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Published on March 02, 2021

bowl of spinach on wooden table

Spinach Packs a Nutritional Punch

The super strength it gave Popeye might be a bit farfetched, but spinach definitely packs a punch nutritionally. Let’s take a look at the facts:

  • The recommended intake for calcium is 1,000-1,300 milligrams per day depending on age and gender.
  • Not only is calcium crucial for bone health but it also help with muscle contraction (including the heart muscle).
  • Spinach has twice as much calcium per serving as romaine or iceberg lettuces, making it a great choice, especially for those who avoid dairy products.
  • Two cups of spinach contains an impressive 40 milligrams of magnesium or 10% of your daily need (compared to 16 milligrams in kale, 9 milligrams in romaine and only 7 milligrams in iceberg).

Magnesium is a part of hundreds of reactions that occur inside the body. Getting adequate amounts of it has been linked to improved exercise performance, decreased stress, lower blood pressure and reduced insulin resistance.

Spinach’s Other Nutrients and Minerals

Vitamin C is well known for its ability to help boost the immune system and protect eye health. Choosing 2 cups of spinach will provide 14 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 15-20% of your daily need. In comparison, kale contains 46.8 milligrams, romaine contains 6.4 milligrams and iceberg contains 4.2 milligrams.

Let’s look at a few more nutrients more closely:

  • Folate helps to form the RNA and DNA that tell our cells what to do. It is often talked about during pregnancy and infancy, however, adequate folate throughout your life can reduce the risk of several types of cancer.
  • While other greens contain around 25 micrograms of folate, spinach contains four times that amount with about 100 micrograms of folate per 2 cup serving.
  • Spinach contains about 1.2 milligrams of vitamin E per 2 cup serving, which is particularly impressive because many of the other lettuces don’t provide any vitamin E at all. Vitamin E can act as an antioxidant and is an important nutrient for vision, reproduction and skin health.

All these nutrients and potential health benefits can be added to the diet in a mere 2 cups, with only 11 calories. No wonder spinach is considered a superfood.

Spinach Versus Other Greens

In a head to head with the other super-green kale it may be too close to call. Let’s dive in:

  • Kale contains more calcium and vitamin C, while spinach provides more vitamins E, A, and K, iron and folate. The drawbacks to spinach, for some, would be the high vitamin K content which can affect blood clotting, as well as its high oxalate content which can be linked to kidney stones.
  • It may come down to taste, and my preference would definitely be spinach.
  • A half-cup of cooked spinach is about 3⅓ cups of raw spinach. Not only are you getting more nutrients in a smaller serving by cooking your spinach, but you also break down up to 50% of the oxalate in the spinach, making many of the nutrients even easier for your body to absorb and use.

To optimize the health benefits from your cooked spinach try sautéing, roasting or stir frying. You can even enjoy it for breakfast. When boiled or steamed, many of the vitamins and minerals will transfer to the cooking water, meaning they will likely end up down the drain instead of doing your body good.

If you’d like to learn more about healthy diet choices, contact the Avera Heart Hospital Dietitian Team.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital.

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