The possible health benefits of consuming spinach include improving blood glucose control in people with diabetes, lowering the risk of cancer, reducing blood pressure, improving bone health, lowering the risk of developing asthma, and more.
Spinach has been used by various cultures throughout history, notably Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern, and South East Asian cuisines. It can be incorporated quite easily into many diets because it is cheap and easy to prepare.
Fast facts on spinach:
- The first cookbook in English, "Forme of Cury," mentioned spinach when it was published in the year 1390.
- According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100-gram serving of spinach has 28.1 micrograms of vitamin C, 34 percent of the daily recommendation.
- Types include savoy spinach, flat spinach, and semi-savoy spinach.
- Spinach can be added as an ingredient to many dishes and can either be cooked or served raw.
Possible health benefits of spinach
Spinach is a nutrient rich plant with many possible health benefits including asthma prevention.
Spinach contains an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.
Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.
However, most studies have used intra-venous alpha-lipoic acid and it is uncertain whether oral supplementation would elicit the same benefits.
Spinach and other green vegetables contain chlorophyll, which has been shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines, which are generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.
The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients. One of these nutrients is beta-carotene, of which spinach is an excellent source. Apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and carrots are also rich sources of beta-carotene.
Lowering blood pressure
Due to its high potassium content, spinach is recommended for people with high blood pressure; it can help reduce the effects of sodium in the body. A low potassium intake may be just as big of a risk factor for developing high blood pressure as a high sodium intake.
Other high-potassium foods include avocado, banana, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans, and oranges.
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improves calcium absorption, and may reduce urinary excretion of calcium.
Spinach is high in fiber and water, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote a healthy digestive tract.
Healthy skin and hair
Spinach is high in vitamin A, which is necessary for sebum production to keep hair moisturized. Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair. Spinach and other leafy greens high in vitamin C are imperative for the building and maintenance of collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair.
Iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, which may be prevented by an adequate intake of iron-rich foods, like spinach.
Nutritional breakdown of spinach
One cup of raw spinach contains:
- 27 calories
- 0.86 grams of protein
- 30 milligrams of calcium
- 0.81 grams of iron
- 24 milligrams of magnesium
- 167 milligrams of potassium
- 2,813 micrograms of Vitamin A
- 58 micrograms of folate
Spinach also contains vitamin K, fiber, phosphorus, and thiamine. Most of the calories in spinach come from protein and carbohydrates.
Spinach is one of the best sources of dietary potassium, weighing in at 839 milligrams per cup (cooked). To compare, one cup of banana has about 539 milligrams of potassium.
A lack of iron in the diet can effect how efficiently the body uses energy. Spinach is a great source of iron, along with lentils, tuna, and eggs. Make sure to combine vitamin C-rich foods with plant iron to improve absorption.
Spinach contains approximately 250 milligrams of calcium per cup (cooked), however, it is less easily absorbed than calcium from sources like dairy products. Spinach has a high oxalate content, which binds to calcium making it dificult for our bodies to use.
Spinach is also one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, which is necessary for energy metabolism, maintaining muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, a healthy immune system, and maintaining blood pressure. Magnesium also plays a part in hundreds more biochemical reactions that occur in the body.
Incorporating more spinach into your diet
Spinach soup is a simple and delicious way to add spinach into your diet.
Spinach is a very versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is available fresh, frozen, or canned. Here are some tips to try to incorporate more spinach into a daily routine:
- Incorporate spinach into pastas, soups, and casseroles.
- Lightly sautee spinach in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- Add spinach to a wrap, sandwich, or flatbread.
- Make a dip with spinach, like spinach and artichoke dip or spinach goat cheese dip.
Add a handful of fresh spinach to an omelet or scramble, or throw a handful into a smoothie.
Risks associated with consuming spinach
If someone is taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) it is important that they do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If a patient's kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.