14 Benefits of Spinach That Will Convince You to Eat More Leafy Greens
The origins of spinach in modern western cuisine come from Spain. The Spanish took this charming dark green vegetable on from the Moors to whom it came from Persia.
It also appeared in Ancient China as early as the 7th century.
All of this to say one thing – humans have been eating spinach for a long time, way before any of its benefits were known.
Today the epithet of ‘superfood’ is often used to describe spinach.
The word is essentially a marketing term and doesn’t have a clear definition as far as health and nutrition go, but that doesn’t change the facts – spinach is healthy and nutrient-rich.
Spinach shares many of its benefits with other plants in the leafy green family, such as kale, collard greens, cabbages, lettuces, swiss chard, and arugula.
They have lots of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber while being low in calories, and can help fight a whole onslaught of diseases and slow cognitive decline.
Here are just some of the perks of eating spinach that might persuade you to give it more space in your fridge:
1. BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL
Controlling blood glucose levels is essential to diabetes management, but it is also essential to the prevention of all types of diabetes.
Spinach can help manage blood sugar levels because it contains relatively high levels of alpha-lipoic acid, compared to other natural sources.
It specifically affects neurological symptoms of diabetes, such as numbness of feet and hands, including tingling, itching, and weakness in the extremities.
Alpha-lipoic acid is used in the treatment of many neurological disorders and injuries, although mostly intravenously. A study done by The German Center for Diabetes in 2006 analyzed the oral ingestion of alpha-lipoic acid and found that it did affect neurological symptoms of diabetes as well.
Another way that alpha-lipoic acid helps with diabetes management is that it increases insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance disorders are incredibly common and are a precursor to diabetes. Increased insulin sensitivity helps with counteracting these disorders.
2. LOWER RISK OF CANCER
Spinach is effective at reducing the risk of cancer thanks to two agents – chlorophyll and a myriad of antioxidants it contains.
Animal studied done on several thousand subjects have shown that the ingestion of chlorophylls can prevent tumorogenesis and inhibit cancerogenic uptake.
The important thing is that the spinach needs to be cooked as the thermal preparation activates these cancer-preventing compounds.
The four antioxidants found in spinach that work to prevent cancer growth are lutein, zeaxanthin, neoxanthin, and violaxanthin who are all anti-inflammatories.
A study on prostate cancer credited these antioxidants as the reason spinach is effective in battling even aggressive forms of this kind of cancer.
It has also shown itself to work in preventing the development or growth of specific types of cancer.
A study done by The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences looked at the development of breast cancer in women and found that women who consume spinach or carrots had a lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not.
3. PLENTIFUL OF IRON
The reputation of spinach in pop culture centers around its high iron content – just think of tough guy Popeye chugging cans of spinach for strength.
Although iron consumption sadly doesn’t work exactly like that in real life, it is not a myth that spinach is an excellent source of iron. Both fresh and cooked spinach has lots of it, 2.71 mg per 100g and 3.57mg per 100g respectively.
Spinach is one of the few foods that might be healthier when cooked because the process breaks down some of the oxalic acids.
This acid stops our bodies from absorbing some vital nutrients, iron, and calcium for example, by binding with them.
This doesn’t mean that eating raw spinach isn’t good for you; it is still nutritionally beneficial in both states.
Consuming iron through your diet is important because it affects hemoglobin levels in the blood. Hemoglobin has the role of oxygenating your organs through the cardio-vascular system.
4. VITAMIN C
When trying to increase your hemoglobin levels through iron consumption, it is important to take vitamin C alongside it as it increases absorption. Good thing that one of the top natural sources of vitamin C is leafy greens, like spinach!
Besides aiding in iron absorption, vitamin C helps skin quality and supports the immune system. Having a diet rich in vitamin C helps the skin with the absorption of UV rays and the lack of vitamin C, known as scurvy, is also characterized by fragile skin alongside many other unpleasant symptoms.
For maximum vitamin, C absorption make sure to eat spinach raw since vitamin C is one of those compounds that are better absorbed that way.
Don’t worry too much though – a cup of cooked spinach still contains 23.5% of your needed daily intake.
By far the best way to cook spinach is simply by steaming it because this method of preparation shows the smallest loss of vitamin C compared to all other cooking methods.
A cup of cooked spinach contains 24% of your daily recommended calcium intake. On the other hand, if you prefer raw spinach, it works just fine for calcium intake; a cup of it contains 30mg.
