What Are the Health Benefits of Spinach?

Understand all the ways the mighty leafy green helps your body, raw or cooked.

Of all the leafy green vegetables, spinach is one of the most versatile. You can add it to smoothies, enjoy it in a chilled salad, steam and sauté it as a side dish, add it to a stir fry, and even blend it into baked goods, like brownies.

Spinach also has several health benefits. It contains vitamins and antioxidants that protect from chronic diseases and promote brain, cardiovascular, and eye health. And you can easily add spinach to your meals to maximize those perks.

Here are six health benefits of eating more of this powerfully protective plant and simple ways to incorporate spinach into your meals and snacks.

Top view on fresh organic spinach leaves.
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It's Full of Nutrients

Per the Department of Agriculture, three cups of raw spinach provide approximately 20 calories, less than one gram of fat, two grams of protein, three grams of carbohydrates, and two grams of fiber.

Though it has few calories, spinach is full of nutrients. A three-cup portion provides over 300% of the average daily value for vitamin K. The leafy green vegetable also provides over 160% and 40% of the average daily values for vitamins A and C, respectively. According to the National Library of Medicine, vitamins K and A support strong bones. And vitamin C helps heal wounds.

Spinach also contains 45% of the average daily value for folate, a B vitamin that helps form red blood cells and DNA. It also supplies iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and small amounts of other B vitamins.

It's High in Antioxidants

In addition to its many vitamins and minerals, spinach provides antioxidants that link to anti-inflammation and disease protection.

Some antioxidants in spinach include kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin, and isorhamnetin—also known as flavonoids. Per the Department of Agriculture, flavonoids are compounds that may help protect you against cancer, as well as cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases.

It Helps Protect Against Diseases

In a study published in 2016 in the journal Food & Function, researchers summarized the protective effects of spinach. They stated that the compounds found in spinach could reduce oxidative stress. They also positively influence gene expression—or the "turning on" of certain genes—in metabolism and inflammation. Additionally, those compounds trigger the release of satiety hormones that make you feel full and satisfied after eating spinach.

For those reasons, the researchers concluded that eating more spinach may help curb chronic diseases—including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

It Supports Brain Health

The anti-inflammatory effects of spinach make it a key contender for protecting the brain—specifically in terms of aging.

In a study published in 2015 in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, researchers tracked the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of more than 900 adults aged 58 to 98 years for about five years. They observed a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline among those who consumed larger amounts of leafy green vegetables than others.

The data also indicated that people who ate one to two servings of those vegetables daily had the same cognitive abilities as those approximately 7.5 years younger than their actual age.

It Helps Manage Blood Pressure

Spinach is also a source of nitrates, which are naturally-occurring chemicals. Nitrates open up or dilate blood vessels. That improves blood flow and eases stress on the heart.

In a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition, a group of seven women and 11 men consumed four nitrate-rich drinks, including a spinach beverage. The researchers found that the participants' blood nitrate levels increased after consuming the drinks.

The spinach drink, as well as the beetroot juice and rocket salad drinks, also lowered blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure—the bottom number on a blood pressure reading, indicating the amount of pressure in your arteries between heartbeats—remained low for five hours after consuming the spinach and rocket salad drinks.

It May Help Eye Health

One of the antioxidants in spinach, lutein, may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Per the National Eye Institute, AMD is an eye disease that can blur the sharp, central vision essential for reading and driving. It's a leading cause of vision loss for people aged older than 55 years. Prevention is key because there is no cure for AMD.

In one study published in 2016 in the journal Nippon Ganka Gakkai Zasshi [Journal of the Japanese Ophthalmological Society], researchers examined the eyes of 11 participants who consumed 75 grams of frozen spinach containing 10 milligrams of lutein daily for two months. The intake of lutein-rich spinach increased the participants' blood lutein levels and increased measures of macular pigment optical density (MPOD).

The macular pigment acts like internal sunglasses to protect the eyes. Low or decreased MPOD is a risk factor for AMD. The research indicated that consuming spinach may help curb AMD risk.

How Cooking Spinach Affects Its Nutrients

While incorporating spinach into raw and cooked dishes can help maximize its health benefits, some research shows that not cooking the greens preserves its lutein content.

In one study published in 2018 in Food Chemistry, researchers found that, after cooking spinach using various methods, the vegetable's lutein content gradually decreased. When the researchers fried spinach at a high temperature, a considerable percentage of the lutein decreased after two minutes.

So, it's important to consume spinach raw for maximum lutein intake. For example, try incorporating spinach into a smoothie, combined with healthy fat—such as avocado or almond butter. When you chop spinach into small pieces, lutein releases from the leaves. And healthy fat increases the ability to absorb the eye disease-fighting antioxidant.

Also, a study published in 2018 in Food Science and Biotechnology examined the effects of different cooking methods on the vitamin content in selected vegetables, including spinach. The researchers found microwaving vegetables was the best way to preserve vitamin K.

Blanching, or adding vegetables to boiling water to remove their skins, significantly reduced the vitamin C content. Instead, the researchers found that steaming vegetables was the best way to preserve vitamin C. Cooking also diminished the vitamin E levels in spinach but increased the vitamin A content. That occurs when the plant walls become soft, which helps to release and absorb the nutrient.

So, for the best results, mix up how you consume spinach—some raw, some cooked—but avoid overcooking your leafy green vegetables.

Simple Ways To Eat More Spinach

You should try to eat one cup (about the size of a tennis ball) of some type of leafy green vegetable, like spinach, every day.

Incorporate a handful of spinach into your meals as a bed for whatever else you're eating to add a few spinach leaves with each bite. For a quick and easy side dish, toss spinach with a simple vinaigrette made by whisking together extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and dried Italian herb seasoning. Sauté spinach in extra virgin olive oil with sweet red bell peppers and crushed red pepper, or steam and toss the greens with jarred olive tapenade or dairy-free pesto.

If you're making a grain bowl, place a handful of spinach on the bottom and flip the portion sizes of the greens and grains to up your intake of vegetables. Blend spinach into anything from a fruit smoothie to pancakes to hummus, and add it to soups, veggie chili, and tacos.

Basically, you can add spinach to nearly any dish. Give it a try and reap those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote healthy living.

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