradox started from the perspective of protein content related to calorie content, in which we can say spinach is high in protein, but only in relation to calories. Even though it is true that spinach has high complexity, and containing all the essential amino acids, this doesn’t mean it is the best/highest protein source.
To cut the bro-science, we might just as well show a clear comparison here: 100 grams of beef has 26g of protein, while 100 grams of raw spinach has 2.9 grams of protein. Fair enough. (2)
Oxalate & Kidney stones
Overloading on spinach is not a smart idea, at least not for someone with a history of kidney stone formation.
Oxalate, known as oxalic acid is a compound present in spinach that may contribute to a higher risk of forming kidney stones. Kidney stones are minerals and salts, that harden into stones in your kidneys.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat spinach, but don’t overdo it. If you have a history of kidney stones it is best to consult a doctor, or an expert in that field, and avoid eating high-oxalate foods such as rhubarb, Okra, Cocoa, Beets, and Almonds. In the last section below, I have a “Spinach Biohack” on how to decrease the oxalate content in spinach.
Spinach alternatives (side-chicks)
Any vegetable that is part of the dark green leafy family might have similar benefits and health-optimizing properties. Here are some of the best spinach alternatives, and yes, they are all green.
- Bok choy (vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene)
- Swiss chard (calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamin E)
- Arugula (folate, vitamin C, and vitamin A)
- Brussel sprouts (zero saturated fat, fiber, and potassium)
- Broccoli (vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, potassium, and fiber)
- Kale (Iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, antioxidants)
- Romaine lettuce (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium)
What is healthier, spinach or kale?
Comparing spinach to kale is like comparing blackberries to strawberries. They’re both very healthy and actually, pretty similar. Both are green leafy vegetables with high fiber content, low caloric content per volume and packed with tons of minerals. Choose whichever fits you and your salad best.
Is eating raw spinach good for you?
For people with kidney stone formation problems, the oxalates in raw spinach may be detrimental if high doses of spinach are eaten. To reduce oxalates, we need to: wash the spinach thorough, steam or boil it, add lemon juice (and potentially potassium citrate, calcium carbonate) or use oxalate reducing enzymes. In general, washed spinach is likely safe for people without kidney issues.
Is spinach really a nutritious food?
Yes, it is. Although the myth has it, how spinach is one of the richest protein and iron containing foods, this is actually a false measurement of one decimal point up, for the iron content. The protein paradox comes from Popeye’s muscle building story, which is also made up. Spinach does contain high proteins, but only per caloric content, which is very low. This means we have a low-calorie food that provides a bit of protein, but not significant compared to meat, eggs or other animal products. On the flip side, spinach contains good chunk of fiber and minerals such as: calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron and phosphorus.
Why is spinach considered a “Superfood”?
Spinach is a low-calorie, high-antioxidant powerhouse loaded with lots of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can enhance one’s health and performance. Spinach is considered a superfood due to its nutrition-dense profile while providing high fiber content at the same time
Spinach has multiple benefits ranging from supporting healthy skin, hair & nails, to many energy-boosting effects. This plant can be used to improve digestion, heart health, and skin elasticity.
Different uses of spinach (or its constituents) were beneficial in eye protection, lowering blood pressure, and managing diabetes due to preventing fast insulin spikes.
Flavonoids present in spinach can exhibit some anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-proliferative, and antihistaminic properties. (3)
Nutritional Profile of Spinach
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods out there. It isn’t a surprise since it stands out in the dark green leafy vegetable family, which is known to be one of the healthiest veggies on the planet.
Spinach is a great source of multiple antioxidant-kind of vitamins like Vitamin C and vitamin E. It is also one of the highest chlorophyll-containing superfoods, with about 24 mg per cup of raw spinach.
Besides this, spinach has amazing minerals in it, like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are known to help the body with nerve function, muscle contraction, reducing blood sugar, and fluid balance.
Macros, Vitamins, and Minerals
(4) Per one cup, which weighs around 30 grams (1.05 oz.) spinach provides us with:
|Vitamins and Minerals
|Calories 7 kcal
|Fats 0.11 grams
|Choline 5.79 mg
|Carbohydrates 1.09 grams
|Potassium 167 mg
|Fiber 0.66 grams
|Iron 0.813 mg
|Protein 0.85 grams
|Phosphorus 14.7 mg
|Zinc 0.159 mg
|Magnesium 23.7 mg
|Vitamin C 8.43 mg
This vitamin, mineral, antioxidant-loaded powerhouse can help us to improve our health by providing the essential micronutrients that can fuel our cells, tissues, and organs to work their job properly.
