Health Benefits Of Spinach, Nutrition Value And Facts
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable which has amazing health benefits. Read about the nutritional value of spinach, its role in fighting diseases, and ways to include it in your diet.
By Dr Shyam Kumar • 13 min read
Spinach (palak in Hindi), a nutritious green leafy vegetable, has always remained an essential part of the traditional Indian platter and is used in a variety of dishes. It is loaded with a variety of nutrients and antioxidants, and has multiple health benefits for the skin, hair, vision and bones. The health benefits of spinach also extend to aiding in weight loss, diabetes control, regulating blood pressure and fighting cancer.
This article explores in detail the nutritional value of spinach, its health benefits, side effects and some healthy ways to incorporate spinach in the diet.
Some facts about spinach
Spinach, known by its scientific name Spinacia oleracea, is a member of the Amaranthaceae plant family. It originated most likely in Persia, or modern-day Iran. Locally it is known as Pasali in Tamil, Palakura in Telugu, and Visalacheera in Malayalam.
The leaves are medium to large, dark green, broad and succulent. The crop can be grown throughout the year under mild climatic conditions and thrives best in well drained loamy soil. Spinach loses its freshness within 24 hours of harvesting and needs to be refrigerated to preserve its nutritional value longer.
Types of spinach
There are three basic types of the modern variety of spinach:
- Savoy spinach (dark green, wrinkled and curly leaves)
- Semi-savoy spinach (hybrid variety with crinkled leaves)
- Flat spinach (broad, smooth leaves)
Palak nutritional value (per 100g, raw spinach)
- Energy 23 kcal
- Dietary fibre 2.2g
- Total carbohydrate 3.63g
- Sugar 0.42g
- Protein 2.86g
- Total fat 0.39g
- Vitamin A 9377 IU
- Vitamin C 28.1mg
- Vitamin E 2.03mg
- Vitamin K 483mcg
- Calcium 99mg
- Iron 2.71mg
- Magnesium 79mg
- Phosphorus 49mg
- Potassium 558mg
- Sodium 79mg
- Zinc 0.53mg
- Folate 194mcg
Data based on USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Health benefits of eating spinach leaves
Is good for the skin: Spinach’s benefits for the skin are many. Drinking a glass of spinach juice regularly can nourish the skin, offer protection from the sun, and keep away pigmentation and other skin disorders. Palak leaves are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Vitamin A and vitamin C are powerful natural antioxidants present in spinach that prevent damage to the skin cells caused by sun exposure. Antioxidants inhibit the action of free radicals which can cause skin cancer and cell damage. Vitamin C also plays a role in collagen synthesis which makes your skin appear younger and healthier. Magnesium promotes faster skin healing, reduces acne and skin dryness, and protects the skin from ageing. It plays a role in immune function and prevents breakout of acne and allergies. Vitamin K and folate help in minimising dark circles around the eyes, acne and striae (stretch marks).
Prevents hair loss:
Do you know about the benefits of spinach for hair growth? Well, palak leaves contain vitamins A, C, and E, and Iron, all of which are important for good hair growth.
Spinach leaves are rich in vitamin C which helps in intestinal absorption of nonheme iron from plant products. Deficiency of vitamin C results in deficient iron intake which in turn can contribute to telogenic baldness (telogen effluvium). This is a hair loss condition triggered due to deficient diet, stress or change in hormonal levels. This is described in a 2016 study titled, ‘Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause’, published in the journal Menopause Review.
The deficiency of biotin, a vitamin B component, can cause thinning of hair with subsequent hair loss. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals with chronic exposure to alcohol are at a higher risk of biotin deficiency. Biotin is naturally available in spinach. Half a cup of boiled spinach contains 0.5mcg of biotin.
Aids weight loss: Wondering about spinach for weight loss? Well, if you are on a weight loss diet, spinach is your answer. It is not only low in calories and high on fibre and nutrients, but also reduces your craving for food. This finding is based on a study done by Rebello et al on 60 overweight and obese individuals published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2015. It was found that, “a single meal supplemented with 5g of concentrated thylakoids extract from spinach increases satiety over the 2-hour period following consumption.”
