“Spinach makes ya strong” according to Popeye, but is there actually any truth to back up this cartoon fact? Suzie Sawyer – consultant nutritionist for Alive! – tells us why this nutrition-rich vegetable is a true hero of the vegetable world.
Spinach is very rich in iron, which is needed for growth and helps our muscles to store and use oxygen. It would take a lot more work than just eating mountains of spinach to get muscles like Popeye of course, but what’s so good about spinach?
Here are my five top reasons to channel your inner Popeye and make Spinach a diet staple:
The most well-known ‘claim to fame’ of Spinach, partly thanks to Popeye, is that it is rich in iron. Once cup of uncooked spinach – far less than you would eat in a normal portion – has nearly 2mg of iron; our daily Nutrient Reference Value (NRV – or recommended daily amount) for iron is 14mg – so a normal portion of spinach goes some way to meeting this.
Iron is essential for normal growth and is frequently deficient in pregnant women simply because the baby is using it to grow and develop, hence they are often given supplemental iron. Iron is essential for the formation of the main oxygen-carrying molecule haemoglobin, and is needed for red blood cell formation, so you can see why it is so important to have enough iron in your daily diet.
Iron is essential for normal brain development – another reason why pregnant women are frequently checked to make sure the iron levels in their blood are adequate enough to provide for their growing baby.
Eating spinach can sharpen our minds due to the iron content, so it makes sense to try to encourage children to eat some, even it has to be disguised in a Bolognese or soup! In addition, if our body’s store of iron becomes too low, symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and lack of concentration can develop – all best avoided.
So, we know that spinach is full of essential iron. However, it’s also high in vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight, folic acid – needed for growth – and other minerals such as manganese, magnesium and bone-building calcium.
As a Nutritionist, I frequently talk about the dark colours in fruits and vegetables providing other nutritional highlights; Spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, from the family of carotenoids (just like carrots) and which are especially important for healthy eyesight and helping to prevent macular degeneration (a painless condition but which can cause blurred vision over time).
Iron is a key part of haemoglobin within our red blood cells, and it can actually be responsible for giving us a rosier glow. Some of the first signs of low iron is weakness, fatigue or loss of stamina and looking pale: because there is less oxygen being pumped around the body, skin colour can look much whiter. Iron-deficiency, known as anaemia, is fairly common, with these being some of the first symptoms. So eating spinach can give you a healthy glow!
Unlike many other vegetables that retain better nutrient content when they are raw versus cooked, raw spinach carries a high amount of oxalic acid which can stop the body absorbing other minerals, therefore it’s actually much better lightly cooked, preferably steamed.
Luckily, it’s great in many recipes! Its taste and enviable nutritional profile makes it a winner in so many dishes. The taste of spinach pairs particularly well with nutmeg for a buttered spinach treat; it’s great in pasta with ricotta cheese, adds a definite lift to a frittata and combines to make a mean soup with lentils and bacon. The list is endless!
So was Popeye right? We think so! Spinach can indeed contribute to making you stronger, and even better, it’s in season right now, so enjoy it at its best.
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