Health Benefits of Spinach
It is important to note that some of its benefits written below might be over-exaggerated, as the studies refer to compounds present in spinach and their benefits, not just spinach itself. You must be aware that eating spinach, which is rich in these components may support one’s health, but won’t have drastic effects.
Be aware that compounds like vitamin K, C, and E or minerals or antioxidants like Lutein and Zeaxanthin presented in the studies below were used at a certain dosage that provides effects on bone health, cardiovascular health, eye protection, immune system function that may not be met in spinach consumption itself, due to lower quantities consumed.
1. Boosts Immune Function
A cup of raw spinach contains around 8.43mg of Vitamin C, which was shown to have multiple effects on our immune system. It can support cellular functions of both adaptive and innate immune systems and can enhance microbial killing. Aside from this, it is a great antioxidant that can act to reduce inflammation, thus decreasing DNA damage. After all, people who are vitamin C deficient have a higher susceptibility to infections. (5)
Flavonoids, which are found in spinach may be beneficial for boosting immunity too. There are many different types of flavonoids in different plants, but overall they were shown to decrease inflammation and suppress mTOR activity. (6)
2. Supports Eye Health
Besides egg yolks, dark leafy vegetables are another great source of Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Spinach is rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which are two antioxidants known to help with eye protection and improve eye health. (7)
Lutein is a carotenoid, which acts as a strong antioxidant in the body. Lutein was shown to protect from phototoxic damage to the photoreceptor cell by its ability to filter blue light. (8)
These carotenoids are found in the retina, which is metabolically active tissue in the eye. Its main function is to receive the light focused by the lens, convert it into neural signals, and send them to the brain for visual recognition. Both of these carotenoids may support retinal function and lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration. (9)
3. May Improve Nervous System Function
Spinach is rich in Calcium, which besides being one of the essential minerals for bone health, calcium is crucial for optimal nervous system function. Calcium is in our muscles, heart, nervous system, and bones. It is an essential mineral, crucial for muscular development and healthy nervous system function.
Calcium plays a crucial role in neurotransmission or nerve impulse transition, which is the main mechanism for our muscle contractions. Muscle fibers use Calcium as a signaling molecule. (10)
Another important mineral for muscle contraction is Potassium, present In spinach. Potassium is essential for cellular and electrical function, it is the positive ion in the cells. Sodium, Potassium (both crucial for fluid balance), and Calcium are the three main minerals involved in the muscle contraction mechanism, crucial for nerve and cardiovascular function. (11)
3. May Improve Digestion
Green Leafy vegetables are an excellent fiber source, while at the same time being rich in different vitamins and minerals like Potassium, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, Magnesium, and Folate. This may help digestion, and improve stool frequency and bowel movement.
Being rich in fiber, spinach is a good option for improving your digestion. Fiber can improve your stool frequency and bowel movement, thus preventing constipation. High-fiber foods control hunger (since it gives you a sense of fullness) and feed the “Good Bacteria” in your stomach.
People who eat more whole grains and veggies, and higher-fiber content foods were the ones with fewer cases of obesity, type II diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases. (12)
There are several ways you can incorporate spinach into your diet. Consuming it raw may improve digestion long-term, but to better absorb its nutrients you might want to steam it at first. Make sure to chew it well or blend it if you are not cooking it.
4. Supports Bone Health
As you already know, Calcium is the most important mineral in keeping your bones healthy. Out of all calcium you have in your body, more than 99% Is found in the bones (teeth included). It is the building block that makes the bones strong. Besides Spinach & Leafy greens, some other good sources of calcium are cheese, sardines, beans, lentils, yogurt, and seeds.
Calcium consumption can prevent osteoporosis, and bone loss usual for a post-menopausal woman. (13) This mineral plays important role in bone metabolism and bone health. Greater levels of bone mass in the first 30 years of your life may protect and prevent osteoporosis in later life.
In order for our body to absorb calcium, it needs vitamin D. So make sure you spend some time in the sunlight or eat vitamin D-rich foods such as egg yolks, tuna, mushroom salmon, cod liver oil, and Swiss cheese, along with your calcium supplement or calcium-rich foods.
5. Has potent antioxidant properties
Spinach is loaded with antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, Lutein, and polyphenolic compounds.
Spinach has been tested on hyperlipidemic mice for its antioxidant effects. Its high ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) was beneficial to ameliorate oxidative stress induced by a high-cholesterol diet. (14) Phytochemicals found in spinach have been shown to modulate the expression and activity of genes involved in metabolism, proliferation, and antioxidant defense. (15)
Lutein, a compound in spinach has also many oxidative stress-suppressing effects. It decreased lipid peroxidation levels and protected rats against inflammation. (16)
Spinach is rich in vitamin E too, another antioxidant. Vitamin E has some lyophilic radical-scavenging effects, meaning it decreases oxidative degradation in fats (lipid peroxidation). (17)
6. Acts as a Beauty Tonic
Spinach is considered a beauty tonic because of its high antioxidant content. This superfood is packed with lots of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that protect your skin from aging and oxidative damage, while at the same time supporting hair & nail growth.
- Phytonutrients, along with lutein and vitamin E can facilitate skin regeneration and decrease wrinkles by decreasing UV radiation that causes oxidative damage to your surface dermal layers. (18)
- Vitamin A on the other side can improve skin sebum production, which can then moisturize the scalp and support healthy hair growth. (19)
- Spinach is also rich in vitamin C which besides being a great antioxidant, helps in collagen synthesis, which can, in turn, improve the elasticity and hydration of the skin. (20)
7. Supports Cardiovascular Health
100 grams of Spinach contains 370 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Besides their antioxidant properties, omega 3’s have shown beneficial effects on brain function, blood pressure regulation, and heart health.
Omega 3’s can decrease levels of triglycerides by reducing VLDL synthesis and boosting fatty acids degradation. (21) Omega 3’s may also improve vascular function, lower blood pressure, and improve myocardial filling efficiency while lowering inflammation. (22)
Phytochemicals and bioactive components in spinach might exert some anti-obesity, hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects, which can all improve markers that are associated with heart health. (23)
8. Improves Blood-Flow | Nitrate-rich Vasodilator
Nitrate-rich foods like dark leafy greens can enhance the Nitric Oxide levels in the blood. This may lower your blood pressure since nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, which increases capillaries in diameter, meaning it can open up your blood vessels and let more blood circulate and bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to the cells.
Green leafy vegetables, including spinach, are nitrate-rich. Thirty-eight men and women aged 30-70 years with high-normal blood pressure were tested for change in their blood pressure and arterial stiffness while consuming a high-nitrate diet for 7 days. In short-term effects, there was not a big difference in lowering blood pressure. (24)
It was also shown that including green-nitrate-rich meal containing spinach can lower systolic blood pressure, and if sustained long-term, it may contribute to improvement in cardiovascular health. (25)
9. Promotes Hair Growth & Healthy Scalp
Folic acid, or Folate, or vitamin B9 is a vitamin present in spinach. Folate is crucial for healthy hair, regeneration, nail, and skin growth. Besides spinach, other foods rich in Folate are beans, citrus fruits, poultry & meat, and broccoli.
There was a research that tested 52 males. They found a significant correlation between hair color loss (gray or white hair) and vitamin B12, Folic acid, and Biotin deficiencies. (26)
Besides Folate, Spinach is rich in Iron and Zinc both affecting hair growth. In women with hair loss, iron deficiency is common. (27) Zinc, a trace element is also crucial for healthy hair growth. Alopecia, which is a hair loss condition can be improved through zinc supplementation, and even hair regrowth may be stimulated. (28)
10. Aids in Diabetes management
Spinach is rich in fiber, providing up to 5 grams of fiber per cup of raw spinach. This can aid in improving digestion. Important to note for diabetics, it does not cause immediate spikes in blood glucose levels. Diabetics need more foods with a lower glycemic index and lower carbohydrate content.
Vitamin C, another rich vitamin in Spinach, may help to reduce fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL Cholesterol, and total cholesterol. This was shown in a study of 84 patients who were given 500-100mg of vitamin C daily for 6 weeks, suggesting its potential lipid and glucose-lowering effect. (29)
Spinach is rich in Magnesium too, which is another mineral that has effects on regulating insulin and glucose uptake. Usually, diabetics are magnesium deficient, which may further lead to worsening insulin resistance. Magnesium may help to prevent or decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (30)
11. May Help with Blood clotting
Spinach contains high amounts of vitamin K, which is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays role in bone metabolism, blood clotting, and calcium regulation.
