Spinach

WHFoods Recommendations

Our outstanding level of green vegetable intake at WHFoods is 8 servings of green vegetables per day. Many days on our 7-Day Menu reach or exceed this amount, and can be used as guidelines for your personal green vegetable choices. The many different types of green vegetables available to provide you with exceptional nourishment are nothing short of astonishing! Not only can you choose from dark green leafy vegetables from the cruciferous group (for example, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, or collards), but also from the leguminous vegetable group (like green beans or green peas); the squash/gourd group (including zucchini and cucumber); the parsley/umbelliferous group (like fennel and celery); green allium vegetables like leeks, green lettuces like romaine; and finally, of course, the chenopod/amaranth group that includes spinach as well as beet greens. Rather than relying exclusively on any one of these green vegetable subgroups, we recommend that you consider including green vegetables across all of these subgroups when putting together your weekly meal plan.

Spinach, cooked
1.00 cup
(180.00 grams)
Calories: 41
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin K987%

 vitamin A105%

 manganese84%

 folate66%

 magnesium39%

 iron36%

 copper34%

 vitamin B232%

 vitamin B626%

 vitamin E25%

 calcium24%

 vitamin C24%

 potassium24%

 fiber17%

 vitamin B114%

 phosphorus14%

 zinc12%

 protein11%

 choline8%

 omega-3 fats7%

 vitamin B36%

 selenium5%

 pantothenic acid5%

Health Benefits

Outstanding Broad-Based Nourishment

Spinach is already widely-enjoyed as a food, and its commonplace appearance in salad bars as well as many different types of cuisine may lead us to forget just how impressive this leafy is in terms of nourishment. We've created the chart below using our WHFoods Rating System to summarize the unique status of spinach as a nutrient-rich food.

NutrientNutrient Type/Spinach Ranking Among All 100 WHFoodsPlace of OriginSpinach Rating Using Our WHFoods Rating System
MagnesiumMineral1stExcellent
IronMineral1stExcellent
Vitamin B2Water-Soluble Vitamin2ndExcellent
Vitamin B6Water-Soluble Vitamin2ndExcellent
Vitamin KFat-Soluble Vitamin2ndExcellent
Vitamin EFat-Soluble Vitamin2ndExcellent
Vitamin AFat-Soluble Vitamin3rdExcellent
FolateWater-Soluble Vitamin3rdExcellent
CalciumMineral3rdExcellent
PotassiumMineral3rdExcellent
ManganeseMineral5thExcellent
CopperMineral8thExcellent

It's also worth noting in this context that spinach also serves as a very good source of six additional nutrients, including fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, protein, and choline, and as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B3, pantothenic acid, and selenium.

Anti-Inflammatory Support

In research studies on spinach, it is not difficult to trace an ongoing interest in the anti-inflammatory benefits of this green leafy vegetable, especially with respect to events inside our digestive tract. We suspect that much of this interest is due to the multi-faceted nature of spinach in terms of anti-inflammatory nutrients. In the phytonutrient category, spinach flavonoids are important in this regard since spinach is known to contain glucuronide and glucopyranonside forms of the flavonoids spinacetin, patuletin, and jaceidin. Also well-studied in spinach are a subgroup of flavonoids known as methylenedioxyflavones. All of the flavonoids listed above have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and some have been investigated for their ability to decrease cancer risk as well.

Carotenoids are a second category of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that you will find in plentiful supply from spinach. Spinach is our Number 2 source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin at WHFoods (following right after kale). It is also a rich source of neoxanthin and violaxanthin. These carotenoids fall into the subdivision of carotenoids known as epoxyxanthophylls. Like all of the flavonoids listed earlier, each of these carotenoids has been shown to provide us with anti-inflammatory benefits. As mentioned earlier, improved control of inflammation—especially within the digestive tract—has been linked to the unusual nitrate content of spinach, and the role of digestive tract bacteria in converting nitrate into nitric oxide.

Spinach is by no means a high-fat food, but it does contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as diacylglycerols (which are molecules that contain fatty acids within them). Omega-3s play a critical role in regulation of inflammation throughout our body since many anti-inflammatory messaging molecules are made directly from omega-3s. Spinach is a good source of the omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and its diacylglycerols can also contain the omega-3s stearidonic acid (SDA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Of these three omega-3s, however, ALA appears to be the most consistently present and is present in the most readily measurable amounts.

