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  • Writer's pictureAlan Frischer, MD, MPH

Spinach

Feel free to insert a Popeye joke here; I eat a lot of spinach. I add a large handful of baby spinach to my morning smoothie, and include it when I throw together sandwiches, scrambled eggs, salads, or soups.

When we buy fresh, bunched spinach at the grocery store, it is often savoy spinach, which has wrinkled and curly leaves. Flat spinach, available as baby spinach when harvested earlier, is extremely popular and is often found bagged, canned, or frozen. Baby spinach is the best choice for eating raw.

Spinach is not only low in calories, but has no fat. Look at just a few of the things it does for us:

  • Spinach is rich in potassium, which helps to lower blood pressure and reduce the effects of sodium.

  • Spinach is a great source of iron, which helps the body make hemoglobin (needed to transport oxygen in the blood), maintain a healthy pregnancy, support the immune system, and aid digestion.

  • Spinach is rich in magnesium, which maintains our muscles and nerves, heart rhythm, immune system, and blood pressure.

  • Spinach is rich in lutein, an antioxidant shown to help preserve cognitive abilities, and to protect against age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.

  • Spinach is high in vitamin K, which is essential to bone health and growth. It contains calcium, but note that calcium from dairy sources is more easily utilized.

  • Spinach is high in vitamin A, which is used to grow tissue (which includes our largest organ…the skin). Vitamin A supports the skin’s immune system, and also helps with hydration, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Spinach is rich in fiber, which is important for healthy bowels, processing sugar and controlling diabetes, and more.

What are the potential downsides?

  • Because spinach is rich in fiber, when consumed in large quantities it may cause gas, cramping and abdominal pain.

  • Those who have had calcium oxalate kidney stones will want to avoid spinach (as well as nuts, peanuts, rhubarb, and wheat bran).

  • Those who take one of the older blood thinners, coumadin (warfarin), must be aware that spinach (and other deep green leafy vegetables) can counteract the drug’s effectiveness.

If you wish to start your day with a great smoothie, I’ll offer my own recipe again: Toss into a blender four ice cubes, a handful of fresh or frozen blueberries, a half banana, a heaping teaspoon of plain Greek yogurt, a heaping teaspoon of peanut butter, a third of a medium size avocado, a splash of any milk (or milk substitute), and my “secret” ingredient: a few chocolate chips. Bon Appétit!

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