Vitamin K is an essential vitamin that the body needs to produce prothrombin, which is a protein, a clotting factor that plays a major role in blood clotting. Without sufficient vitamin K levels, normal blood clotting function would be impaired. (31)
Besides blood clotting, vitamin K plays important role in health, since it is used for the synthesis of proteins that belong to the Gla-protein family-like osteocalcin, matrix Gla-protein, and Gas6 which have a major role in maintaining bone strength, arterial calcification inhibition, and regulation of cell growth. (32)
Spinach is a nutrient-dense, low-calorie vegetable, loaded with many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that can improve one’s health. Having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it may have multiple positive effects on skin regeneration, nail & hair growth, heart health, and so on. Being rich in fiber, spinach can help to improve digestion, and bowel movement and may aid in reducing insulin spikes, thus helping diabetics. One precaution is, for people with a history of kidney stones or kidney impairment, should avoid large doses of it or reduce its oxalate content, so if consuming it consult a doctor first.
Ways to eat spinach?
There are different ways to add this veggie to your meals and nourish your body with all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids this superfood provides. Here are some of them:
- Spinach omelet with olive oil
- Spinach salad with lemon & basilica
- Spinach cream sauce
- Spinach & cheese pasta bowl
- Lasagna spinach roll
- Spinach pesto (homemade)
- Spinach with rice and eggs (my favorite)
- Spinach, banana, oat milk smoothie
- Stir-fried with quinoa and onion
- Spinach with fried mushrooms
- Spinach, Avocado, banana shake
How to reduce Oxalate in Spinach?
One of Spinach’s eating precautions is especially highlighted for people with a history of kidney stones. Oxalic acid in Spinach may be detrimental and worsen/speed up kidney stone formation, so this is why I put the best way to reduce oxalic acid/oxalate content in spinach.
- Wash it good
- Steam/Boil it
- Add lemon
- Add potassium citrate
- Add calcium carbonate
- Use Oxalate reducing enzyme
Some kidney-stone prevention strategies have been discussed in this study. (33) It has been shown that increasing fluid intake and dietary intake of calcium might be beneficial, as well as avoiding oxalate-rich foods and minimizing salt and animal protein intake. But as always, this website is NOT intended to provide or replace medical advice, so for any such concerns, make sure you consult your physician, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.
Spinach is one of the healthiest green-leafy vegetables, with a fiber-rich profile shown to be beneficial for digestion. Spinach is part of Florentine cuisine and takes part in one of the most popular Cartoons ever, Popeye the Sailor Man. Spinach is not the highest protein and iron-containing vegetable, as many believe. It does however pack an amazing nutritional profile with tons of vitamins and minerals, for its low-calorie content. Spinach can be beneficial for the heart, immunity, vision, bone, and skin. Ways to reduce Oxalates include steaming/boiling spinach, and adding potassium citrate, calcium carbonate, and lemon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is spinach high in protein and can spinach help me build muscle?
Spinach is not very high in protein on its own, but is high if measured relatively per caloric content. This makes it inferior to other protein rich foods from animal source, in terms of protein content and bioavailability. While spinach may support muscle growth, due to its rich mineral profile, eating spinach all along won’t help without proper protein intake and weight training. To put things into perspective, a 100 grams of spinach has 3 grams of protein, while 100 grams of beef has around 26 grams (almost 10 times more).
What are the benefits of eating spinach?
Spinach, with its fiber and mineral rich content may provide benefits such as:
– nutrition, minerals, vitamins and fiber
– boost immune function
– reduce inflammation (vitamin A, C, Lutein)
– support eye health
– support nervous system function
– improve digestion (fiber)
– support bone health (vitamin K)
– improve blood flow (Nitric Oxide)
– promote healthy scalp and hair growth (Folate)
What is the best way to cook spinach?
There are different methods of cooking spinach, but the best way is to first wash it good, then boil it or steam it, add lemon juice and mix it in your meal.
Why did Popeye eat so much spinach?
Popeye the sailor man brought a whole new trend of eating spinach for muscle growth. While the main idea behind the cartoon itself is debatable, spinach isn’t actually that rich in protein, nor does it enhance muscle growth as a magic pill. It seems as if Popeye ate spinach for its anti-kryptonite effect. Due to many potential health benefits, it was though to promote strength and vitality, but it was taken on a next level. Partially, this was caused by the iron paradox in 1870, when Erich von Wolf ascertained the iron amount in spinach by misplacing a decimal point.