By contrast, in some nutrient databases, you will not find either SDA or EPA listed as components of spinach, with only ALA showing a measurable amount. From our perspective, however, the varying amounts of these different omega-3 fatty acids are less important than their very presence in spinach which many people would not expect to be a source of any omega-3 fats. When all of these different nutrient groups are combined together—flavonoids, carotenoids, nitrates, and omega-3s—what emerges is a vegetable profile with broad-based anti-inflammatory benefits.

Other Health Benefits

As mentioned earlier in this profile, studies on the chlorophyll and thylakoid content of spinach have raised interesting possibilities for this food as one that can help regulate hunger, satiety, and also blood sugar levels. These studies have been especially interesting to us at WHFoods since spinach serves as our Number 1 source of chlorophyll with about 24 milligrams per cup. The hunger and satiety research on spinach involves the ability of thylakoid-rich extracts from spinach to delay stomach emptying, decrease levels of hunger-related hormones like ghrelin, and increase levels of satiety-related hormones like glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). The blood sugar research is an offshoot of this GLP-1 research since prescription drugs that mimic the activity of GLP-1 (called GLP-1 agonists) are currently used to help treat type 2 diabetes. While it would not be accurate to equate routine intake of fresh spinach with use of a prescription drug or with the use of a food extract (like a thylakoid extract), it would also be wrong to ignore the potential connections here between the nutrient composition of spinach and our experience of hunger and satiety, as well as our body's blood sugar regulation. Future studies should help us piece together the exact nature of these relationships.

Excessive inflammation, of course, typically emerges as a risk factor for increased cancer risk. (That's why many anti-inflammatory nutrients can also be shown to have anti-cancer properties.) But even when unrelated to cancer, excessive inflammation has been shown to be less likely following consumption of spinach. Particularly in the digestive tract, reduced inflammation has been associated not only with the flavonoids found in spinach, but also with its carotenoids. Neoxanthin and violaxanthin are two anti-inflammatory epoxyxanthophylls that are found in plentiful amounts in the leaves of spinach. While these unique carotenoids may not be as readily absorbed as carotenoids like beta-carotene or lutein, they still play an important role in regulation of inflammation and are present in unusual amounts in spinach.

Description

While clearly visible as a green leafy vegetable, spinach actually falls into a different food family than many other well-known green leafy vegetables. In the cruciferous vegetable family, you will find collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, and arugula. Spinach, however, is not a cruciferous vegetable; rather, it belongs to a food family known as the chenopod or amaranth family. (The science names here are Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae.) Among other green leafy vegetables in this chenopod group, beet greens and Swiss chard are perhaps the best-known (and, of course, beets themselves are also members of this food family). Yet foods in the chenopod family also extend outside of the vegetable group. The grains amaranth and quinoa are also members of this same food family that contains spinach and Swiss chard.

The genus/species name for spinach is Spinacia oleracea, and within this genus/species can be found many different varieties of spinach. Most popular descriptions of spinach varieties include three groups: savoy, semi-savoy, and flat-leafed. Savoy varieties of spinach typically feature leaves that are more curly, crinkly, and "springy" to the touch. Flat-leafed varieties are much more flat just like their name suggests, as well as smoother and often more broad. Some of the flat-leafed varieties of spinach are quite famous for their spade-shaped leaves. Semi-savoy varieties fall somewhere in the middle of this curly versus flat spectrum. Some people consider the flat-leafed varieties of spinach as easier to clean, but we have not found spinach cleaning to be difficult in the case of any varieties. It's worth noting here that you will often hear flat-leafed spinach also being referred to as smooth-leafed spinach.

Alongside of these distinctions between savoy, semi-savoy, and flat-leafed spinach, you will also hear spinach varieties being referred to by color. For example, purple passion spinach and red mountain spinach are terms that you might hear in this context. While these varieties still belong to the chenopod family of foods, but they do not belong to the same genus/species of spinach as has been included at WHFoods (Spinacia oleraceae). Purple passion spinach and red mountain spinach actually belong to the genus/species Atriplex hortensis and are often described as being members of the orach subgroup within the chenopod family.

