Mediterranean Diet 101

Spinach Health Benefits

When it comes to healthy foods, spinach can be an important part of one’s diet because it’s loaded with nutrients that can increase one’s immunity, is easily available and one doesn’t have to break a bank to buy it – even one can grow their own spinach.

It’s also versatile and can be consumed in a variety of forms like juice, smoothie, health drink, added to pancakes and salads, made to chips, and added to baked goods like brownies.

Published: October 12, 2020.

spinach health benefits 1

If one wants to eat cooked spinach, they should remember that sautéing is the best method of cooking spinach to retain its total carotenoid content as compared to boiling, steaming, or frying. On the other hand, steaming spinach for 5 minutes causes much less loss of its vitamin C content than by boiling or microwaving for 5 minutes. However, eating spinach raw is the best way to retain most of its nutrients, and one can bring diversity to their meal plans by adding it to blueberry, raspberry, or strawberry smoothies.

A member of the Chenopodiaceae family, Spinach, i.e. Spinacia oleracea, being a leafy green is certainly helpful in improving one’s eye health and hemoglobin level. Plus, it can fight free radicals which in itself is a strong ability to prevent many diseases including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and kidney disease. Above all, its low-calorie content makes it a super-food that helps one become healthy without gaining extra pounds.

There are many different varieties of spinach of which the most common are savoy (more crinkly, curly leaves that are springy to touch), flat-leafed (sometimes known as smooth-leafed) (flat, smooth, broader, and sometimes spade-shaped leaves), and semi-savoy (leaves somewhere in the middle of curly and flat).

Health Benefits of Spinach

Rich in Nutrients

Spinach is loaded with protein, fiber, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), folate (a form of vitamin B that helps in the formation of red blood cells and DNA), other B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and carbohydrate, and it contains a few calories and no fat.

Magnesium and potassium provided by spinach are two of the most important electrolytes the human body needs. Potassium per cup of cooked spinach is as much as 839mg, whereas one cup of sliced banana contains around 539mg of potassium. Potassium has several health benefits including lowering high blood pressure, protecting the human body against muscle loss, reduction in the risk of kidney stones and maintaining bone mineral density.

Note: It should be noted that calcium in spinach is not as easily absorbed in the human body as that in dairy. One should only expect to absorb around 10% of the calcium in spinach.

bowl of spinach

High in Antioxidants

Apart from the rich quantities of vitamins and minerals, spinach also contains a high amount of antioxidants because of which it plays an important part in preventing inflammation and diseases. Antioxidants in spinach include kaempferol, a flavonoid found to reduce the risk of cancer and slow down its growth and progression. Another antioxidant in spinach is quercetin which is associated with potential protective effects of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and memory.

Functional Food

A study published in the journal of Food & Function says that spinach has protective effects due to the activity of the phytochemicals and bioactive compounds in it.

Researchers of the study say that these substances derived from spinach can mitigate DNA damage, oxidative stress, and diseases. They can also positively impact the expression of genes involved in inflammation and metabolism. Plus, they induce the release of satiety hormones which can make one feel more full and satisfied.

Therefore, the researchers put forth the conclusion that eating more spinach may help ward off cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Anti-inflammatory Effects

The anti-inflammatory effects of spinach have caught the interest of researchers who believe that these effects are due to certain nutrients in spinach. The first one on the list is flavonoids. Spinach contains the glucuronide and glucopyranonside forms of the flavonoids spinacetin, patuletin, and jaceidin. There is also a subgroup of flavonoid in spinach called methylenedioxyflavones. All these flavonoids have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects and some of them have been even found to have the ability to reduce the risk of cancer.

The next anti-inflammatory phytonutrient in spinach is carotenoids in the forms of lutein and zeaxanthin of which spinach is the second most important source after kale and neoxanthin and violaxanthin of which too spinach is a rich source. These carotenoids have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects especially in the human digestive tract where they help the beneficial intestinal bacteria in converting nitrate to nitric oxide.

Another ingredient in spinach that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties is omega-3 fatty acids and diacylglycerols (molecules that consist of fatty acids). Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in regulating inflammation all through the human body because several anti-inflammatory messaging molecules are formed directly from omega-3s. Spinach is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and its diacylglycerols can also consist of the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and stearidonic acid (SDA). Of these, ALA appears in most prevalent amounts in spinach.

spinach salad

Lowers Blood Pressure

Since spinach contains potassium in high amounts, it’s recommended for people with high blood pressure.
Potassium can help lessen the effects of sodium in one’s body. Consuming potassium in low quantities can potentially be risky as high sodium content in the body can develop high blood pressure.

Also, spinach contains natural nitrates. These are the compounds that dilate blood vessels and thus improve blood flow and lighten the workload on the heart. In a small study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, 7 women and 11 men were given four different nitrate-rich drinks, which included a spinach drink too. It was found that blood nitrate levels increased after consuming these drinks.

The spinach beverage, along with drinks made from beetroot juice and rocket salad (another green leafy vegetable), also reduced blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure (this is the bottom number on the blood pressure reading, which represents the amount of pressure in one’s arteries when the heart is at rest between beats) remained low 5 hours after consuming the spinach and rocket drinks.

Prevention of Cancer

Leafy green vegetables including spinach contain chlorophyll. Many studies, such as a 2013 study conducted on 12,000 animals have revealed that chlorophyll is effective in inhibiting the carcinogenic effects of the heterocyclic amines which are generated when one eats foods grilled at a high temperature. Therefore, spinach can prevent the growth of cancer.

Helps in Diabetes

One of the most important nutrients in spinach is alpha-lipoic acid which has been found to lower blood glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent stress-induced, oxidative changes in patients of diabetes.

Research on alpha-lipoic acid has also revealed a reduction in autonomic and peripheral neuropathy in diabetic patients.

However, most research has been done with intravenous alpha-lipoic acid and it’s not yet confirmed whether oral supplementation would offer the same benefits.

Promotes Brain Health

Since spinach has great anti-inflammatory effects on one’s body, it’s a great food for protecting the brain, especially during the aging process. In a research, researchers tracked the eating habits and cognitive abilities of over 950 older individuals for around 5 years. They observed a considerable reduction in the rate of cognitive decline among participants who consumed large quantities of leafy greens.

The observations showed that people who consumed one to two servings of green leafy vegetables every day had the same cognitive skills as that of a person 11 years younger than them and who didn’t consume green leafy vegetables.

Promotes the Health of Digestive Tract

Since spinach is high in water and fiber, it helps prevent constipation and promotes the health of the digestive tract. It also promotes the health of the digestive tract by helping the beneficial intestinal flora in its activities.

Treats Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia and especially women are at the largest risk of it. Deficiency of iron causes the inability to produce enough hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen to organs and due to which blood gets its characteristic red color. Iron-deficiency anemia can be treated or prevented by eating iron-rich foods like spinach. 1 cup of cooked spinach fulfills 36% of the daily iron needs of an individual and so, is recommended to be included in an anemia prevention or treatment program.

Promotes Bone Health

Spinach is a great source of vitamin K. Adequate intake of vitamin K improves calcium absorption, may decrease the amount of calcium that is excreted through urine, and acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins. Consuming low amounts of this vitamin is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and eventually bone fracture.

A study conducted on Japanese women showed that eating green and yellow veggies like spinach and pumpkins daily had almost a 5-fold reduced risk of low bone mass than those who ate vegetables, but not green and yellow ones.

Good during Pregnancy

Folate or folic acid is an essential ingredient of a pregnant woman’s diet. It can prevent neural tube defects, especially anencephaly and spina bifida, that can occur during the early period of pregnancy. 1 cup of cooked spinach can meet 66% of daily (pre-pregnancy) needs of folate, and so is recommended for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant.

Prevention of Asthma

A study conducted on 433 children in the age group of 6 to 18 years having asthma and 537 children without asthma revealed the risk of developing asthma is lower in people who consume certain nutrients in high quantities. One of these nutrients is beta-carotene and spinach is loaded with beta-carotene.

Promotes Eye Health

Among the many antioxidants in spinach, one is lutein which has been found to lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye disorder that can blur the central vision needed for activities like driving and reading. AMD is the main cause of vision loss among people age 50 or more. Since there is still no cure or treatment for this disease, prevention through consuming foods like spinach is important.

In Japanese research, the eyes of 11 healthy, non-smoking individuals were examined. These individuals consumed 75gm of frozen spinach containing 10mg of lutein every day for two months. Their blood lutein levels increased and also measures of macular pigment optical density (MPOD) increased. Macular pigment acts as internal sunglasses to protect the eyes and low or reduced MPOD is a risk factor for AMD. Thus, the study showed that spinach may help lower the AMD risk.

Spinach also contains another important antioxidant, named zeaxanthin, which too accumulates in the retina and acts as sunglasses to filter blue light and protect one’s eyes. In addition, it also kicks out the harmful free radicals from the retina.

Promotes the Health of Hair and Skin

Spinach is loaded with vitamin A which controls the oil production in hair follicles and skin pores that moisturizes hair and skin.

Vitamin A is also essential for the growth of all body tissues, including that of hair and skin.

Another ingredient in spinach is vitamin C which is important for the creation and maintenance of collagen, an important constituent in the structure of hair and skin.

Spinach is also rich in iron. A common cause of hair loss is iron deficiency which can be prevented by consuming iron-rich foods like spinach in high amounts.

spinach with bread

Spinach Nutritional Profile

1 cup (180gm) of cooked spinach contains:

- Carbohydrates: 6.75gm (3% DRI/DV)

- Protein: 5.35gm (11% DRI/DV)

- Fat: 0.47gm (1% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin A: 943.25 mcg (105% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin B1: 0.17mg (14% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin B2: 0.42mg (32% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin B3: 0.88mg (6% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): 0.26mg (5% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin B6: 0.44mg (26% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin B9 (Folate): 262.8mcg (66% DRI/DV)

- Choline: 35.46mg (8% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin C: 17.64mg (24% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin E: 3.74mg (25% DRI/DV)

- Vitamin K: 888.48mcg (987% DRI/DV)

- Manganese: 1.68mg (73% DRI/DV)

- Magnesium: 156.6mg (37% DRI/DV)

- Iron: 6.43mg (36% DRI/DV)

- Copper: 0.31mg (34% DRI/DV)

- Potassium: 838.8mg (18% DRI/DV)

- Phosphorous: 100.8mg (14% DRI/DV)

- Zinc: 1.37mg (12% DRI/DV)

- Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.17mg (7% DRI/DV)

- Selenium: 2.7mcg (5% DRI/DV)

- Boron: 221.99mcg

- Calcium: 244.8mg (24% DRI/DV)

- Iodine: 3.6mcg (2% DRI/DV)

- Sodium: 126mg (8% DRI/DV)

- Fiber: 4.32gm (15% DRI/DV)

Spinach Risk Factors

spinach health benefits mFor those who take blood thinners, such as warfarin, it’s not recommended to suddenly start eating a lot of food containing vitamin K, which helps in blood clotting, such as spinach.

High intake of potassium is also harmful to those whose kidneys are not functioning properly because such kidneys cannot remove excess potassium from the blood and this can be fatal.

Thus spinach can be consumed as a part of a well-balanced, nutritious diet and not in excessive amounts.

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