Remember Popeye, the hero who had to rescue Olive Oyl from “the most remarkable extraordinary fellow,” Sindbad the Sailor? Popeye got his butt kicked and it wasn’t until he managed to scoff down a can of spinach that he was able to turn the tides, pummel the brute, and save the day. Popeye definitely had the right idea with spinach and if there is one simple swap you should be making immediately, it’s this leafy green graciously lying on your sandwich instead of iceberg lettuce.
I would never tell anyone NOT to eat iceberg lettuce, because any lettuce is better than no lettuce, but nutritionally speaking, you are probably getting the same amount of nutrients from that leaf of iceberg lettuce as the Toronto Maple Leafs would get wins. Ouch. However the fact is as follows: compared to other vegetables in regards to total calories versus nutrient density, spinach is one tough dog to beat.
Let’s start with the basics. 1 cup of raw spinach contains 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of protein, and a ton of vitamins and minerals that we’ll get into soon. You get all of that nutritional goodness for a measly 7 calories. Cook the spinach and suddenly everything sky-rockets (excluding calories) since 1 cup of cooked spinach is a lot more than a cup of raw. The protein suggests why spinach is known as a renowned muscle builder. In fact, researchers have discovered that treating human cells with a hormone found in spinach increases protein synthesis by 20% (Weber, Zimmerman 92). Protein synthesis is when specific parts of DNA form proteins. Don’t expect that from a cup of iceberg lettuce, just to put that out there.
Spinach is rich in vitamin K (approx. 181% of recommended daily intake), calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and selenium, a nutrient that may help protect the liver and ward of Alzheimer’s (Weber, Zimmerman 92). Also, vitamin K isn’t the easiest to find in abundance and spinach actually ranks 2nd only to kale for vegetables that house this great bone-supportive nutrient.
Another really cool fact that makes spinach even more awesome than it already is is the discovery of new health-supportive nutrients called glycoglycerolipids. Try saying that 5 times fast, if you can even say it once. They are fat-related molecules in the membranes of light-sensitive organs found in many plants, and can essentially help protect the lining of the digestive tract from inflammation. I pulled that one out of my geeky hat just for you.
Some of us may already know that excessive inflammation typically is associated with a greater risk of cancer development, and if not, you now know. The point is that spinach contains more than twelve flavanoid compounds that function as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents. What does that mean to you? Eating more spinach can potential decrease your risk of inflammation and thus decreasing your risk of cancer. If I haven’t won you over already, let’s try this one out too: A recent study on the relationship between prostate cancer risk and vegetable intake that included spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, mustard/turnip greens, collards, and kale, only spinach showed evidence of significant protection. The main culprit may be neoxanthin, a carotenoid that can kill prostate cancer cells according to the Journal of Nutrition. So not only was Popeye fighting buff sailors, but he was also fighting cancer every time he devoured his can of whoop-ass.
Before you quit reading, as I’m sure a lot of you are struggling to make sense of my 10-sylable words, I have one last point to make. Spinach is a great source of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect our body from harmful free radicals. The two seen plentiful in spinach are lutein and zeaxanthin which primarily target regions of the eye (retina and macula), therefore research suggests that spinach likely has a role to play in the development in age related eye issues. More research is needed to confirm this however.
Whether you want to sail the great oceans of our planet to find villains harbouring on the backs of whales, build muscle while losing fat, or simply just to eat healthier food, spinach is a great choice for you. It is readily available all over the world and is so versatile. I love to shove a whole fist-full into my daily morning omelets for an extra hit of everything I just explained. The choice is all yours. I do really encourage you to incorporate spinach into your diet, and if you do already, eat more!