The great health benefits of spinach and why Popeye the Sailor was wrong

Popeye was wrong, well, sort of..

Popeye was wrong, well, sort of..

Dear readers: Spinach is one of those foods we should always have in mind when we’re planning a healthy meal – it’s just that good! In fact it is one of the healthiest leafy greens around – and it’s actually not so much for its iron content although that’s likely to be your first association.

Popeye the Sailor has been eating tones of it for decades but what works for him is not really what works for the rest of us, at least when iron is concerned.

Spinach has a high nutritional value and that’s beyond any doubt. It is very rich in antioxidants, it is a rich source of vitamin A (particularly high in lutein, which is very good for the eyes), vitamin C, E, K, B and magnesium.

Spinach is also a rich source of Folate, which is an essential ingredient for our cells and is especially important for pregnant women and those trying to conceive. However, boiling it can more than halve the Folate content while microwaving it doesn’t seem to have such an effect.

Folate aside, boiling spinach actually increases its nutritional value several times as it helps our body use the nutrients more effectively.

A compound in spinach called oxalate prevents iron and calcium from being absorbed into our body. In case of calcium, even though spinach has a high calcium content, its absorption is decreased by oxalate to only around 5% so don’t count on it too much.

Similar goes for iron – oxalate both reduces the absorption and flushes it out of our intestines. Boiling is a good way to get rid of some oxalate content and for this purpose you should boil it for at least 2 minutes. Another way is to eat a vitamin C rich food together with spinach to help deactivate oxalate.

All that said, it is also worth adding one final nail in the coffin of the iron myth – Iron in spinach is mostly with a +3 valence (Fe +3) and our bodies can only use Iron with +2 valence (Fe +2) – even though we do have cells which change this valence down from +3 to +2, this still reduces the amount of usable Iron in spinach.

Boiled is healthier still

Boiled is healthier still

When you combine these hindering factors, it is clear that despite being a very healthy food, spinach is certainly not a good iron source for us. Sorry..

Spinach is also considered a good source of fiber containing about 0.7 grams per cup of raw spinach. This is more than enough of fiber to ease constipation and improve digestion also helping us control our weight.

Spinach also protects our stomach mucus lining helping us prevent ulcers from forming.

One last thing about spinach, which is a lesser known fact is that it nourishes our skin and can play a big role in skin care, making it look fresh and moisturized.

So, even though Popeye may have blundered in his reasons for devouring so much spinach, he did get it right about the total health benefits of this simple plant.

Consider it the next time you’re out shopping..

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo