It is no secret that, alongside lettuce and kale, spinach is one of the more popular leafy greens of our current times. After all, were we not all fascinated by the superhuman strength Popeye gained once he got down a couple of cans of spinach?
Still, this observation raises a more serious question in the real world, namely: what are the benefits of spinach? Can this vegetable really have such a powerful impact on your health? If so, what are the best ways to consume spinach in order to preserve its strong nutritional content?
Spinach – The Green That Keeps on Giving
Table of Contents:
Spinach is an annual flowering plant also known as Spinacia oleracea. Its place of origin can be traced back to the Asian continent, but spinach cultivation has nowadays become a common occurrence all throughout the world, which means that this leafy green plant can be practically found anywhere from the Mediterranean coastline to the two Americas. In fact, more temperate climates even allow for spinach cultures to thrive over the winter period as well (under special conditions).
The leaf of the spinach is the part of the plant primarily considered fit for human consumption, although the plant itself produces a small cluster of fruit (which contain mostly seeds). There are several types of spinach when taking into consideration the overall shape, texture, and flavor of the leaves. For example, the leaves can be smooth (flat), savoy (‘crinkly’) or semi-savoy (a combination between the two). Due to the fact that raw spinach contains up to 91% water in its composition, one tip you should have in mind when cooking it would be to add considerably more leaves than you expect your end portion to weigh (since the spinach will ‘shrink’ in size when the water evaporates).
Due to the fact that raw spinach contains up to 91% water in its composition, one tip you should have in mind when cooking it would be to add considerably more leaves than you expect your end portion to weigh (since the spinach will ‘shrink’ in size when the water evaporates).
From a nutritional standpoint, spinach contains just 23 calories and 0.4g of fat per 100g (when consumed raw or boiled with no other added flavors). This same amount of this leaf vegetable also contains 2.2g of dietary fiber, 2.9g of protein, and numerous vitamins that are essential for day-to-day wellness such as vitamin C (47 % DV or Daily Value), calcium (10% DV), vitamin A (188 % DV), manganese (45% DV), magnesium (20% DV), copper (6% DV), zinc (4% DV), etc. Spinach also contains substantial amounts of vitamin E (7% DV), vitamin B6 (10% DV), and vitamin K (604% DV).
Contrary to popular belief – and to the myths that emerged alongside the Popeye cartoon – spinach only contains around 15%-20% DV of iron (which is used by the body to oxygenate the blood and keep muscles working properly under stressful conditions). Still, this ‘superfood’ can significantly boost your energy and wellness levels through its high degree of nutrients, antioxidants, and moisture. So, while it might not give you ‘instant muscles’, it can contribute to improved muscle formation through correct dieting and regular exercising.
Still, this ‘superfood’ can significantly boost your energy and wellness levels through its high degree of nutrients, antioxidants, and moisture. So, while it might not give you ‘instant muscles’, it can contribute to improved muscle formation through correct dieting and regular exercising.
In addition, the fact that spinach can retain its nutritional content even after being cooked makes it both a versatile and valuable ingredient in anybody’s kitchen. Either raw or as a part of various dishes, spinach can be a great addition to any lunch or dinner all throughout the week. But do the advantages of spinach go beyond tasteful meals?
What Are The Benefits of Spinach?
- Weight control – as any health ‘junkie’ will tell you, spinach is considered a staple presence in any wellness-oriented lifestyle. On the one hand, the moisture-heavy structure of this leafy green will help keep your metabolism working at top speeds, as well as curb your appetite for longer periods and get rid of any unwanted cravings or glycemic fluctuations. On the other hand, the high concentration of nutrients (yet low caloric count) present in spinach will keep you energized during your workouts and increase your muscle definition (as a result of its protein content).
- Antioxidant protection – like many other leafy greens, spinach contains numerous antioxidants which contribute to your general wellness through their anti-aging properties. For example, lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants which can be found in animal fat and egg yolks as well, their role is that of protecting your eyes against cataracts and other such degenerative issues. In order to get the most out of the antioxidant properties of spinach, be sure to use it in its raw form as a part of smoothies or salads, since thermal processing tends to cancel out these health benefits.
- Nutrient boost – as previously pointed out, spinach embodies a cornucopia of minerals, vitamins, and other beneficial substances which your body needs so as to remain both healthy and happy in the long run. Either raw or minimally cooked, spinach should definitely be your next go-to green when considering a cleansing or simply wholesome diet. As opposed to commercially available vitamin and mineral supplements, the nutrients which you can acquire by consuming spinach on a regular basis are free of any preservatives and additives, so feel free to incorporate this veggie into as many dishes as possible for a health kick like no other!
- Digestive regularity – since spinach contains more than 2g of fiber for every 100g of raw vegetable, it is no wonder then that this leafy green can help you achieve more regular bowel movements and a generally healthier G.I. tract. The gastrointestinal benefits of spinach are twofold: while the soluble fiber in this green significantly diminishes the fat absorption in your body, its insoluble counterpart aids in the transition of food into both absorbable nutrients and easier to eliminate waste. This translates into a lower occurrence of constipation, bloating, and gas, as well as increased abdominal comfort over time.
