Garlic, kale, wheatgrass, dark chocolate, and avocado are a few of many popular eatables naturally infused with tremendous healing potential. Otherwise known as superfoods, these nutrient-packed provisions please the palate, sustain well-being, and may remedy complications linked to a slew of ailments, including heart disease and cancer. But rarely is the leafy-green vegetable spinach included in the nutritional powerhouse category, perhaps because it’s oh-so-common and has lost that razzle dazzle appeal.
The fictional cartoon character Popeye knew no other way to gain superhuman strength to defeat his mighty adversaries than to guzzle down as much spinach as he could get his hands on. Actual scientific data support Popeye’s clever inclination to consume this spinach superfood to fortify health. There are many reasons why you should consider including spinach in your own dietary arsenal of superfoods. Get to know these considerable spinach health benefits to help reverse common bodily disorders and improve your life.
Spinach Superfood Basics
Spinach (or spinacia oleracea) of the Amaranthaceae family is cultivated across the globe, from the east in central and western Asia to the west in northern Europe and the United States. Its hardy edible leaves are eaten as a vegetable. And like many leafy-green veggies, spinach is loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and beneficial fiber.
Raw spinach is comprised mostly of water and has high-nutrient potential. Consuming fresh spinach—as a spinach salad, for example—increases the rate of nutritional absorption. However, cooking spinach, along with canned, frozen, or air-dried varieties, offers some essential nourishment as well.
One cup of raw spinach contains approximately:
- 181% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 56% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 15% of the RDA of folate
- 14% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 13% of the RDA of manganese
- 6% of the RDA of magnesium
- 5% of the RDA of potassium
- 5% of the RDA of iron
- 3% of the RDA of calcium
- 3% of the RDA of vitamin E
- 3% of the RDA of dietary fiber
- 3% of the RDA of vitamin B2
- 3% of the RDA of vitamin B6
- 2% of the RDA of vitamin B1
- 2% of the RDA of protein
- 2% of the RDA of copper
- 1% of the RDA of vitamin B3
- 1% of the RDA of zinc
Let’s take a closer look at the major ingredients found in raw spinach.
- Vitamin K sustains bone health and promotes blood clotting, which prevents blood vessel hemorrhaging. Vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 are its main compound forms. Vitamin K1 is derived from leafy vegetables like spinach, while certain meats, cheeses, and dairy products contain the vitamin K2 compound.
- Vitamins E and C (or ascorbic acid) are powerful antioxidants. Vitamin E is useful for regulating metabolic energy levels, repairing cell damage, and sustaining the nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems. Vitamin C also sustains cardiovascular health, and it boosts the immune system.
- Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A and a member of the carotenes, which are commonly found in plants. Beta-carotene is present in certain grains, fruits, and vegetables. This nutrient can be effective for treating complications associated with heart disease, brain disorders, skin maladies, and other issues.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: Spinach contains these two potent carotenoids in spades, and, along with beta-carotene, they go a long way toward protecting your vision and helping to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Calcium in spinach accounts for less than one quarter of the recommended calcium daily dosage. Yet, this does not diminish the potency of calcium in vegetables. This mineral helps to sustain bone, teeth, and cardiovascular health.
- Potassium is essential to certain metabolic processes, including various chemical reactions and muscle functionality. Consuming foods rich with this element can help treat potassium deficiencies and complications associated with heart disease, including stroke and hypertension.
- Omega-3 fatty acid in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are abundant in fish. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid present in spinach at considerable levels. Omega-3 nurtures healthy muscle tissue, eyes, and skin cells. It is a crucial treatment for combating diabetes-related disorders.
- Dietary fiber comes in two forms, both of which are present in spinach leaves. Water-soluble fiber is the indigestible portion of food that boosts satiety, while insoluble fiber bulk improves defecation.
- Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which improves energy levels and builds strong bones and muscle as well as many other perks. Cystine and methionine are amino acids found in spinach.
Science of Spinach
The scientific community is fervently researching the salubrious characteristics of raw spinach nutrition and its probable medicinal byproducts.
- Arthritis: A 2018 study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine details how spinach extract alleviates effects associated with osteoarthritis.
- Metabolic syndrome: The antioxidant power of spinach was showcased in a 2017 study published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Subsequent data supported assertions that regular exercise coupled with consumption of antioxidant-rich foods like spinach improved impairments linked to metabolic syndrome—a causative factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Cancer prevention: In 2016, the journal Radiation Oncology spotlighted the pancreatic cancer-fighting power of monogalactosyldiaglycerol (MGDG), a potent enzyme that was extracted from the superfood spinach. A healthy pancreas encourages proper endocrine function and the production of insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels.
- Brain health: Also in 2016, research published in the journal Pharmacognosy Review hails spinach as “the anti-Alzheimer’s plant,” as it contains vitamins, antioxidants, and other compounds essential for maintaining sound neurocognitive function.
Raw vs. Packaged Spinach
Spinach is widely sold in many forms. You can purchase fresh raw spinach at most local food chains. Frozen or bagged spinach is pre-packaged and has usually undergone some degree of chemical and/or physical manipulation. Chopped spinach is commonly found in your local market’s frozen aisle. Products that contain seasoned or pre-cooked spinach may not pack as much nutrition as the fresh varieties, and may also contain unhealthy preservatives and additives.
Select fresh raw spinach leaves that are a vibrant bright green color, rinse thoroughly with cool water, cook, and serve as soon as possible. If you need to store your spinach, thoroughly towel-dry washed spinach and store in a plastic bag. Try to eliminate as much air from the bag as possible, and plan to eat or cook the stored spinach within one week. Storing spinach in this way can help prevent yellowing, withering, and slime.
Restorative Spinach Dishes
Spinach is perhaps one of the easiest vegetables to chop up and cook. Its soft leaves make for a great ingredient when preparing salads, soups, and smoothies. And it’s remarkably easy to sauté with some olive oil and garlic. But it’s always fun to get fancy, so we’ve included some scrumptious spinach dishes below.
Be sure to rinse and dry your spinach thoroughly before cooking and eating. A brief pre-soak in cool water helps to loosen up trapped dirt particles before a more thorough rinse. The following spinach recipes combine this leafy green with other superfoods that make for tasty and intensely wholesome cuisine options.