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?)
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 Enjoyment
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!)]
Okay, before I sidetrack too much, let’s do a little nutrition breakdown…
Serving: 1 cup (cooked)
Total Fat: 0.47g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Vitamin K: 987% …Holy moly!
Vitamin A: 337%
Vitamin B2: 32%
Vitamin B6: 26%
Vitamin E: 25%
Vitamin C: 24%
Vitamin B1: 14%
Omega-3 Fats: 7%
Vitamin B3: 6%
Pantothenic Acid: 5%
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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