As much as we might hate to admit it, Mom was right about the importance of eating our vegetables — especially spinach. This leafy green truly is a powerhouse with its high nutrient content and disease-preventing properties.
But if, somewhere deep down, the kid in you is still digging in their heels at the dinner table, refusing another veggie bite, maybe a look at the incredible health benefits of spinach could appeal to your grown-up self. And we’d like to think some amazing spinach recipes might tempt your taste buds, too — so we’ve gathered a knockout list below.
Ready to give greens a chance? Here’s why spinach is unbe-leaf-ably healthy.
One cup (30 grams) of raw spinach leaves provides the following nutrition:
- Calories: 7
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fiber: 0.66 grams
- Calcium: 30 milligrams
- Iron: 0.8 milligrams
- Magnesium: 24 milligrams
- Potassium: 167 milligrams
- Folate: 58 micrograms
- Vitamin A: 141 micrograms
- Vitamin C: 8 milligrams
- Vitamin K: 145 micrograms
If it looks like spinach is packed with a heckuva lot of nutrition, it’s because, well, it is. Considering its light weight and extremely low calorie count, it’s the poster child of nutrient-dense foods.
In terms of macros, this leafy green veggie is low in carbs (most of which come from fiber) and has a smidge of protein and almost no fat. But micronutrients are where spinach really shines — it offers sizable amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, calcium, and folate.
For an extra pop of nutrition in smoothies, egg dishes, or casseroles, grab the greens. A little will go a long way, nutritionally speaking.
Wanna hear about spinach and disease prevention? Well… how much time have you got? Spinach consumption has been linked to reduced risk of multiple chronic diseases.
Here’s why: Phytochemicals in spinach act as antioxidants, reducing inflammation in your cells by clearing them of damaging free radicals. And since inflammation is a driver of many chronic health conditions, it’s no surprise that eating spinach on the regular could reduce the risk of cancer, obesity, and high blood sugar.
These friendly green leaves also have beneficial effects on heart disease. Nitrates in spinach help keep blood vessels dilated, which tames high blood pressure. And when blood pressure comes down, so does risk of heart disease — even with just 1 cup of spinach per day, according to a large Danish study.
Plus, a 2009 review noted that the galactolipids (not to be confused with Battle Star Galactica) in spinach may be linked to the prevention of inflammatory diseases like arthritis. And hot-off-the-presses research from 2021 found that eating more raw spinach ratcheted down the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Da-yum!
You may not take in a ton of fiber from a handful of spinach here or there, but if you’re all about that spinach life, enjoying the greens in larger quantities will mean getting more fiber. Giving your gut plenty of fiber feeds the good bacteria necessary for a healthy microbiome.
In fact, research shows that spinach contains a unique sugar called sulfoquinovose that has a special role to play in your GI tract. Sulfoquinovose promotes the growth of a bacteria called E. rectale — one of the most abundant gut microbes in healthy people.
At 145 micrograms per cup, spinach well exceeds the total daily adequate intake of vitamin K for all people. So next time you see a scab forming after an accidental run-in with a kitchen knife, thank vitamin K (and then go toss some spinach on a sandwich for good measure).
Side note: People who take blood-thinning meds need to be careful about their vitamin K intake. If you’re taking one, talk with your doc or dietitian about how much spinach you can include in your diet.
You may have heard that spinach has high levels of vitamin A, but here’s another fun fact: It’s packed with two additional vision-boosting antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds are the only carotenoids that accumulate in your retinas, where they suppress inflammation.
Bumping up the spinach in your diet might particularly protect your eyes as you get older. One small 2016 study found that eating more spinach could help prevent age-related macular degeneration, and a 2006 study linked higher lutein and zeaxanthin intake to lower incidence of cataracts.
Spinach is also a good source of iron — it has almost as much per serving as beef! So if you have iron deficiency anemia, snagging a bag of the green stuff is a good choice as part of a healthy diet.
There is a catch, though: Spinach is also high in oxalates, which can actually prevent absorption of iron. So don’t depend on a daily salad to supply all the iron you need.
You can boost absorption by pairing spinach with vitamin C-rich foods. Top a bowl of greens with some bell peppers and mandarin oranges or pop some strawberries in the blender with a spinach smoothie.
(And don’t feel like you have to give up the steak just yet — it’s actually easier for your body to absorb iron from meat than from spinach and other plants.)
Fresh spinach is available throughout the year. Your supermarket may stock the savoy, semi-savoy, and/or flat leaf varieties. Savoy has crinkly, curly leaves; semi-savoy is only a little crinkly; and flat-leaf is — shocker! — flat. The differences in flavor are pretty minor, but some people find savoy’s slightly sharper bite more palatable when it’s cooked.
If you want the real, raw deal, make sure to snip the stems, dispose of any discolored pieces, and wash the spinach thoroughly before noshing.
Even with its rich nutritional makeup, spinach has been linked in recent years to both Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks. Eating raw spinach always comes with the risk of ingesting pesticides and potentially harmful bacteria.
The only way to be 100 percent certain those greens are safe to savor? Cooking them.
Technically, temps above 160°F (70°C) kill E. coli, but it can be tricky to check the temperature of spinach as it cooks, even with a food thermometer. General rule: Boil the greens until they’re wilted. This should supply enough heat to wipe out harmful bacteria.
Wanna color your world with even more green? Here’s one more easy spinach recipe to try.
Light Spinach Pesto
By Tulika Balagopal
- 2 cups frozen spinach
- 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 teaspoons fresh chopped basil
- 3 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
- To thaw spinach, place it in a microwaveable bowl and microwave it for 2 minutes.
- Transfer spinach to a blender or food processor and add all remaining ingredients. Process until smooth and creamy.
- If pesto is too thick, add a small amount of water to thin it out.
- Serve with pasta, on pizza, or even as a dip!