Top 10 health benefits of spinach
We asked registered nutritionist Jo Lewin to explain the benefits and dispel the myths behind this nutritious green leaf.
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What is spinach?
Spinach belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family (also known as goosefoot), which includes beetroot, chard and quinoa. It shares a similar taste profile with these vegetables – the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavour of chard. There are three different types of spinach: savoy, semi-savoy and smooth leaf.
Spinach health benefits include:
- May help maintain good vision
- May support energy levels
- May support heart health
- May support healthy bones
- May help in our fight against cancer
- Has protective antioxidant properties
- Useful source of fibre
- May help weight management
- may reduce the adverse effects of a high-fat diet
- May support mental health
Nutritional benefits of spinach
An 80g (raw) serving contains:
- 2.2g protein
- 0.6g fat
- 1.3g carbohydrates
- 2.2g fibre
- 136mg calcium
- 1.68mg iron
- 91mcg folate
- 21mg vit C
What are the 10 top health benefits of spinach?
1. May help maintain good vision
Spinach is a powerhouse of goodness, rich in plant pigments chlorophyll and carotenoids. As well as being anti-inflammatory, these plant compounds are important for healthy eyesight, helping reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
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2. May support energy levels
Spinach has long been regarded as a plant that can restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood. There are good reasons for this, including its iron content. Iron plays a central role in the function of red blood cells, helping transport oxygen around the body, supporting energy production and DNA synthesis.
Spinach also contains high levels of a compound called oxalic acid, which may hamper our absorption of iron. Lightly cooking or wilting the leaves may minimise these effects.
3. May support heart health
Spinach, like beetroot, is naturally rich in compounds called nitrates; these help improve blood flow and lower pressure by relaxing the blood vessels, reducing arterial stiffness and promoting dilation. A reduction in blood pressure may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies suggest that nitrate-rich foods – especially leafy greens like spinach – may also promote heart attack survival.
4. May support healthy bones
5. May help in our fight against cancer
Diets rich in vegetables, including green leafy veg like spinach, have a modest protective effect and as such may help reduce the risk of cancer. This is because they are packed with plant compounds called polyphenols. It's these, along with its vitamin content, that may explain the cancer-protective properties of spinach.
6. Has protective antioxidant properties
The value of plant compounds, like those in spinach, is that they help the body combat the damaging effects of a process called oxidation. Over time, this process may cause chronic inflammation and, as a result, lead to age-related conditions like heart disease and cancer.
7. Is a useful source of fibre
8. May help weight management
Phytochemicals and active plant compounds in spinach may help curb food intake by triggering the release of satiety hormones.
9. May reduce the adverse effects of a high-fat diet
Animal studies suggest a high intake of spinach may reduce the adverse effects of a high-fat diet on the gut microbiome, blood fat profile and cholesterol built up in the liver.
10. May support mental health
Spinach appears to have anti-stress and anti-depressant properties, as it has been found to lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase neurotransmitters that regulate mood such as glutamate and glutamine. Again, because this research used animal models, more studies are needed to assess whether these effects are replicated in humans.
Is spinach safe for everyone?
For the majority of us, spinach is a safe and nutritious option to include as part of a balanced diet. However, there are some people who should exercise caution. Being high in oxalates, spinach is not a good choice for people with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones. If this is relevant to you, aim to include spinach in moderation.
Those on blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, should also be aware that spinach is a source of vitamin K. Typically, the advice for those taking this medication, is that you need to keep your dietary intake of this vitamin approximately the same so check with your GP before making any significant changes to your diet.
Overall, is spinach good for you?
Spinach has an impressive nutrient profile and is rich in a number of protective polyphenols and antioxidant nutrients. Including it as part of a balanced diet may help decrease oxidative damage, maintain eye health and help prevent heart disease and cancer.
It's worth remembering that many of the studies assessing the health benefits of spinach have mostly been performed using animal or test tube models, and include spinach at relatively high doses. Nevertheless, unless you are prone to oxalate-containing kidney stones or are on certain prescribed medication, this is one leafy green that is worth adding to your diet.
If you're considering any major dietary changes, please consult your GP or a registered dietician to ensure you may do so without risk to your health.
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This article was reviewed on 25 September 2023 by Registered Nutritionist, Kerry Torrens.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.