If You Can Only Do One Green, Make it Spinach

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

If you do not already follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, make today a #MeatlessMonday. If you go meatless every Monday for a year (52 days total), you may reduce your risk for certain diseases, including cancer, heart disease and more.

For today’s Meatless Monday, we are going to take a closer look at the health benefits of spinach, an edible flowering plant you are likely familiar with but may not truly know how good it is for you in so many ways.

This leafy green is believed to have originated in ancient Persia, and in China was referred to as “The Persian Vegetable.” The Moors reportedly introduced spinach to Spain, and today this nutrient-rich vegetable is eaten all around the world.

Spinach is available all year, and you can store it in bulk in the freezer. And for those of you who do not love the taste of greens, you can’t really taste spinach if you put it in a fruit smoothie!

But I think spinach is delicious eaten raw or sauteed with a little bit of olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. Whatever you prefer, here are a few reasons why you should perhaps make spinach a star in your diet.

Spinach may help fight cancer.

This leafy green is an antioxidant powerhouse, and as you may know, antioxidants are great at reducing inflammation, a known contributor to all types of cancer.

Spinach is very rich in a substance called betaine (160.2 mg in one cooked cup). Betaine helps with several bodily functions, including cellular reproduction and liver function. “One study found that higher betaine intake may protect against lung cancer by minimizing the adverse effects of smoking. A second suggests that betaine intake may lower the risk of breast cancer,” reports the University of Maryland Medical Center.

There are 245 mg of calcium in one cooked cup of spinach. Adequate calcium intake may decrease the risk of developing colorectal cancer in both males and females. Maintaining the correct levels of calcium in your system may also reduce your risk of getting breast cancer.

Furthermore, spinach is high in folate (263 mcg in one cooked cup). Folate is a B vitamin that strengthens DNA, and low folate levels have been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Spinach may be great for cardiovascular health.

Spinach represents one of the highest dietary sources of nitrate,” according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Nitrate may help relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow.

The NIH conducted a study with 27 participants who were randomly assigned to consume either a high-nitrate spinach soup or low-nitrate asparagus soup, on a daily basis for just seven days. The results revealed that consuming high-nitrate spinach soup promoted a reduction in arterial stiffness and reduced elevated blood pressure.

Spinach may help slow down aging of the brain.

There is evidence that spinach may improve your brain health.  According to a study from Rush University Medical Center that involved more than 950 elderly people, just eating one to two servings a spinach a day may significantly slow down cognitive decline. Their research showed that the participants who ate spinach had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those did not eat spinach! This means eating spinach may also help protect you from Alzheimer’s.

Check out below some nutrients in just one cup of cooked spinach. Also keep in mind, when you cook spinach it wilts down to very little. You can easily eat several cups of cooked spinach, or  throw at least a cup or two of frozen (or raw) spinach in a smoothie.

  • Iron, 6.43 mg. Iron is an essential component of many proteins and enzymes. It is vital in the formation of red blood cells and lean muscle. If you are low in iron, you may find that you feel very tired.
  • Protein, 5.35 g. A big misconception is that vegetables do not have protein. But just two cups of spinach delivers more than 10 grams of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Protein may also help you feel full for a longer period of time, which may prevent hunger pangs and overeating.
  • Magnesium, 157 mg. This mineral helps regulate blood pressure, contributes to bone metabolism and has antioxidant functions. Magnesium is also great for pain management. Many people use magnesium as a safe alternative to ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Magnesium may even help alleviate leg cramps women may experience during pregnancy.
  • Phosphorus, 101 mg. This mineral often does not get the credit it deserves, but it does so much for your body. Phosphorus is almost as abundant in your body as calcium and helps calcium build strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus is also important for how your body stores and uses energy, repairs cells and is needed to make proteins like the one responsible for the oxygen-carrying capabilities of our red blood cells. This mineral has also been linked to weight management. In a study of almost 40,000 women in Korea, phosphorus deficiency correlated with weight gain from oral contraceptives. Furthermore, a study from Lebanon showed that phosphorus supplements in a small group (63 people) for 12 weeks significantly decreased body weight, BMI, waist circumference and subjective appetite scores.
  • Potassium, 839 mg. Potassium may help lower blood pressure by balancing out negative effects of salt. According to Harvard Health, “[w]hen it comes to fighting high blood pressure, the average American diet delivers too much sodium and too little potassium. Eating to reverse this imbalance could prevent or control high blood pressure and translate into fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease.”  
  • Folate, 263 mcg. Most adults need about 400 mcg of folate daily, so just two cups of spinach can likely get you to your daily need of folate. If you are pregnant, you may need more. Folate is essential for cell growth and many other bodily functions. To see how much folate you need, click here.
  • Vitamin C, 17.6 mg. You likely know this vitamin is important in protecting your immune system. To check out additional benefits, particularly for older women, click here.
  • Vitamin A, 943 mcg. Vitamin A helps with bone growth and reproductive health. It is mainly known for improving your eyesight, skin health and cell regeneration.

Spinach is a great side dish, but click here for recipes that make spinach the star. Another easy way to incorporate this power green into your meals is to put it on a veggie and hummus sandwich, chop it up and mix in with some veggie or black bean soup or finely chop some spinach and add to guacamole.

There are so many ways we can include spinach in our diet, any day of the week!

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

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