Spinach 101: Health Benefits, Nutrition Profile, and Side Effects

Spinach Pomegranate Salad

When was the last time you ate some spinach? This leafy green vegetable doesn’t seem to be a favorite food for most kids. At least, it wasn’t for me—unless there was a lot of melted cheese all over it… and I mean A LOT! But spinach quickly made its way into my heart as I embarked upon my healthy living journey. I suppose watching marathons of Popeye helped too… (Remember that cartoon that would down a can spinach, magically sprout massive muscles, and beat up the bad guys?)

Popeye Graffiti

On a less nostalgic note, spinach has a much more sophisticated name in the science world: “Spinacia oleracea.” Try saying that five times fast without getting all tongue tied… In my research, I was surprised to find that this green is in the amaranth family and is directly related to quinoa and beats… Who would have thought? Spinach’s land of origin is Persia but now it’s mass produced across the globe—primarily in the United States and China.

And while it’s neat to know where this veggie came from and what its full name actually is, what we should really be paying attention to is its nutrition profile (which is incredible, by the way… which also means health benefits—not so much side effects—galore). With any dark leafy green, the antioxidant load is off the charts. High antioxidant levels point to the reduction of oxidative stress, blood pressure levels, and instances of cancer. Heck, it seems to even support eye health.

How to Eat Spinach for Maximum EnjoymentGreen Smoothie

Popeye may have eaten his spinach straight out of a can, but luckily, there are MANY different ways to prepare it and incorporate it into your meals. We like to buy raw baby spinach and add it to our salads during the first few days. We then freeze what’s left and add it to smoothies. Or we just sauté it with some spices and olive oil and eat it as a side dish. Cooked, raw, and everything in between, you have NO excuse not to eat your spinach! You can even drink it. More about that in the link just below…

[Related Article: How to Make Green Juice (Without a Juicer!)]

Green Juice

Okay, before I sidetrack too much, let’s do a little nutrition breakdown…

Serving: 1 cup (cooked)
Calories: 41
Total Fat: 0.47g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Carbohydrates: 7g
Sugars: 1g
Fiber: 4g
Protein: 5g

Vitamin K: 987% …Holy moly!
Vitamin A: 337%
Manganese: 84%
Folate: 66%
Magnesium: 39%
Iron: 36%
Copper: 34%
Vitamin B2: 32%
Vitamin B6: 26%
Vitamin E: 25%
Calcium: 24%
Vitamin C: 24%
Potassium: 24%
Vitamin B1: 14%
Phosphorus: 14%
Zinc: 12%
Protein: 11%
Choline: 8%
Omega-3 Fats: 7%
Vitamin B3: 6%
Selenium: 5%
Pantothenic Acid: 5%

[from www.whfoods.com]

It’s easy to eat more than one cup of spinach in one sitting (especially when you cook it due to its semi-disappearing act… you know what I mean if you’ve ever cooked spinach), so you can probably double, even triple those numbers.

As you can see, spinach is naturally low in carbohydrates, sugars, and has virtually no fat whatsoever. I’m most impressed with its vitamin A and K content. Aren’t you? The high fiber content shouldn’t be surprising. But some people are surprised to find out that spinach contains some protein. Perhaps that’s why aforementioned cartoon character made it his go-to staple?

Bowl of Spinach

Spinach Health Benefits: 5 Plant Compounds that Compound Spinach’s Superhero Status

 1  Lutein for Eye Health

Number one on our list is lutein, which, as the subtitle implies, is a carotenoid associated with enhanced eye health.[1a]

 2  Zeaxanthin for Eye Health

Yet another carotenoid also associated with improved eye health. Stand out of the way, carrots!

FYI: Carotenoids are pigments that give vegetables their unique hue (egg yolks too!). Our eyes also are carriers of such pigments, and they are their personal protectors in the sense that they protect one of our most precious organs from sun damage.

