Ask people which foods are superfoods, and spinach will always end up on the list. From our childhood memories of hearing Popeye boast of its strength-giving powers to our more modern understanding of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, spinach is universally understood to be one of the healthiest foods you can eat, as well as being one of the easiest to add to your daily meal plan.
What is Spinach?
Spinach is a leafy, dark green vegetable that is in the same family as beets, Swiss chard, and quinoa. Though the plant family was originally grown in Asia, it is believed that spinach was first grown in the Middle East in Persia, from which is thought to have been brought first to China and then to the Mediterranean during the 8th century, and from there it spread across the world.
Though people often refer to spinach as a cold weather crop, it is available year-round and can be purchased fresh, canned or frozen. There are three different types of spinach:
- Flat – This type is generally used in frozen and canned spinach as well as in prepared foods like soup and baby food
- Semi-savoy – A hybrid of Savoy and Flat spinach, it is less crinkly than savoy spinach and easier to clean
- Savoy – a curly leaved spinach that is sold in produce markets in bunches
1. Spinach’s Incredible Health Benefits Come from Its Many Vitamins and Minerals
Spinach has very few calories and no fat, yet it is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It’s nutrient load and health benefits are boosted by antioxidants that help to spur cellular development, repair damage caused by stress, fight inflammation, and protect against disease. Spinach’s nutrients are more available when the vegetable has been cooked, but one cup of raw spinach includes:
Calories – 7
Protein – 1 gram
Fiber – 1 gram
Vitamin K – 145 mg (223% of RDV)
Vitamin A – 141 mg (28% of RDV)
Folate – 48 mg (18% of RDV)
Manganese – .27 mg (15% of RDV)
Vitamin C – 8.4 mg (14% of RDV)
Iron – 0.8 mg (5% of RDV)
Magnesium – 24 mg (7.5% of RDV)
Though spinach has long been thought to have an exceptional amount of iron, that is a myth that started when a decimal point was misplaced in a study in the 1930s: though it does contain a good amount of the mineral, it also contains compounds that block the body from absorbing it. Spinach also contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.
2. Spinach Helps Slow the Formation of Cancer Cells, and Can Protect Against Cell Mutations
Vegetables that have dark green coloring are well known for their ability to protect against a variety of cancers. In the case of spinach, it is the high levels of antioxidants in the leaves that prevent cells from mutating into cancerous tumors, as well as its high levels of chlorophyll which is a powerful detoxifying agent that pulls carcinogens out of the system. Studies have shown that spinach contains glyconutrients that prevent cancer cell and tumor growth, and that when mice with cancer were fed those glyconutrients their tumor volume decreased by more than half. Spinach has proven to be particularly helpful at slowing the progression of prostate cancer and in preventing against bladder cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, and lung cancer. The Nursees Health Study revealed that women who ate diets high in a flavonoid found in spinach had a 40% reduction in their risk of ovarian cancer, and a carotenoid in the vegetable causes death in prostate cancer cells.
Bottom Line: Studies have shown that the more spinach you eat, the lower your risk of being diagnosed with a number of dangerous cancers.
3. Spinach Improves Your Vision and Protects the Structures of Your Eyes
Among the antioxidants and phytonutrients found in spinach are three – lutein, xanthene and beta-carotene – that are particularly beneficial for your eyesight. Lutein and xanthene are both found in the central part of the retina, and it is when they breakdown that we develop a condition called macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness. By consuming spinach you can stop this process, while at the same time cutting the impact of free radicals that cause damage after exposure to sunlight and pollution. Lutein and xanthene can also prevent the development of cataracts. The beta-carotene that we can get by eating cooked spinach helps to prevent itchy eyes, dry eyes, and other symptoms of Vitamin A deficiencies,
Bottom Line: Adding spinach to your daily diet can help to preserve your vision and protect your eyes against the effects of aging and environmental stress.