Ensures good vision: Most of us are aware that eating carrots is beneficial for good eye health. But do you know that spinach also benefits the eyes? It contains two carotenoid pigments — lutein and zeaxanthin, which are essential to prevent age-related sight loss and cataracts? Both lutein and zeaxanthin are present in the macula of the human eye. The antioxidant activity of these carotenoids prevent damage caused by exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays to the underlying retinal structures. Research performed by Liu et al, published in the Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science journal in 2015, found that supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin enhanced visual performance in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Reduces the risk of diabetes: The American Diabetes Association refers to spinach as a superfood which is low in calories and carbohydrates. The ADA website also suggests adding spinach to salad, soup and stew due to its positive effect on diabetes.
Regulates blood pressure: Magnesium is a key mineral which helps in blood pressure control by relaxing the blood vessels. Adequate dietary intake of spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables prevents magnesium deficiency and ensures healthy blood pressure levels.
Prevents atherosclerosis: Lutein found in spinach can prevent the hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis). According to the results of a study by Iritani et al, spinach stimulates the intestinal microflora to break down cholesterol into coprostanol, a non-absorbable compound which is excreted in the faeces.
Prevents cancer: Spinach helps in preventing cancer. The antioxidants present in spinach play an important role in limiting oxidative damage caused by free radicals that can cause cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) mentions spinach in its list of foods that fight cancer. Its cancer-fighting properties are attributed mainly to dietary fibre which decreases the risk of colorectal cancer. The AICR website also mentions that dark green leafy vegetables are low in starch which decreases the risk of cancers of the lips, mouth and tongue.
Spinach’s benefits for babies
Spinach can be introduced in your baby’s diet at six months of age or later. Spinach leaves contains an abundance of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants which are essential for your baby’s healthy growth and development.
To know more about the nutritional value and benefits of palak for babies, read: Spinach For Babies - Health Benefits, Side Effects.
Disadvantages of eating spinach
Reduces effectiveness of blood thinners: For patients on blood thinners like warfarin, it may not be safe to consume large amounts of spinach. Spinach is rich in vitamin K which promotes blood clotting and interferes with the effectiveness of warfarin. One bowl of raw spinach contains more than 400mcg of vitamin K per serving. It is suggested that eating foods high in vitamin K should be kept at consistent levels.
Increases risk of kidney stones: Research suggests that consumption of oxalate-rich foods such as spinach can increase the urinary excretion of oxalates. This results in the formation of kidney stones (calcium oxalate stones) in the urinary system.
Impedes mineral absorption: Spinach and some other green leafy vegetables are high in calcium and oxalate. Oxalate is also formed in the body as an end-product of metabolism. Oxalate binds with calcium and other minerals in the intestine and inhibits mineral absorption. According to a study titled, ‘Oxalate content of foods and its effect on humans’, by Noonan et al published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians were found to be calcium deficient due to their higher intake of oxalate-rich vegetables. Also, the risk of calcium deficiency is higher in women who consume a high oxalate diet.
Allergy to spinach
Some individuals may develop an allergy to spinach due to the presence of histamines in it. Symptoms include skin irritation, stomach cramps or sensation of throat tightness after eating spinach. Avoiding spinach in the diet is usually recommended as the first step in treatment.
Healthy ways to eat spinach
Eating spinach and other leafy greens have many nutritional and health benefits. Spinach is best consumed after it has been boiled or cooked. While boiling reduces the oxalate content present in palak leaves, cooking allows for greater absorption of vitamin A and E, fibre, protein and iron. However, eating raw spinach is beneficial for higher folate, vitamin C and potassium uptake in our body.
Spinach powder, prepared from dried and ground spinach leaves, is used as a flavouring ingredient in different types of soup, salad dressings, savoury dishes and spinach smoothies. It can also be mixed in the flour used for baking bread.
Spinach recipe ideas for healthy living
Finally, here are some interesting palak recipe ideas to include this nutritious green leafy vegetable in your meals:
1. Palak breakfast recipes
- Spinach upma (palak upma)
- Spinach toast
- Palak paratha
- Palak roti
- Spinach omelette
- Spinach soup
- Palak juice
2. Spinach recipe ideas for lunch
- Palak paneer rice
- Palak paneer curry
- Palak paneer ki sabji
- Palak paneer masala
- Dal palak
- Aloo palak
3. Spinach snack ideas
- Spinach pancake
- Palak paneer bhaji
- Palak pakoda (spinach pakoda)
- Bread palak vada
- Palak paneer rolls
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About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 12 November 2019
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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