Unfortunately, the oxalates in spinach make the calcium slightly more difficult to consume than from other sources – but you can still expect to absorb about 10% of it from raw spinach and more from spinach that has been cooked.
High calcium intake is important for bone health, famously, but also plays a vital role in healthy heart and nervous system function.
Calcium strengthens bones by providing adequate bone mineralization thus fortifying them and making them more durable against injury.
Magnesium is crucial for proper energy utilization and spinach is one of the best dietary sources of it – a cup of raw spinach contains 24mg of magnesium and a cup of it cooked contains a third of your needed daily intake.
Besides maintaining mitochondrial health – directly resulting in healthy energy utilization, magnesium has an important role in cardiovascular health, helps prevent asthma attacks and maintains neurological health.
Studies have even shown that taking magnesium regularly can prevent migraines and that it can improve positive outcomes in depression treatment when ingested daily alongside anti-depressants.
Some tentative studies even propose that regular magnesium intake can prevent depression altogether.
A magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramps and arrhythmias, and in the most severe cases can lead to cardiac arrest.
7. IMPROVES DIGESTION
The anti-inflammatory properties of certain anti-oxidants often referred to as carotenoids, in spinach have already been mentioned; they are especially important for maintaining gut health.
It can also help sustain a healthy gut biome by providing gut bacteria with much-needed nitrates.
Spinach is beneficial to the digestive tract by protecting the stomach lining from ulcer formation through the strengthening of the mucous membrane, according to an animal study performed on rats from The International Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Chemistry.
The other way that spinach improves digestion is pretty obvious – spinach is, alongside most leafy greens, one of the best sources of insoluble fiber.
Humans need to consume high amounts of fiber to regulate stool and avoid constipation.
Alongside this, antioxidants such as Coenzyme-Q10 found in spinach, strengthen heart muscles preventing heart diseases as well as heart failure.
The regular consumption of this compound decreases the risk of obtaining high blood pressure and helps regulate it.
Potassium does this by neutralizing sodium – high salt intake leads to high blood pressure. It reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease as well.
Potassium is better absorbed from spinach when it is consumed raw. Be careful because taking in too much potassium is not good for people with kidney problems, but this is unlikely to happen due to spinach consumption alone.
The inclusion of potassium in daily diet also helps facilitate normal neurological function.
Very few adults meet the recommended daily intake of potassium; only 2% manage to do so says Megan Ware, a registered dietitian nutritionist working out of Orlando.
This is a shame since it provides so many benefits for maintaining muscle mass and bone density.
9. SKIN AND HAIR
Due to its high content of vitamins A and C, spinach is extremely good for maintaining healthy skin.
Vitamin A stops the overproduction of oils in the skin, clears up acne and helps keep your skin moisturized. Vitamin A is best absorbed from spinach in its cooked states.
Vitamin A also stimulates healthy sebum production, keeping hair shiny and healthy and stimulates its growth. A lack of iron in your diet can also cause hair to fall out and spinach’s high iron content can help rectify this.
Eating spinach helps stimulate the production of collagen, which smoothes skin by strengthening capillaries and gives you a plump and youthful appearance, removing wrinkles and fine lines.
Antioxidants are also crucial for skin elasticity and vitality, and spinach has plenty of them, as mentioned previously.
These dietary antioxidants can protect skin from UV radiation, stopping damage and in some cases even reversing it, therefore lowering the risk of skin cancer.
10. BONE DENSITY AND VITAMIN K
One of the ways calcium retention can be improved is by increasing the amount of vitamin K consumed, as vitamin K binds calcium to the bone matrix.
A cup of cooked spinach contains almost 10 times the needed daily amount, which makes it one of the best sources of vitamin K out there.
Vitamin K helps the body rebuild bone and heal fractures, and it works with vitamin D to improve bone density.
It is especially important for women, as one study shows since low vitamin K is related to high bone fragility, of which women after menopause are at an increased risk.
Even the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends spinach for its vitamin K and potassium levels in its nutritional guidelines. Alongside bones, the same nutrients help you maintain healthy teeth and nails.
An additional benefit of vitamin K is that it helps maintain appropriate blood clotting, relieving the symptoms of hemophilia.
11. OCULAR HEALTH
Spinach has been found to contain high amounts of the plant compound lutein. Lutein is crucial for eye health and is best absorbed from cooked spinach.