- Lowered cholesterol – because spinach contains so much fiber in its natural state, it can actually lower cholesterol readings within your organism if consumed on a regular basis. This benefit occurs in light of the fact that dietary fiber has the potential to reduce the quantity of bile reabsorbed into the intestines, therefore restoring your internal balance and eliminating the need for cholesterol receptors to be produced in the first place. Additionally, the nutrients present in spinach ensure your metabolic rhythms work at a normal pace and then eliminate toxins more easily, making your body less prone to ‘storing’ unwanted fats – such as cholesterol itself – into various tissues.
- Stronger immunity – as pointed out beforehand, spinach is packed with lots of antioxidants which boost cell regeneration and renewal, with healthy cells then being better equipped to protect you against various illnesses that might threaten your overall balance. Additionally, the digestive-friendly properties of spinach translate into a good intestinal microbiota, the probiotics (‘good’ bacteria) inside your gut forming an antiseptic barrier against airborne and ingested pathogens alike.
- Higher energy – either raw or processed, spinach can be a source of a good energy boost to get you through the day. Firstly, the combination of vitamins, minerals, and water present in spinach should support your metabolism and keep your spirits high as well. Secondly, the iron concentrations found in spinach are responsible for more efficient blood oxygenation and – by extension – with higher concentration, focus, and desire to be active. Not to mention that spinach is loaded with vitamins from the B-complex group, which is also responsible for maintaining energy at peak performance during the course of the day.
- Healthier skin – we all know how important moisture and nourishment are for a glowing and clear complexion, so it comes as no surprise that eating spinach can help keep your skin healthy as well. For example, vitamin A is considered essential for your skin because it promotes regular regeneration and controls sebum production (which can then be linked to a lower incidence of acne). Aside from the high water content and numerous nutrients, this leafy green also contributes to your skin’s wellness via important antioxidants which renew your dermis at a cellular level and delay the visible onset of aging (wrinkles, spotted skin, etc.).
- Diabetes management – with just 0.4% sugar (mainly fructose and glucose), spinach is by no means a vegetable that should be ignored by those who suffer from diabetes. As we all know, this insulin-derived affliction needs to be managed through correct dieting, with spinach being a great way of satisfying your hunger, preparing a delicious meal, and maintaining glycemic readings within normal ranges at the same time. The antioxidants found in spinach also come into play in the case of diabetes because they significantly slow down the tissue damage otherwise inflicted by this disease (particularly in the nervous extremities).
- Cancer prevention – while there is no definite way of ensuring you avoid this serious disease, there are means of trying to prevent cancerous tumors from developing in the first place. A healthy eating regime that includes spinach on a regular basis is among these things since the nutritional impact of this veggie can contribute to keeping your cells from otherwise going ‘rogue’ and developing unwanted growths. Moreover, the chlorophyll present in spinach – meaning the natural pigments which give this green its specific color – has been found to combat the side effects of eating highly processed foods like red meat (which increase your chance of developing cancer).
- Reduced inflammation – due to certain compounds that make up its chemical structure (like carotenoids and flavonoids, for instance), spinach consumption is hence capable of reducing or even eliminating inflammatory responses throughout the body. The vitamin K and vitamin E contents of this leafy green are also important in the successful management of inflammation, as are the antioxidants and chlorophyll levels that your body absorbs after eating spinach. Most notably, spinach can be used to treat gastrointestinal inflammation, but also as a dental and gum relief, skin soother (in the case of severe acne), etc.
- Neurological support – in this day and age, taking care of your mental wellness can sometimes prove to be a hard task considering all the ‘dangers’ that threaten it. One of these is prolonged stress, which causes rapid oxidation and destruction of cells (whether in the brain or other areas of the body). Luckily, consuming spinach can aid you in combating the detrimental effects of stress through powerful antioxidants and minerals that maintain cellular integrity for longer. Furthermore, the phytoecdysteroids (naturally occurring, plant-derived steroids) in this leafy green act in favor of your neurological wellbeing by regulating hormonal activity and hence making you more prone to positive moods.
How Should You Eat Spinach?
Ideally, you should try to consume spinach in its raw form because this way you can preserve all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and moisture that this leafy green has to offer. Raw spinach can be used in combination with other veggies to create healthy salads and smoothies, for instance, which can fuel your energy and satisfy your appetite over the course of the entire day. Some people might find raw spinach a bit bitter (due to the oxalic acid contained by it), but combining it with different flavors and spices can actually bring out the freshness of this superfood.
On the other hand, eating cooked spinach means you are more likely to absorb some of its specific nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, and calcium, which are made more readily available through heat processing. From soups and stews to dips and pasta, spinach can be paired with almost any other ingredient to end up with both delicious and nourishing dishes.
One slight disadvantage of this method would be that you lose most of the ‘body’ of the spinach (since the water content evaporates during cooking), meaning that you will have to use more spinach for the same satiating effects.
Why Should You Choose To Eat Spinach?
From a smoother complexion and digestive wellness to lower cholesterol readings and cancer prevention, spinach appears to be a leafy green that has only good things to offer to your body in the long run.
This means that you should definitely seek to introduce more spinach into your daily diet if you want to benefit from all the nourishing advantages that this ‘green wonder’ has to offer.
While it probably will not make you as strong as Popeye is made out to be, eating spinach will most definitely boost your health and happiness alike!