Remember Popeye the sailor and his famous can of spinach?
Many view it as nothing more than a wacky cartoon gimmick, but there’s definitely some truth to it.
No, spinach won’t give you superhuman strength or the ability to fly (damn it!).
Still, the leafy green is one of the most nutritious foods in the entire world.
In fact, it’s so healthy that it’s often referred to as a superfood.
But what, exactly, makes it so exceptional?
In this post, we’ll take a detailed look at the top 6 reasons why spinach is a superfood.
What Are Superfoods?
Before we move on, let’s establish what we mean when we’re talking about “superfoods”.
The term has been harshly criticized by many health professionals over the years.
They feel that the term is much more about marketing hype than anything else — it may confuse or mislead consumers, they claim.
Despite their criticism, though, superfoods have not decreased in popularity — at all.
In fact, interest has been on a steady rise since the early 2000s, as can be seen in Google Trends:
Superfood VS Junk Food
What, exactly, makes a food a superfood?
Well, it’s basically the opposite of what we call “junk food”.
Junk food is usually very processed, high in calories and low in nutritional value.
Just think about the people who gorge themselves on cheap supermarket snacks or fast food takeaway on a regular basis.
Not exactly shining examples of health, huh?
That’s because junk food offers mostly “empty calories”.
This means that you can eat a lot of food without actually nourishing your body properly.
Eventually, this can lead to malnourishment, obesity and diabetes, among other horrible stuff.
On the flipside of junk foods, we find the superfoods.
These foods are nutritionally dense — meaning they pack a ton of vitamins, minerals etc. per calorie.
If you eat enough of these foods, you’ll boost your nutritional profile through the roof, without gaining unwanted weight.
And spinach, as you’ll see, fits this description perfectly.
1. Low In Calories & High In Protein
The first reason why spinach is a superfood is probably the most underrated one.
Per 100 grams, spinach will give you about 3 grams of protein.
Now, that may not seem like much, but keep in mind that those 3 grams come with a tiny calorie count.
In fact, there’s only 23 calories in 100 grams of spinach!
This makes it an excellent food of choice if you’re looking to cut weight or build muscle.
Still, getting enough spinach can be hard, because the leaves are so big and high in fiber.
It fills up both your salad bowl and stomach quite quickly if you eat it raw.
That’s why I recommend that you mostly consume it cooked.
Cooking spinach greatly reduces its volume and breaks down the fiber, making it much easier to eat and digest.
I usually cook 200 grams and add it to my legumes-and-pasta dishes.
This will give me 6 extra grams of protein (and lots of other good stuff) with only 46 measly calories — not many other foods can do that!
So, if you want to shape up your body, spinach should be your number one choice when it comes to leafy greens.
2. Protects Your Eyesight
Spinach contains a number of different carotenoids.
3 of them are especially outstanding when it comes to health:
- Beta carotene
Beta Carotene & Vitamin A
Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A — meaning that your body uses the plant pigment to create the vitamin.
Healthy vitamin A levels are strongly correlated to well-functioning eyes.
For one, it aids your eyes with converting light into a signal that can be sent to your brain.
Another major benefit of vitamin A is that it keeps your cornea working properly.
If you don’t get enough of the vitamin, this area of your eye can actually vanish completely — potentially leading to blindness.
Get enough vitamin A in your diet (from beta carotene, for example) to make sure that never happens.
A single cup (30 grams) of spinach will give you a staggering 2813 IU (international units) — 56% of the daily recommended value.
Zeaxanthin & Lutein
Unlike beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein are not used by your body to make vitamin A.
However, they’re still beneficial for your eyesight in a few different ways.
They are the only two carotenoids that can actually be found stored in your retinal tissue.
If your body stores something in your eyes, it’s probably important, right?
These plant-made pigments have in fact been shown to protect your eyes and even treat various existing disorders (scientific review).
Though research is still ongoing, they are believed to serve two vital functions for your eyes:
- Their antioxidant properties help protect the cells in your eyes from free radical damage.
- They absorb and filter harmful wavelengths of blue light — shielding your retina from potential oxidative stress.
All in all, the combo of beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin makes spinach a must-have for optimal eye health.
3. All The Vitamin K You Need
Vitamin K has really burst onto the health scene in the past 10 years.
Sure, it’s way overhyped by certain supplement companies.
Nevertheless, it serves a number of important functions in your body that you simply can’t neglect.
Vitamin K is good for:
- Reducing blood clotting
- Improving heart function
- Promoting strong teeth and bones
- Helping with menstrual cramps
- Strengthening your immune system
Lots of good stuff right there.
