Spinach is considered to be one of the healthiest foods on earth, with researchers identifying more than a dozen different types of flavonoid antioxidants alone that are present in spinach, not to mention all of its other nutrients. Spinach nutrition has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities, and if you combine that with its very low amount of calories, it is easily one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence.
Spinach is a vegetable that belongs to the Amaranthaceae family food group, which also includes other nutrient-rich plant foods such as beets, Swiss chard, spinach and quinoa. Foods in this family have been shown to be helpful with protecting the central nervous system, reducing inflammation, and delaying the aging process by protecting cells.
Spinach contains special protective carotenoid compounds that have been linked with decreasing the risk of many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and obesity.
Spinach’s phytonutrients include such carotenoids as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, the same time of antioxidants found in other vegetables like carrots, kale, and broccoli. Spinach also supplies flavonoids, which are a type of powerful antioxidant that protect against disease by fighting free radical damage within the body. These protective compounds make spinach on of the best anti-aging foods there is.
Aside from supplying high levels of antioxidants, spinach nutrition also offers an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals overall. It’s considered a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and minerals manganese, zinc, and selenium. This makes spinach useful in protecting various systems and functions within the body, everything from digestive health to eye sight.
According to the USDA 1 cup of raw spinach has the following nutrients (based on daily recommended amounts for adult females over 18): (1)
1 gram protein
1 gram fiber
1 gram carbohydrates
145 mg Vitamin K (223% DV)
141 mg Vitamin A (28% DV)
58 mg Folate (18% DV)
.27 mg Manganese (15% DV)
8.4 mg Vitamin C (14% DV)
0.8 mg Iron (10% DV)
24 mg Magnesium (7.5% DV)
30 mg Calcium (3.75% DV) 800
0.167 g Potassium (3.5% DV)
It’s important to note that although spinach nutrition contains iron and calcium, these nutrients are not well absorbed by the body. In fact, spinach is thought to be one of the least bioavailable food sources of calcium. (2)
This is because spinach contains absorption-inhibiting substances including high levels of oxalic acid. (3) Oxalic acid molecules, also referred to as oxalates, are able to bind to calcium and iron in the body and prevent the body from actually absorbing them. High levels of oxalates are known to make iron and calcium far less absorbable, to prevent their use, and to help remove them from the body by increasing their presence in the urine.
10 Health Benefits of Spinach
1. Protects Against Cancer
Studies show that consuming leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables – including such kinds as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, and kale – can dramatically protect against the occurrence of various types of cancers, especially colon, breast and prostate cancers.
Spinach is able to slow down cancerous cell formation because it defends against DNA damage and limits oxidative stress through the presence of such antioxidants as neoxanthin and violaxanthin. (4) According to studies, spinach’s carotenoids protect cells from mutations which can ultimately lead to cancerous tumor growth.
Spinach nutrition also contains both chloroplast and chlorophyll. Studies have found that because of these properties, spinach acts as a cancer protector by pulling out carcinogenic substances from the body, detoxifying the body, reducing inflammation, and slowing free radical damage. (5)
2. Defends Against Heart Disease
Spinach limits inflammation in the body, which is one of the main risk factors associated with heart disease development. Studies show that spinach can protect heart health by improving the functions of nitric acid, which improves circulation, blood pressure, and blood vessel health. (6) Spinach contains two antioxidants called neoxanthin and violaxanthin which researchers have identified as being extremely useful in lowering body-wide inflammatory responses. Spinach is one of the best known sources of these specific compounds.
Spinach nutrition is able to help heal blood vessel-related problems, including atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. The protective compounds found in spinach work together to keep arteries clear of dangerous plague build up, to lower cholesterol levels, fight high blood pressure, increase blood flow and to maintain healthy, strong blood vessels.
