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What Makes Spinach So Healthy? 

Adding more spinach to your diet is a good way to eat healthier. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is one of the most nutrient-rich leafy vegetables.1 

Raw or cooked, it contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It's also low in sugar and calories. You can use spinach as a simple salad or side dish, but its potential in meal prep is limitless. 

This article discusses the benefits of eating spinach and how to incorporate it into your healthy diet.

A woman in a garden picking fresh spinach

alicjane / Getty Images

All Hail Spinach: Top 3 Benefits 

Spinach has many health benefits, whether fresh, frozen, canned, raw, or cooked. 

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

Eating spinach daily can help get you closer to a healthy intake of vitamins and minerals. For example: 

  • One cup of raw spinach contains 145 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, 121% of the recommended daily value (DV).2
  • One-half cup cooked frozen spinach that's boiled contains 573 mcg of vitamin A, 64% of the DV.3
  • One-half cup boiled fresh spinach has about 3 milligrams (mg) of iron, 17% of the DV.4
  • One-half cup cooked spinach contains 9 mg of vitamin C, 10% of the DV.5
  • One-half cup boiled spinach has about 123 mg of calcium, 9% of the DV.6
 

Nutrition Facts

A single cup, equal to about 30 grams (g), of raw spinach contains only 6.9 calories and 1.09 carbohydrates yet provides:7

  • 0.86 g of protein
  • 0.81 g of iron
  • 0.66 g of dietary fiber
  • 167 mg of potassium
  • 23.7 mg of magnesium
  • 58.2 mcg of folate

Spinach is also a good source of vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K, as well as riboflavin, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and zinc.

High in Fiber

Most of the carbohydrates in spinach come from fiber, making them healthy carbs. Fiber influences how you digest food and absorb nutrients. 

One cup of boiled spinach has about 4.4 grams of fiber.8 Women need about 25 grams, and men need about 38 grams of fiber daily.

Getting adequate fiber can improve digestive function and may help with healthy weight management.

High fiber intake may help lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and other conditions. 

Loaded With Antioxidants

Phytochemicals and bioactives in spinach prompt your body to release hormones that help you feel full, making you less likely to overeat. They also act as antioxidants and help regulate metabolism and inflammation, which may lower the risk of developing cancer, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol. 

Some research suggests that eating more raw spinach is associated with a lower chance of developing metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD, formerly known as NAFLD).12 Spinach also contains lutein, which helps protect against eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 

Does Preparing Spinach a Certain Way Make It Healthier?

There's some variation in the nutritional value of raw vs. cooked spinach. Some research suggests that baby spinach has less lutein after frying, boiling, or steaming vs. raw, and chopping raw spinach in a blender or cutting it into strips helps release more lutein from the leaves. 

There is no evidence that baby spinach is more or less nutritious than mature leaf spinach. Some people find baby spinach a little more tender and sweet. Most people can eat more cooked spinach than raw since it cooks down quite a bit and increases its nutritional value. 

Spinach is generally considered a "functional" vegetable because it may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Also known as nutraceuticals, functional foods are whole or enhanced foods that provide health benefits beyond essential nutrients when you eat enough of them regularly.14

How to Incorporate Spinach Into Your Diet

There are many ways to prepare spinach and incorporate it into your diet. Some ideas include: 

  • In salads: Mix raw spinach with various lettuces of different textures and add tomatoes, carrots, or sweet peppers.
  • In soups and stews: Full leaves or chopped spinach leaves give any soup an earthy flavor; add mustard greens and kale for added nutrition.
  • In a stir-fry: Spinach is a great complement to garlic, onion, and ginger.
  • In pasta: Add spinach to pasta with garlic and olive oil.
  • With eggs: Fold some chopped spinach into an omelet, add it to a quiche, or use it as a garnish to any egg dish.
  • Steamed: Mix spinach with kale, collard greens, or mustard greens.
  • Sautéed: Sauté spinach in olive oil and garlic for a classic side dish. 

You can get a little more spinach in your diet by adding a few leaves to the following: 

  • Smoothies and shakes
  • Sandwiches, burritos, burgers, and wraps
  • Pizza toppings
  • Stuffing chicken breasts, pork chops, or salmon 

Reasons to Minimize Spinach Intake 

Spinach has a lot of vitamin K, which can interact with medications, including anticoagulants such as Jantoven (warfarin). However, you need vitamin K. If you take warfarin, it's important to balance your diet to get the same amount of vitamin K daily. 

Too much spinach also makes it harder for your body to absorb calcium and magnesium. If you're prone to kidney stones, you may want to avoid eating excessive amounts of spinach. 

Also, too much fiber can lead to intestinal bloating and gas, a natural side effect of fiber.

Summary 

Spinach is a nutrient-rich green leafy veggie with a multitude of health benefits. Eating spinach regularly can help you meet your daily nutritional requirements. As part of a healthy diet, it may also help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease. Although dietary values vary slightly, it's healthy raw or cooked and fresh, frozen, or canned, and can be incorporated into many dishes.

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