You want that in your life, right?
Well, good news:
Spinach is absolutely loaded with vitamin K.
One measly cup (30 grams) will give you 145 mcg.
That’s 181% of the daily recommended value!
And if you cook, let’s say, 100 grams of spinach?
483 mcg — 604% of the RDV!
In other words, spinach has all the vitamin K you could possibly need.
Meeting your daily requirement is effortless — especially if you cook it.
And don’t worry, there’s no “danger zone” upper limit set for the plant-derived form (k1) — munch on those leafy greens to your heart’s content.
4. Chlorophyll Champion
If you’re still wondering why spinach is a superfood, this might clear it up for you.
When we talked about eye health, we mentioned the plant pigments beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
These are all important, not only for your eyesight, but overall health.
However, there’s another important, health-boosting pigment found in spinach:
Ringing any bells?
You most likely heard about it in school when you learned about photosynthesis.
As cool as absorbing energy from light is, chlorophyll also offers you, a human, a long list of potential health benefits.
Benefits of chlorophyll:
- Improves liver detoxification
- Protects against cancer
- Can reduce body odor
- Speeds up wound healing
- Promotes better digestion
- Boosts skin health
If that sounds good, you’ll want to chomp down on some spinach.
It’s actually so full of the green pigment that is masks the orange color of the beta carotene.
Cooked VS Raw Spinach For Chlorophyll
Earlier in this post I recommended cooking your spinach for the sake of convenience and greater nutrient intake.
However, if you’re looking to get maximum chlorophyll from the plant, your best bet is to eat it raw.
That’s because much of the green pigment is destroyed during the cooking process (study).
According to Oregon State University, one cup of raw spinach will give you around 24 milligrams of chlorophyll.
While there’s no daily requirement set for it, that’s a whole lotta green!
In fact, spinach is the number one vegetable when it comes to chlorophyll (other good sources are kale and watercress).
The amount of the green pigment may vary, depending on where the spinach is grown and how early it’s harvested.
Either way, just remember this rule of thumb when looking for chlorophyll:
The darker the green, the better.
5. Fertility Booster
If you want to boost your fertility (or your partner’s), look no further.
Spinach is here to make sure your genes are passed on safe and sound.
What am I talking about?
Well, spinach is full of folate, also known as vitamin B9.
100 grams of the leafy green will give you 194 mcg of it — 50 % of the RDV.
A study from 2007 investigated the effect certain nutrients could have on spermatogenesis (the production of new sperm cells in the testicles).
The findings concluded that folate had a beneficial effect on the health and function of sperm.
In another study, infertile couples were given a supplement containing folate (in the form of folic acid).
Researchers found that the supplementation of folate resulted in significantly more sperm mobility.
By the end of it all, many of the couples even had successful pregnancies!
If you want to see the little guys swim like they never swam before, give them folate.
6. Can Help Prevent & Treat Cancer
As if the previous reasons weren’t enough, spinach can also act as a powerful anti-cancer agent.
When I talked about spinach for eyes, I mentioned the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
What they do for your eye health is great, but there’s even more to them than that.
Fighting Existing Cancers
On top of prevention, spinach could also help treat existing cancer cells and tumors.
Firstly, there’s the other carotenoids in spinach which we haven’t talked about yet:
Neoxanthin and violaxanthin.
These have been shown to have an effect against prostate cancer cells.
Then you have two other active components in spinach that have demonstrated anti-tumor potential:
- O – a – linolenoyl-2- O -(7 Z ,10 Z ,13 Z )-hexadecatrienoyl-3- O – b – D -galactopyranosyl- sn -glycerol
- 1, 2-di- O – a – linolenoyl-3- O – b – D -galactopyranosyl- sn -glycerol
Yes, I just wrote all of that out and, no, I can’t pronounce it either!
As you can see, spinach gives you a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to cancer prevention.
Combine it with other anti-cancer foods like berries, and you’ll greatly reduce your risk of ever dealing with the disease.
Best Ways To Use Spinach
Now you know all the top 6 reasons why spinach is a superfood.
Compared to other exotic superfoods like goji and acai berries, the leafy green is decidedly affordable.
With its low price point and exceptional health benefits, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t include it in your life.
But how exactly should you do it?
I mean, you could of course eat it raw by itself or in a salad.
If you’re anything like me, though, that gets old very quickly.
With that in mind, here are some exciting ways you can use spinach:
- Baked goods
- Cooked with pasta dishes
- Green smoothies
Now there’s no reason to neglect this humble superfood.
Get to munching on some leafy green goodness and live a long, healthy life!