The fiber found in spinach also works to reduce high cholesterol levels and slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream. Together these factors greatly reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
3. Boosts Immunity
Spinach supplies high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C, which are actually both considered antioxidants that are especially useful in maintaining a strong immune system. Vitamin C and vitamin A’s antioxidants keeps your immunity strong against bacteria, viruses, toxins, and other harmful invaders which can cause disease and illness.
Spinach protects immunity by lowering inflammatory responses, reducing cell damage, and aiding in digestive health too, which is very important for absorbing immunity-boosting nutrients from food.
Spinach’s antioxidants also protect skin, eyes, and oral health by protecting from tooth decay and gum disease or infections. They also protect against more serious conditions including free radical damage, which can result in heart disease, cancer, autoimmune responses, and cognitive disorders.
4. Can Protect Against Diabetes
Spinach contains protective steroids called phytoecdysteroids. In studies, this steroid has been shown to increase glucose (sugar) metabolism and to help keep blood sugar levels stable. This is extremely beneficial for people with pre-diabetes, diabetes, or other forms of metabolic syndrome, since it minimizes the requirement for the critical fat-storage hormone insulin.
Compounds found in spinach have also been found to lower the risk for complications that can arise when someone has diabetes. (7) Diabetic patients can experience heart disease, blindness, nerve damage, numbness in limbs, and other complications which spinach and other vegetables can help protect from.
5. Protects Eye Health
Spinach nutrition contains vitamin A in the form of carotenoids, which benefit eye sight by preserving the health of the retina, macula, and cornea. Two of spinach’s carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin are primary antioxidants needed to prolong eye health, especially as someone ages.
Spinach is correlated with decreasing the risk for age-related eye disorders including macular degeneration. For example, zeaxanthin found in spinach works to filter out harmful light rays from entering the cornea. And spinach’s other carotenoids protect vulnerable tissues of the retinal area from oxidative stress that can result in blindness, cataracts, and other complications.
6. Helps Maintain Bone Health
Spinach supplies a high amount of essential bone-building vitamin K. Vitamin K is needed to keep the skeletal structure healthy and helps to prevent conditions related to loss in bone mineral density, especially as someone ages. This includes warding off osteoporosis and bone fractures. Vitamin K also has the roles of helping with blood clotting and turning off inflammation in the body.
7. Preserves Skin Health
Vitamin C and vitamin A found in spinach nutrition can help to fight UV light damage which can lead to skin cancer or the appearance of aged skin. Frequently eating foods such as spinach which contain antioxidants is helpful in fostering new skin cell growth and supporting the production of collagen, one of the main building blocks of skin that is responsible for its elasticity and youthful appearance.
Therefore a way to naturally slow aging and to increase skin’s immunity is to eat spinach and other antioxidant-rich vegetables.
8. Helps with Detoxification
The phytonutrients found in spinach can help to detoxify the body and support liver function by preventing bacterial overgrowth from occurring in the gut microflora. Reduced inflammation of the digestive tract has been associated not only with the flavonoids found in spinach, but also with its carotenoids.
Lower levels of inflammation protect the vulnerable lining of the digestive tract and stomach, reducing the chances of developing leaky gut syndrome or other digestive disorders.
Spinach is also a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber is needed to maintain digestive health because it helps with regular bowel movements, carries waste and toxins out of the body, prevents constipation or diarrhea, and can detoxify the digestive tract.
9. Defends Against Cognitive Decline & Neurological Disorders
Studies have shown that vegetables including spinach can help slow the aging process. According to studies, spinach can protect brain health from age-related diseases and even reverse existing damage that has taken place in the cerebral cortex of the brain following a stroke. (9)
Antioxidants found in spinach work to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that is associated with a decline in cognition, behavioral, and motor skills. (10)
In animal studies, the group given spinach supplements, the animals showed reversal in age related signs of cognitive impairment and overcame some of the difficulty with and motor skills. The group given spinach experienced improvements in the ability to complete behavioral tasks and improvements on scores for cognitive tests. This suggests antioxidants found in spinach can delay both mental and physical signs of aging.
