Spinach, scientifically known as Spinacia oleracea, is a leafy green vegetable that originated in Persia. It belongs to the family Amaranthaceae, and is related to beets, chard and amaranth.
The word itself derives from the Persian word “esfenaj”, which later became “spanachia” in Latin and eventually evolved into the “spinach” in English.
Spinach is an annual plant that grows best in cool, temperate weather and rich, moist soil. It is widely cultivated for its edible leaves. Spinach is very versatile and can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in various ways like quiches, soups, and stir-fries.
There are three basic types of spinach:
- Flat-leaf spinach is by far the most popular type of spinach in the United States. It has flat, smooth, lighter-green leaves, making it easier to clean than other types of spinach. It is often used for canned and processed foods.
- Savoy spinach has crisp, crinkly, curly leaves. Because of its crisp texture and slightly bitter flavor, savoy spinach is best used for cooking. It is typically sold in fresh bunches.
- Semi-savoy spinach is a hybrid between the other two types of spinach. It has the same crisp texture as savoy spinach but its leaves are much less crinkly, which makes it is easier to wash than savoy spinach. Semi-savoy spinach also tends to has better disease- and bolt-resistance, making it a popular choice of spinach to grow at home.
Spinach Nutrition Facts
Spinach is one of the most nutritious leafy vegetables you can eat. This Popeye’s favorite food is loaded with many important nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, magnesium, and iron, yet contains a very small amount of calories in each serving.
Additionally, it’s very high in fiber, chlorophyll and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are associated with many health benefits.
Here are the nutrition facts for 100 g of raw spinach :
- Calories: 23
- Protein: 2.9 g
- Carbohydrate: 3.6 g
- Fiber: 2.2 g
- Vitamin A: 9376 IU
- Vitamin C: 28.1 mg
- Vitamin K: 483 mcg
- Folate: 194 mcg
- Iron: 2.7 mg
- Potassium: 558 mg
- Magnesium: 79.0 mg
Health Benefits of Spinach
1. Protects against cancer
Spinach contains chlorophyll and carotenoids, which have been shown to have anticancer activities.
A 2013 study carried out on 12,000 animals discovered that the chlorophyll content of spinach was effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines that are generated when cooking meats at a high temperature .
Another study from 2009 looked at the relationship between carotenoid intake and ovarian cancer. The researchers found that women who ate the most spinach are less likely to develop ovarian cancer than those who ate the least .
Spinach consumption has also been linked to a reduced risk of gallbladder cancer. In one study, people who rarely ate spinach had twice the risk of developing gallbladder cancer compared with people eating spinach three or more days per week .
2. Improves eyesight
Spinach contains beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, all of which are beneficial for eyesight. Beta-carotene in raw spinach helps the body produce vitamin A, which is important for proper eye function. The lutein and zeaxanthin work to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration, which are major causes of blindness.
3. Supports bone health
Spinach is an excellence source of vitamin K, which is needed for bone formation and therefore plays an important role in maintaining bone density.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that low intakes of vitamin K were associated with an increased risk of hip fractures in middle-aged women .
The high level of potassium in spinach is also helpful in protecting against bone loss. Additionally, spinach contains calcium, another major component in keeping bones strong.
4. Lowers blood pressure
Due to its high potassium and magnesium content, spinach is recommended for people with high blood pressure. Potassium can help reduce the effects of sodium in the body and relax blood vessel walls, which in turn help lower your blood pressure.
It also contains magnesium that may help keep blood pressure under control. The mineral helps to prevent blood vessels from constricting, which can increase blood pressure.
5. Prevents atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque. The lutein found in spinach may help reduce the occurrence of atherosclerosis. Spinach may also help lower your cholesterol levels and decrease fat deposits in the arteries.
6. Controls blood sugar
Spinach is a rich source of magnesium, which can help regulates blood sugar levels. Spinach also contains an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid that increases insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar levels.
7. Supports brain health
Green leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, are high in vitamin K, lutein, beta carotene and folate. These nutrients are believed to promote brain health and slow down cognitive decline.
In one study, researchers tracked the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of more than 950 older adults for about five years. They saw a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline among those who consumed larger amounts of green leafy vegetables. The data indicated that people who ate one to two servings of leafy greens daily had the same cognitive abilities of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed no leafy greens .
8. Promotes hair growth
Spinach is loaded with essential nutrients, such as iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C. These nutrients help avoid hair damage and nourish your scalp and hair, ensuring healthy hair growth.
The vitamin A in spinach can protect the skin from UV radiation. It fights oxidative stress occurring on the dermal layers and promotes skin health.
The vitamin C can promote the synthesis of collagen, an important part of hair structure. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron, a mineral necessary for hair growth. Iron deficiencies have been linked to hair loss .
9. Boosts the immune system
Spinach has high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C, which help fight off infections as well as replenish the blood cells to give a boost to the immune system.
10. Keeps your skin healthy
The vitamin A and vitamin C in spinach will also accelerate the regeneration of your damaged skin, ensuring you have a healthy glowing skin.
Moreover, the antioxidant properties present in spinach help in fighting off bacteria that cause acne and pimples. You can blend some spinach leaves with water and apply them onto your face and leave it until the mask is dry, or you can simply add spinach in your salads.
11. Supports digestive system
Spinach is a great source of insoluble fiber, which is known for its ability to promote digestive health. It adds bulk to stool and helps food pass quicker through the digestive tract, making your bowel movements easier to pass.
12. Maintains a healthy pregnancy
Spinach contains folic acid (folate), which is one of the essential nutrients that pregnant women should include in their diet. One cup of raw spinach provides about 58 mcg or 15% of the daily recommended intake of folate.
Folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), specifically spina bifida and anencephaly . The U.S. Public Health Service recommends taking 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day if you are pregnant or might become pregnant.
13. Prevents anemia
The iron content in spinach is very beneficial for preventing anemia, particularly iron-deficiency anemia. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to every part of the body. Without sufficient iron, your body is unable to produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen, which leads to fatigue and shortness of breath.
Both raw and cooked spinach are good sources of iron, though cooking spinach helps your body better absorb the nutrients it offers. Although spinach is not always a favorite, especially among kids, it’s easy to sneak into dishes.
14. Boosts muscle strength
Spinach contains high amounts of nitrate which has been shown to help boost muscle strength.
One study in Sweden found that eating about 200 to 300 grams of fresh spinach a day will help increase the release of necessary substances in the muscle tissue that tone up muscles .
15. Aids in weight loss
Like other leafy greens, spinach is low in calories and high in fiber, meaning you can eat a lot of it and feel full without ingesting a lot of calories.
There’s also some research to suggest that thylakoids, the internal membrane system in green plants like spinach, can help facilitate the release of satiety hormones in the body.
For example, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that taking a thylakoid-rich spinach extract before breakfast may help reduce hunger and increase satiety for more than two hours .
Selection and Storage
When buying whole, fresh spinach, look for leaves that are crisp and dark green. Avoid those that are yellow, limp, or wilted, as these indicate that the spinach is past its prime.
If buying pre-washed, packaged spinach, check the expiration or a “best if used by” date, and also inspect the bag for any slimy or yellow leaves.
Do not wash spinach before storing, as the moisture will cause it to spoil. Try to eat your spinach within 3 to 5 days to get maximum nutrition benefits.
Spinach is high in oxalic acid, so people who are at a high risk of developing kidney stones should avoid or limit their intake. And since spinach is among the foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, we recommend choosing organic spinach. If not, then be sure to wash it thoroughly regardless of what type it is.