You may also hear spinach being referred to as Malabar or New Zealand spinach. In this case, we have left the chenopod family entirely, and we have shifted over into a different family of foods known as the Basellaceae family. While the leaves of Malabar or New Zealand spinach may appear similar to the spinach leaves that we are familiar with in the supermarket, these leaves actually grow on a vine and they have their own unique nutrient composition.

In general, spinach is a cool season crop and sensitive to excessive heat. It is also fairly fast-growing. Given its fast growth rate and susceptibility to heat, spinach can quickly form flowers and seeds and put more energy into this flower/seed development than into leaf growth. The emergence of flowering and seed development in plants is called bolting. Because spinach can be quick to bolt (thus producing fewer large-sized leaves), spinach growers often talk about spinach varieties as either "slow-bolting" or "fast-bolting." Slow-bolting spinach is more heat resistant and thus slower to form flowers/seeds. Slow-bolting is not necessary the same as highly productive, however, and growers often look for trade-offs between rate of bolting and rate of growth/leaf formation.

Some popular varieties of savoy spinach include Bloomsdale, Harmony, and Avon. Popular flat-leafed varieties include Red Kitten, Corvair, Bordeaux, and Space. Semi-savoy varieties include Indian Summer, Tyee, and Melody.

History

Spinach is generally regarded as being native to the Middle East and appears to have been cultivated there for well over a thousand years. Trading between the Middle East and Asia is believed to have been responsible for the migration of spinach to several Asian countries, and today there are few places in the world where spinach is not found as a cultivated food.

Within the United States, the average adult consumed 1.7 pounds of spinach in 2014. In this same year, California served as the largest spinach-producing state with about 45,000 harvested acres. Arizona, New Jersey, and Texas combined with California account for 98% of all commercially grown spinach in the U.S.

On a global level, China currently produces the greatest amount of commercially grown spinach, with the United States, Japan, and Turkey also falling into the Top 10 countries for spinach production.

How to Select and Store

Choose spinach that has vibrant deep green leaves and stems with no signs of yellowing. The leaves should look fresh and tender, and not be wilted or bruised. Avoid those that have a slimy coating as this is an indication of decay.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and spinach no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including spinach. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells spinach but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown spinach is very likely to be spinach that displays the USDA organic logo.

Do not wash spinach before storing as the exposure to water encourages spoilage. Place spinach in a plastic storage bag and wrap the bag tightly around the spinach, squeezing out as much of the air as possible. Place in refrigerator where it will keep fresh for up to 5 days.

Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating spinach. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.

Avoid storing cooked spinach as it will not keep very well.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Spinach

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare spinach the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Oxalate Content

Spinach has consistently been determined to have high oxalate content. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide variety of foods, and in the case of certain medical conditions, they must be greatly restricted in a meal plan to prevent over-accumulation inside the body. Our comprehensive article about oxalates will provide you with practical and detailed information about these organic acids, food, and health.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Spinach, cooked
1.00 cup
180.00 grams
Calories: 41
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K888.48 mcg987429.2excellent
vitamin A943.29 mcg RAE10545.6excellent
manganese1.68 mg8436.5excellent
folate262.80 mcg6628.6excellent
magnesium156.60 mg3917.0excellent
iron6.43 mg3615.5excellent
copper0.31 mg3415.0excellent
vitamin B20.42 mg3214.0excellent
vitamin B60.44 mg2611.3excellent
vitamin E3.74 mg (ATE)2510.8excellent
calcium244.80 mg2410.6excellent
potassium838.80 mg2410.4excellent
vitamin C17.64 mg2410.2excellent
fiber4.32 g177.5very good
phosphorus100.80 mg146.3very good
vitamin B10.17 mg146.2very good
zinc1.37 mg125.4very good
protein5.35 g114.7very good
choline35.46 mg83.6very good
omega-3 fats0.17 g73.1good
vitamin B30.88 mg62.4good
pantothenic acid0.26 mg52.3good
selenium2.70 mcg52.1good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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