A number of studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin prevent cataracts and macular degeneration—both of which are primary causes of blindness.[1b]

 3  Kaempferol for Cancer Prevention

This phytochemical correlates with reduced risk of cancer and chronic disease. Fortunately, there are a lot of studies that support this claim.[2]

 4  Nitrates for Heart Health

Linked to heart health, nitrates assist in normalizing blood pressure levels. Normal blood pressure = lower risk of developing heart disease. There have been numerous trials done that yield decreased blood pressure in some individuals.[3][4]

 5  Quercetin for Infection and Inflammation Prevention

Last but not certainly not least, quercetin has been shown to combat oxidative stress, ultimately reducing the wear and tear it causes. Who are the culprits for this oxidative stress? Free radicals! Or in other words: byproducts of metabolism that suck the fountain of youth dry, drastically increase your cancer risk, and predispose you to diabetes.[5]

Pile of Spinach

Potential Side Effects

Certainly something this healthy can’t have any adverse effects, right? Not necessarily. There are some things to be wary of before you indulge in this green goodness often.

The first drawback is kidney stones, which aren’t a walk in the park. In fact, passing them has been said to be one of the most painful experiences—even topping childbirth in some cases. These tiny stones (never judge these merely by their size) are caused by a buildup of acid and mineral salt. The most common kind of kidney stones are the calcium variety (normally made up of calcium oxalate). While it’s great that spinach is rich in calcium, individuals who are prone to developing kidney stones should not eat a lot of it. There has definitely been a debate on oxalates, and some people opt for a low-oxalate diet to ward off any potential future suffering. This doesn’t mean we need to cut them out entirely. So many healthy foods contain oxalates![6]

Drawback number two also only applies to specific people. As we’ve already established, spinach has supremely high amounts of vitamin K1. Vitamin K1 serves more than just a few functions in the body, but its ultimate function is blood clotting. That means people who are on blood thinners shouldn’t eat lots of Vitamin-K-containing foods like spinach and her leafy green sisters. Depending on what your doctor says, you may even have to cut leafy greens out of diet almost completely in extreme cases.[7]

Spinach Plant

And That’s a Wrap!

Hopefully, when you’re thinking of a leafy green you should be eating more of, nutrient-packed spinach is one of the first that comes to mind. After reading this article, you can see that there’s a multitude of health benefits, and some possible side effects. But the latter is only concerning if you have a preexisting medical condition or spinach becomes one of your only food sources for weeks on end. Good for you doesn’t not mean eat as much as you can stomach, and then some.

From ample vitamin K to a myriad of antioxidants, the food pyramid certainly bows down at the sight of this emerald green wonder.

How do you eat your spinach? Or are you a fan of a different leafy green entirely? Oh, and just the other week, we had a kale vs. spinach face-off. Guess who won?


Sources
1. Effects of Lutein and Zeaxanthin on Aspects of Eye Health
2. Molecular Targets of Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention
3. Effects of Dietary Nitrate on Blood Pressure in Healthy Volunteers
4. Food Sources of Nitrates and Nitrites: The Physiologic Context for Potential Health Benefits
5. Multitargeted Cancer Prevention by Quercetin
6. Effect of Dietary Oxalate and Calcium on Urinary Oxalate and Risk of Formation of Calcium Oxalate Kidney Stones
7. Graedon’s Guide to Drug & Nutrient Interactions

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30 COMMENTS

  1. TIP: For those who think greens make their smoothie too earthy, add in one or two chunks of fresh pineapple and it will cut the earthiness better than bananas or citrus fruits.

    • I love that tip! Thank you for sharing. 😀

      Don’t get me wrong, Bob and I love our greens, but sometimes things taste a little “too green” for me. Pineapple tends to be a staple in most of my smoothies. Luckily, Bob can drink green juice straight up and is absolutely fine with it.

  2. Yes! I don’t really like raw spinach, I mean I can eat it, but I prefer no to. BUT, I put it in my smoothie every morning and love it! I honestly can’t really tell it’s in there, more than on the colour of course, so it’s a great way to add veg to the diet.

    • I can totally understand that. Raw spinach has a somewhat odd texture. I sometimes add a bit of it to my salads, but it’s mostly a go-to green for my smoothies. It’s great that you found an enjoyable way to incorporate this super green into your diet. I’m not sure if you read Caldron’s comment. She mentioned adding pineapple to cut down the greenness (flavor-wise).