10. High Source of Magnesium
According to researchers, spinach is one of the best sources of magnesium. And very importantly the magnesium in spinach stays intact after being cooked too. (11) Magnesium is a vital nutrient within the body that contributes to overall cellular health and plays a part in more than 300 different bodily functions. Unfortunately however, many adults in developed nations are actually experiencing a magnesium deficiency – and most aren’t even aware of it.
Magnesium is needed to regulate calcium, potassium, and sodium which together all control neuromuscular signals and muscle contractions. This is why a magnesium deficiency can sometimes result in muscle pains and cramps. Magnesium deficiency is also associated with insomnia, mood disturbances, headaches, high blood pressure, and an increased risk for diabetes.
Organic spinach in particular, as opposed to conventional/non organic, can be a good source of magnesium- and studies have shown its one of the most absorbable food sources of magnesium too. While some people do best by taking magnesium complex supplements to overcome a deficiency, regularly consuming foods high in magnesium like spinach can also offer help in reducing these negative symptoms.
History of Spinach
Spinach is a member of the plant family called Amaranthaceae that is native to central and southwestern Asia where it has been grown for thousands of years. Modern day spinach was believed to first grow in parts of India and Iran. Arab travelers brought spinach to the Mediterranean region sometime around the eight century A.D where it is still commonly cooked with today, frequently making an appearance in Greek, Italian, and French cuisine.
Although spinach does not grow well in hot, humid climates, farmers in the warm Mediterranean region used irrigation systems in order to harvest spinach plants in large quantities. As spinach became grown in larger yields, it spread to Persia, Spain, Turkey and further East to other nations in Asia and across the Middle East.
Fresh spinach is available throughout the year, although its primary season runs from about early spring in March through May, and then again in the fall from September through October. Aside from buying fresh spinach, it can also be found in frozen or canned varieties in most grocery stores any time of year.
There are three main types of spinach: savoy, flat spinach, or semi-savoy. Savoy is the kind most commonly found fresh in grocery stores; it has curlier leaves than other types and a mild taste. Flat spinach (also called smooth leaf spinach) is usually grown to use in canned or frozen spinach products. And semi-savoy spinach is used in both ways but less commonly than the other two types.
When purchasing spinach, look for leaves that have a vibrant, deep green color. Avoid any leaves that already look wilted or have wet, brown spots. Spinach is known to attract and hold bacteria somewhat easily, so wash it well before using it. It’s also best to buy organic spinach whenever possible, because conventionally grown spinach is one of the most pesticide-sprayed vegetable crops there is. According to The Environmental Working Group, most spinach contains multiple pesticides, some reports even showing it often has more contaminants than 320 other commonly eaten foods. (12)
It’s not recommended to wash spinach before storing it in the refrigerator since exposing the leaves to water can make them wilt and go bad quicker. Fresh spinach is believed to only retain its nutrients best when it’s used within a few days after purchasing, so try using it somewhat quickly. You can prolong its freshness by storing it in a plastic storage bag and squeezing out as much of the air as possible.
The flavor of spinach will become stronger and seem more acidic once it is cooked. Spinach is known to actually be a vegetable that becomes more beneficial when it is cooked because some of its nutrients become more absorbable by the body. Sautéing or boiling spinach for just 1 minute can improve its nutrient absorbability while not destroying its antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Spinach can be prepared from fresh, frozen, or canned varieties, but I always recommend using organic fresh or frozen spinach whenever possible to ensure the most nutrients remain in intact and the least amount of pesticides and toxins are present. You can prepare spinach in multiple ways, most of which take little to no time at all.
Spinach can be eaten completely fresh and raw, or steamed, boiled, sautéed, or baked with. If you do want to use raw spinach, it has a mild taste that works well in salads or even smoothies. Because spinach’s taste isn’t bitter like some other greens can be, it’s easily disguised in smoothies by the taste of other ingredients like berries or a banana.