Spinach Day: This leafy green packs a punch, UF expert says

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — You don’t have to be Popeye to celebrate Spinach Day, March 26.

Packed with vitamins and minerals, this leafy green is a nutritional powerhouse, says a researcher at the University of Florida.

“Spinach is a rich source of nutrients, such as vitamin A, specifically beta-carotene; vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and bone health; and folate, which reduces the risk of certain birth defects,” said Mitch Knutson, professor of nutritional biochemistry with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

But isn’t spinach high in iron, too?

That’s a myth, Knutson said. “Spinach has a fair amount of iron, but not really much more than other green leafy vegetables. The problem is that the iron in spinach is not very bioavailable.”

Though spinach may not be high in iron, its strong nutritional profile makes it a great addition to a healthy diet, he said.

“There’s a large amount of data in the scientific literature showing that people who consume a lot of vegetables, including dark green leafy vegetables, have lower risk of many diseases. So the more spinach and other vegetable foods you can eat, the better,” Knutson said.

If you don’t care for munching on leaves, think beyond the salad when it comes to sneaking spinach into your diet, he said.

“One easy way to incorporate spinach into your diet is to put it in smoothies. For example, I’ll consume nearly two cups of raw spinach that I add to my breakfast fruit smoothie, and it tastes very good,” Knutson said. “Or you can add it to cooked pasta by pureeing it into pasta sauce. I use this trick on my children because they generally don’t like vegetables.”

Some may wonder whether consuming spinach raw or cooked is healthier. “My answer is, if you like spinach raw, eat it raw; if you like it cooked, eat it cooked,” Knutson said.

That’s because it’s hard to generalize about the nutritional benefits of raw versus cooked vegetables. Cooking foods breaks them down, making some nutrients more available. On the other hand, cooking can also destroy some nutrients, he explained.

At the end of the day, what’s important is that you’re eating your vegetables, he said.

In addition to spinach, you might try other dark, leafy green vegetables such as arugula, kale, collard greens and watercress, which pack a similar nutritional punch, Knutson said.

And if you are looking for foods that are in fact high in iron, animal protein such as meat, poultry and fish contain a type of iron that’s easily absorbed by the human body. There are some good vegetable sources, too, such as soy beans and soy bean products like tofu, Knutson said.

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Photo by Paco Romero/Getty Images

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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