Spinach is a great nutrient-dense superfood for your health. It is high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients but low in calories. Thus, it is excellent for people who want to lose weight or want to follow a vegan diet.
Spinach is a good source of vitamins A, B2, C, E and K, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, copper, folate, protein and dietary fiber. Plus, it is loaded with flavonoids and carotenoids.
You can enjoy this versatile food as a salad, vegetable juice or a green smoothie. It can also be cooked lightly and eaten as a side dish or added to other soups and dishes.
Here are the top 10 health benefits of spinach.
1. Aids Detoxification
The dark green color of spinach leaves indicates that they contain chlorophyll, which helps your liver and colon remove toxins. Moreover, chlorophyll has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
To aid detoxification, you can prepare various green detox smoothies with spinach. For instance, you can process three cups each of baby spinach leaves and frozen pineapple, one cup of frozen banana, one tablespoon each of grated ginger and chia seeds, and juice from half a lemon in a blender along with a little juice or water. Drink this delicious yet healthy smoothie daily to flush out toxins from your body.
2. Boosts Muscle Strength
It turns out that Popeye the Sailor Man was right about eating spinach to produce bulging muscles!
A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2011 indicates that eating about 300g of spinach can reduce the amount of oxygen required to power muscles during exercise by almost five percent.
Researchers believe it is the energy-boosting nitrates in spinach that help the muscles run more smoothly and efficiently. Nitrates make the mitochondria of cells function more efficiently.
But unlike Popeye, to derive the maximum health benefits you need to eat fresh rather than canned spinach daily.
3. Loaded with Iron
Spinach is an excellent fat and cholesterol-free source of iron. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.
A lack of this essential nutrient can cause fatigue and affect the functioning of everything from your brain to your immune system. It can also lead to conditions like iron-deficiency anemia.
Plus, iron is important for maintaining healthy cells, skin, nails and hair. One cup of cooked spinach provides about 35 percent of the daily amount of iron required by the body.
4. Heart Healthy
Fresh green spinach promotes cardiovascular health due to its antioxidant properties, particularly vitamin C and beta-carotene. Antioxidants prevent harmful oxidation of cholesterol, which poses a threat to the heart and arteries. Spinach also contains heart-healthy nutrients like magnesium, potassium and folate.
Plus, spinach and other green leafy vegetables contain nitrates. When you chew these foods, the friendly oral bacteria react with the saliva, thereby converting nitrates to nitrites. The nitrites are again converted into nitric oxide in the stomach. When this nitric oxide enters the blood stream, it helps open up blood vessels, improve circulation and lower blood pressure.
5. Fights Cancer
Being rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, spinach helps combat different types of cancer. Researchers believe that the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and neoxanthin present in spinach may help remove free radicals from the body before they cause damage and reduce the risk of endometrial, ovarian, lung, colorectal and prostate cancer.
A study by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences also found that eating spinach and carrots twice weekly may cut the risk of developing breast cancer by 44 percent, thanks to their beta-carotene and vitamin A content.
Plus, the folate and fiber in spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables also reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Researchers at Oregon State University also found that spinach can partially offset the damaging effects of a carcinogen found in cooked meat. Carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer.
6. Reduces Inflammation
Spinach has anti-inflammatory properties that can be attributed to its flavonoids and carotenoids. Researchers have identified more than a dozen flavonoid compounds in spinach with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
In addition, spinach is a good plant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that has been found to exhibit potent anti-inflammatory activity.
Fighting inflammation reduces cancer risk and growth, and also helps control inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, asthma and migraines.
7. Lowers Blood Pressure
Being high in potassium and low in sodium, spinach helps lower high blood pressure. Plus, antioxidants and special peptides found in spinach are beneficial in this regard.
Research shows that peptides in spinach have an antihypertensive effect as they inhibit an enzyme called angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE). Plus, the nitrates in spinach have blood pressure-lowering effects.
So, include more spinach in your regular diet. In addition, you can make a nutritious juice by juicing together five handfuls of fresh spinach, one Brussels sprout, one cucumber, two oranges and one-quarter of a pineapple.
You can also add a handful of parsley leaves or one garlic clove. Drink this on a regular basis to help regulate your blood pressure.
8. Improves Eye Health
Spinach is packed with carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that promote eye health and protect against eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
To make the best use of the carotenoid lutein, eat your spinach with fats because lutein is a fat-soluble nutrient. Enjoying your spinach salad dressed with olive oil would be great for your eyes.
9. Protects the Brain
Being packed with lutein, folate and beta-carotene, spinach is a wonderful brain food as these nutrients are linked with a lower risk of dementia.
Researchers have found that the flavonoids present in spinach work as potent antioxidants that slow the effects of age-related decline in brain power by protecting the brain from free radical damage. Animal studies have also shown positive effects of spinach for improving learning capacity and motor skills.
To derive the neuroprotective benefits of spinach, eat a few servings of spinach every day.
10. Supports Bone Health
Spinach is a good source of vitamin K, which helps retain calcium in the bone matrix and promotes bone mineralization. It promotes the synthesis of osteocalcin, which is essential for maintaining bone strength and density and prevents excessive activation of osteoclasts that break down bones.
One-half cup of raw spinach contains about 72 mg of vitamin K, which equals 91 percent of your daily requirement of this vitamin. When cooked, even more spinach will make up one-half cup and thus the same measurement will provide more vitamin K. Spinach also contains calcium, magnesium and other bone-supporting nutrients.
Note: If you are taking blood-thinning medication, talk to your doctor before increasing your vitamin K intake as it may reduce the effectiveness of the medicine.
When incorporating spinach in your diet, make sure to wash the leaves thoroughly to remove dirt and pesticide residue. Plus, opt for organic spinach as it is more nutritious and contains fewer pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals.
On the downside, although this superfood is great for your health, those suffering from kidney, gout or gallbladder problems may want to be careful about eating spinach as it contains oxalates and purines.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Jeanette Kimszal (RDN)
How much spinach is safe to consume daily?
Having a cup of spinach a day is a healthy addition to the diet. Someone with blood clotting issues needs to be careful with the changes in their vitamin K intake. Those with a predisposition to kidney stones may want to avoid more than a cup due to the oxalate content of this food.(1)
Those with IBS and leaky gut may also want to avoid too much spinach since high levels of oxalates may cause digestive issues. Oxalic acids have also been shown to affect inflammatory conditions so people with cystic fibrosis, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, arthritis or asthma may want to limit their intake.(2)
Should spinach be eaten in raw or cooked form?
Spinach is a healthy food choice, whether it is raw or cooked. If someone is concerned about oxalates, then cooking spinach will reduce these levels. Cooking spinach will increase the amount of vitamin K, so those who need to be careful with their vitamin K intake should be aware of this.
There are some nutrients found in cooked spinach that are not present in raw spinach. These include zinc, niacin, and selenium, and they are important for good health.
You want to be careful not to overcook spinach as this can lower the value of nutrients in the diet. Boiling or steaming spinach is the best way to keep the nutrients intact.
Can eating too much spinach be harmful to health?
Due to the presence of oxalic acid, consuming too much spinach may be problematic for those with a history of kidney stones. High levels of oxalic acid could also prevent calcium absorption. Oxalates will bind with calcium and not be digested properly according to research.(3)
A high intake of spinach may produce purines in some individuals leading to high uric acid levels. If uric acid is not flushed out of the system, it may build up in joints causing gout.
Does spinach promote hair growth?
Spinach contains nutrients that have been linked to hair growth. Vitamin A(4) helps produce the oily substance sebum. This compound moisturizes the scalp, thus keeping it healthy. In animal studies, vitamin A was found to activate hair cells to stimulate growth.(5)
Spinach also contains iron.(6) Iron is needed to help carry oxygen through the body. Oxygen is needed to maintain healthy cell function. Hair follicles need oxygen for repair and maintenance of hair growth.
Does spinach facilitate weight loss?
Spinach contains nutrients that help to facilitate weight loss.(7) It is high in insoluble fiber, which has been shown to regulate digestion. Insoluble fiber creates bulk in your stool, which helps it move easily through the digestive tract. Fiber has been shown to regulate appetite, thus leading to weight loss.
Does spinach lose its nutrients when cooked?
During cooking, some nutrients are lessened, while other nutrients become more potent. Raw spinach has a higher level of folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium. Cooked spinach has a higher concentration of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron.
Antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are more readily available to the body when cooked.
Please provide some important tips and suggestions regarding including spinach in our daily diet.
Some ways to include spinach in your diet: a green smoothie, a salad, steamed spinach, spinach saute with olive oil, add it raw to your sandwich, create a roll-up with some turkey bacon, mix it with pasta or cauliflower rice, or bake it in a casserole.
About Ms. Jeanette Kimszal, RDN: Ms. Kimszal is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a graduate of Kerri Glassman’s Nutrition School. She also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University, as well as a certification in Nutrition from Montclair State University.
After completing her dietetic internship with ARAMARK Distance Learning Internship, she now focuses on helping individuals correct their nutritional deficiencies to improve thyroid health. Using scientific testing, she determines food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, and gut imbalances to help restore body and improve overall health.
- Han H, Segal AM, Seifter JL, Dwyer JT. Nutritional Management of Kidney Stones (Nephrolithiasis). Clinical nutrition research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525130/. Published July 2015.
- Holmes RP, Knight J, Assimos DG. Lowering urinary oxalate excretion to decrease calcium oxalate stone disease. Urolithiasis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5114711/. Published February 2016.
- Amalraj, A. and *Pius, A. Relative contribution of oxalic acid, phytate and tannic acid on the bioavailability of calcium from various calcium salts – An in vitro study. International Food Research Journal. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318585128.
- Everts HB. Endogenous retinoids in the hair follicle and sebaceous gland. Biochimica et biophysica acta. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21914489. Published January 2012.
- Suo L, Sundberg JP, Everts HB. Dietary vitamin A regulates wingless-related MMTV integration site signaling to alter the hair cycle. Experimental biology and medicine (Maywood, N.J.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25361771/. Published May 2015.
- Singh A, Bains K, Kaur H. Effect of inclusion of key foods on in vitro iron bioaccessibility in composite meals. Journal of food science and technology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926910/. Published April 2016.
- Stenblom E-L, Egecioglu E, Landin-Olsson M, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Consumption of thylakoid-rich spinach extract reduces hunger, increases satiety and reduces cravings for palatable food in overweight women. Appetite. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25895695. Published August 2015.