  3. I put spinach in my smoothies, in scrambled eggs with green onions and in a quiche. I used to eat spinach enchiladas, too. It’s also great in a casserole with brown rice, eggs and some cheese.

    • It sounds like you enjoy spinach whether it’s raw or cooked. Some people tend to lean more towards cooked. I’m rather strange because I sometimes like to eat it on its own as a snack (sautéed with spices and olive oil).

  4. I eat spinach in combination with Kale. It comes as an organic choice and frozen for easy cooking. I eat about 100-140 grams about 5 days a week along with a variety of other vegetables. To make it even more palatable, I add organic non fat greek yogurt, 2 tbps of organic lower sodium salsa, and hot sauce. It substitutes for a “dressing” people commonly top vegetables with (and offers a healthy tasty option.)

    • These are all excellent suggestions! Especially the healthy dressing substitute. Thank you, Jonathan! 🙂

    • Thank you! I’m glad you like it. 🙂 Thanks for the mango tip. We do something similar with our smoothies, except we use pineapple.

  5. Thanks for the informative article! Fortunately I like spinach, whether raw or cooked. It’s probably my favorite “go to” when it comes to greens.

    • Yay! It’s my all-time favorite green as well. Baby kale is a close second.

      And you’re welcome. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

    • Thank you! It definitely would be a bit extreme to kick this super green to the curb. The health benefits cannot be ignored. 😀

  6. Never liked eating spinach and the first experience I had of it was Popeye style, out of a can which just tasted-eugh. But in more recent years I found it incorporated into some Indian foods so have tried to cook a little of it or have a touch or it raw with salad when I can. Still not a big eater but after seeing those stats I think I’m going to try it again. I’m also going to try it in smoothies. If you have the right balance of ingredients in smoothies then you really can’t taste anything too green and they are always just so delicious for me 🙂

      • Thanks for the recommendation! I know that was directed to C, but I’m sure more people can benefit from this. In fact, we just might try this soup ourselves. 😀

        • I make it quite often this time of year since fresh mint is readily available in a friend’s yard. There used to be some growing in the side yard where I live, but unfortunately the lawn care people for the building seem to be on a mission to stamp it out. 🙁 p. s. The soup itself is light and very mild in taste, which some people may like. I tend towards a bit more zing, so I add extra mint, hot sauce, etc. and very little water so that it’s almost the consistency of a very thick bisque. For extra sweetness, add more apple. I make a double batch and still go thru it “lickity split.” 🙂

          • I have fresh mint in my backyard! It’s from Greece so it has a slightly different flavor. It’s sad that some people don’t realize how amazing mint really is. :/ I’m into extra zing myself. The more zing, the better. ;D

        • I just made a double recipe of it a few days ago using an extra big helping of fresh spearmint from a friend’s yard. Best batch yet, as I am always tinkering w/ quantities of each ingredient, plus adding a few not in the original recipe, like the Longevity hot sauce, so I now know what suits me best. I use very little water (I think just 1 cup for a whole double batch!) because I like a more intense flavor, and it’s best to let it chill a bit or overnight to really meld the flavors, but usually I have to eat some of it right after I make it because I can’t wait that long. 🙂

    • Popeye style is pretty gross. That might send out a bad message to kids. Canned spinach is nothing like fresh spinach or spinach you cook yourself! Honestly, incorporating it into aromatic dishes is the way to go if you’re not a huge fan of the super green taste. Spinach-infused smoothies are another great option. I especially like Zirah’s recommendation! Oh, and Bob and I suggest going for baby spinach.

      • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll try baby spinach then. I don’t know why they put it in a can honestly, it’s just green mush, lol. Never understood the phenomenon of Mushy Peas either – not sure if you have them in the US but in the UK some people love mushy peas, basically mashed up peas usually from a can (oh dear!) 😮

        • No problem! They do have mushy green peas here, but I’ve never tried them. I have eaten mashed split peas, though so I suppose that’s close? But it was more akin to hummus. I dipped veggies in it.

          • Lol, yes I’ve eaten split peas often and that counts, although the peas seem very different to green ones. I actually love the taste of split peas although I often overcook them and get a mashed potato type food instead! lol

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