5 Amazing Health Benefits of Spinach
Popeye was on to something. But don't worry—you can get your spinach in other ways. Here are 5-plus reasons to add spinach to your diet.
Spinach may be one of the more humble leafy greens these days (kale and those mixed "super" greens are get most of the limelight), but it truly deserves the grocery real estate it gets. Packed with nutrients and versatile in the kitchen, read on for more reasons to add spinach to your grocery cart this week (and try it in these healthy spinach recipes). Find out what the science says about spinach, including the nutrition difference between raw spinach and cooked spinach, as well as the research-backed health benefits and how to eat more of this green veggie.
Nutrition Facts: What's in a serving of raw spinach?
In a 2-cup serving*, there are:
- Calories: 12
- Protein: 1g
- Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrate: 2g
- Sugars: 0g
- Fiber: 1g
- Sodium: 40mg
You also get 16% of your daily vitamin C target, 25% of your folate needs, 26% of your daily vitamin A, and 200% of your vitamin K goal; plus, some potassium.
Nutrition Facts: what's in a serving of cooked spinach?
In a 1-cup serving*, there are:
- Calories: 40
- Protein: 5g
- Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrate: 7g
- Sugars: 1g
- Fiber: 4g
- Sodium: 511mg
You also get 33% of your daily iron, 19% of your calcium target, 17% of your potassium needs, plus more folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K than you do in a serving of fresh spinach.
*The serving sizes differ because according to USDA, what counts as a serving of spinach differs between cooked and raw.
5 amazing health benefits of spinach
Not only is spinach packed with nutrients, those nutrients deliver some serious (science-backed) benefits—from beauty and fitness to disease prevention.
Pictured recipe: Spinach-Strawberry Salad with Feta & Walnuts
1. Shield your eyes
Spinach is packed with two plant compounds—lutein and zeaxanthin (yea, try saying those out loud…). that when you eat spinach, those compounds accumulate in the retina of your eye, and act a bit like sunglasses, filtering blue light. They also help mop up harmful free radicals in your retina. All in all, this could help lower your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD, the leading cause of blindness), and preliminary research suggests the build-up of lutein in your retina could maybe improve the sharpness of your vision if you have AMD.
2. More radiant skin
Spinach delivers vitamins and antioxidants that are good for your skin. It also may help give you a healthy glow. A study out of Australia found that women who ate more fruits and vegetables (and specifically spinach, broccoli, corn, lentils/beans, mango, dried fruit, apples, and pears) had yellower skin, compared to their counterparts who shirked on their produce intake. Another study found that yellower undertones made people appear more attractive, which researchers thought might help people eat more veggies. However, if you find yourself turning orange, call your doctor.
3. Stronger bones
Spinach is packed with vitamin K, a vitamin that's involved in bone metabolism—and research has shown that people who are lacking vitamin K have a higher risk of osteoporosis. But also there's research (mostly in Asian populations) that regularly eating spinach and other green veggies may be good for your bone mass. One particular study of Japanese women found that those who ate green and yellow vegetables (such as spinach and carrots) every day had nearly a 5-fold lower risk of low bone mass than their counterparts who ate veggies, but not green and yellow ones.
4. Better blood pressure
There are naturally-occurring nitrates in spinach. And while you might worry about the kind in your hot dog and other processed meats, you want the ones in spinach (and beets and arugula). That's because they may help to naturally lower your blood pressure. In one particular study, healthy adults who were given either a spinach beverage, beetroot juice, or an arugula drink all significantly lowered their blood pressure within a few hours of drinking their veggies. (Try more of these best foods for blood pressure–plus, which foods to avoid.)
5. Improve exercise recovery
The antioxidants in spinach may improve your exercise recovery. In a small study of runners, those who ate spinach for 14 days leading up to a half marathon had lower markers of oxidative stress and muscle damage after their race compared to runners who took a placebo for the two weeks leading up to race day.
Is it possible to eat too much spinach?
Pictured recipe: Spinach & Mushroom Quiche
You can absolutely go overboard with spinach—but that's the case with any food or drink. That said, there are two types of people who should be mindful of how much spinach they eat: folks with a history of kidney stones and those taking a specific type of blood thinners.
Spinach contains oxalates and for some people, too much oxalate can lead to kidney stones. (Calcium oxalate kidney stones are the most common.) But there are many factors that can cause kidney stones and experts suggest talking to your doctor and/or dietitian before cutting out spinach, particularly because it's a good source of other nutrients we need and don't always get enough of—like fiber and potassium.
Spinach (and other leafy greens) are also a great way to get vitamin K. But if you're taking the blood thinner warfarin (aka Coumadin), you may have heard you need to avoid spinach and its leafy green relatives. This is a myth! Yes, vitamin K lessens the effect of warfarin/Coumadin (only these blood thinners, though, not others). But here's the key—and often lost—message: be consistent with your vitamin K intake. This will help keep the time it takes for your blood to clot at a level your doctor deems best. It's fluctuations in how much vitamin K you consume that's problematic because that can thicken or thin your blood to a level that's not healthy.
There are *so many* benefits to regularly eating spinach—and very few drawbacks—so dig in! If you don't like Popeye's pop a can style, try fresh spinach in a salad, grain bowl, or green smoothie. Add canned, frozen, or cooked spinach into casseroles, pasta dishes, and soups. You can even boost your favorite breakfast items or baked goods with a little bit of blended spinach.