This antioxidant is one of the carotenoids that give the plant its color. It is also a crucial part of the structure of the human eye, helping shield it from damage caused by sun exposure.
The human body does not synthesize lutein on its own, so including it in your nutrition is the only way to get it in your system.
Both lutein and zeaxanthin help shield the eyes from light damage, including ultraviolet light.
They preserve eyesight by blocking the creation of cataracts, glaucoma and stopping macular degeneration caused by the buildup of free radicals.
Another eye health booster can be found in spinach, and it comes from raw spinach. It is beta-carotene.
A 2013 report analyzed the best nutrients for aging eye health and age-related eye disease prevention, and many of them are the same nutrients that can be found in spinach.
12. FOLIC ACID
A cup of raw spinach contains 58 micrograms of folate, also called folic acid or vitamin B9. It is one of those nutrients that are more absorbable to our bodies when consumed raw.
It is also a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that it cannot be stockpiled by the body as excess is flushed out alongside other liquids.
Folic acid is important for women to consume during pregnancy, but it also benefits general cell function and tissue growth.
Regular folic acid intake during pregnancy prevents birth defects of the spine and brain in the babies.
Birth defects form during the first few weeks of pregnancy so folic acid upkeep is important for all women planning on starting a family soon.
Spinach should be consumed alongside supplements during pregnancy since the need for folic acid is greater, but for everybody else spinach is just fine, containing 66% of your needed daily folic acid levels, according to the CDC.
13. ASTHMA PREVENTION AND MANAGEMENT
People who consume high amounts of beta-carotene are at a lower risk of developing asthma, according to nutritionist Dr. Ware. People who have a high level of beta carotene in their diets are less prone to exercise-induced asthmatic attacks.
Both vitamin A and beta carotene have shown lower levels in asthmatic children than those children who aren’t asthmatic, a robustly sized study has shown.
Since both of these nutritional compounds are found in large quantities in spinach, it has a role to play in asthma prevention.
Magnesium has also been successful in helping treat and manage asthma, but the majority of studies analyzed the effects of intravenous magnesium intake.
Breastfeeding mothers should make sure to keep up their vitamin A levels during the breastfeeding period since it is important for proper lung development in babies and can prevent them from getting lung diseases such as asthma.
14. CAN’T EAT TOO MUCH SPINACH
A lot of foods can be used as alternative sources for many of the nutrients listed.
The problem is the threat of overconsumption – sure meat and dairy can be sources of calcium and protein, many fruits provide vitamins and other leafy greens are good options too.
The beauty and convenience of spinach are that it is incredibly calorie-light. A cup of raw spinach contains a measly 7 kcal and barely any fats.
It is virtually impossible to eat too much of – most of the nutrients are water-soluble or can be safely stored in fat.
The only major restriction to eating as much spinach as you possibly can, whenever you want to is that it has a high vitamin K content, as previously stated, and that people with kidney problems need to be mindful of this.
Another group that needs to keep the vitamin K content in mind is people who take anticoagulants – medication that prevents blood clotting.
These individuals should check with their doctors about what serving size of leafy greens is appropriate for them on a daily level.
Spinach is easy to incorporate into your diet and isn’t very expensive.
Of course, other foods share some of its benefits but it is this versatility and availability that make spinach such an attractive choice.
It is plentiful and easy to come by during spring, it can be eaten both fresh and cooked and you can add it to pretty much any dish without a problem. Blend it into your smoothie or put a handful of leaves into your pasta carbonara.
You can bake it into pies and corn muffins; you can add it into soups and salads or even just serve it as a simple side dish.
When spinach itself isn’t available, there are usually plenty of other leafy greens that work just as well and can be substituted – kale, collard greens or chard work well in cooked dishes, while arugula, romaine lettuce and cabbage can work to substitute raw spinach.
It seems like you have no excuse not to grab some leafy green vegetables the next time you go to the market!
Now that the 14 most important benefits of spinach consumption have been shared with you, there’s no reason not to include it in your weekly diet. There’s no excuse either.
Perhaps it won’t make you a Popeye, not immediately at least, but it will surely work to immensely improve your health.
As you can see, almost all of the aspects of physical health are covered by this amazing plant.
It’s not only tasty, but it’s rich in nutrients and as we all know, what keeps your boat floating in the physical sense, will also energize you mentally.
There you have it, it’s the superfood that you should definitely not forget next time you visit the market.