4. Eating Spinach Helps to Keep Your Bones Strong
Spinach’s high levels of Vitamin K work to keep our bones strong by preventing the loss of calcium. The vegetable also contains other minerals that help to build strong bones, including copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. The more foods you eat that are rich in these nutrients, the lower your risk of developing osteoporosis or of being prone to fractures as you age. Spinach also contains calcium, but it is not as bioavailable as it is from other calcium-rich foods
Bottom Line: Though spinach contains oxalates which prevent the bones from absorbing calcium, it also contains multiple nutrients that help to maintain the calcium in your bones. Eat spinach for strong bones, but do not count on it for its calcium content.
5. The Copper in Kiwi Helps Give You Energy and Keeps Your Metabolism Healthy
Eating one cup of kiwi gives you 20% of your daily recommended intake of copper. This mineral is an essential for maintaining the health of your nervous system and your cell health. Copper also helps to support the formation of collagen and the absorption of iron, and as such it is essential to maintaining a healthy metabolism and high levels of energy. Copper is only available to us from the foods that we eat, so it is essential that we seek out foods that provide the proper levels.
Bottom Line: The copper in kiwi plays an essential role in our overall health, including ensuring proper growth and protection of our cardiovascular system, nervous system and skeletal system.
6. Spinach is Good for Your Skin
Your skin needs both Vitamin C and Vitamin A to help fight the damaging impact of UV light. Spinach is rich in both of these nutrients, as well as other antioxidants that help to initiate the growth of new cells, including collagen which keeps your skin elastic and youthful.
Bottom Line: Eating spinach can help protect against the aging process and protect against damage caused by pollution and the harmful rays of the sun.
7. Spinach is a Powerful Brain Food
Among the many ways that spinach helps protect against the effects of aging, one of its most important is the way that it fights degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Spinach’s neurological benefits come from its high levels of folate, which have been shown to cut the risk of cognitive decline, as well as its high levels of potassium which increases blood flow to the brain. Some studies have even shown that eating spinach may be able to reverse damage caused by brain injuries such as stroke.
Bottom Line: Spinach contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that play an active role in cutting the inflammation and stress that can lead to cognitive decline and memory loss, as well as plaque-based degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
8. Spinach Helps Guard Against Diabetes
Among the valuable phytonutrients found in spinach is a type of compound called a phytocdysteroid. These help to boost the ability of the body to metabolize sugar, preventing it from being stored as fat and helping to keep blood sugars levels on an even keel. Additionally, the nutrients found in spinach help to guard against some of the health complications that can accompany diabetes, including heart disease, cataracts, and poor circulation.
Bottom Line: Adding spinach to your daily diet is a good idea for people who have metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or who are pre-diabetic.
9. Spinach Helps Fight Disease
One of the most important nutritional benefits derived from the antioxidants in spinach is its ability to boost our immune system. The Vitamin C and Vitamin A in spinach helps put a stop to inflammation that can cause cell damage and which prevents our digestive system from absorbing essential nutrients from spinach and everything else that you eat. Additionally, the immunity boosters in spinach battle viruses, toxins and bacteria, helping you stay healthy and strong.
Bottom Line: Adding spinach to your diet will help to keep you from getting sick, fight the impact of aging and oxidative damage, and can even help to improve your health at a cellular level.
Tips for Buying and Using Spinach
When buying fresh spinach, look for leaves that are dark green and fresh, and avoid any that look bruised, wilted or dried out. It is a very good idea to purchase organic spinach, as mass-produced commercial spinach is often sprayed with numerous pesticides which it absorbs and which are difficult to remove. Store your spinach in the refrigerator until you are able to use it, and don’t wash it until you are ready to eat it, as moisture can contribute to faster deterioriation.
Spinach has very little taste and is very high in water content: both of these attributes make it very simple to add to almost any food. Though it works well as a base for a fresh salad, its nutritional benefits are best realized when it is cooked. Sauteeing spinach is the best way to preserve its carotenoid content, though it loses less of its Vitamin C when it is steamed. Some of the nutritional benefits are not available from raw spinach but become more bioavailable when the vegetable is juiced or added to a smoothie. The most important takeaway is that no matter how you eat spinach, you are going to get a big boost and plenty of benefits for your health.