Spinach is incredibly good for you. Not only is it super low in calories, it's packed with vitamins, antioxidants and useful nutrients. It also has a mild, agreeable taste and can be included in a huge number of recipes. Whether you're a spinach lover looking to find out the benefits of your favorite veggie or someone trying to find out why this green gem gets so much love, here are nine big benefits of regularly eating spinach.
1. Spinach Keeps Your Brain Young and Healthy
Dementia is defined by the Alzheimer's Association as "a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life." It's a scary disease and one that is all too common among older Americans.
Although there is not yet a cure for dementia, steps can be taken to prevent it. Chowing down on spinach has been found to have powerful anti-dementia effects.
A multi-year study at Rush University in Chicago examined how the diets of 950 older people affected their mental capacity. Participants (whose average age was 81) who included leafy vegetables like spinach and kale in their regular diets were found to be much sharper than those who did not—even after adjusting for factors such as exercise, family history and education.
On average, the participants who regularly consumed leafy greens were 11 years younger in terms of their mental capacity. "Increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables could offer a very simple, affordable and non-invasive way of potentially protecting your brain from Alzheimer's disease and dementia," said lead researcher Martha Clare Morris.
2. Spinach Makes You Stronger
Popeye was onto something. Downing a can of spinach won't go straight to your forearms (as it did for the classic cartoon character), but spinach has been found to increase the production of proteins in muscles, which helps make them both stronger and more efficient.
In an animal study conducted at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, researchers found that the naturally occurring nitrate in spinach led to increased muscle strength in mice—specifically in their fast-twitch muscles.
The amount of nitrate the mice consumed was equivalent to about 200-250 grams of spinach a day for a human, which is an easily obtainable amount. Steak might be the go-to food for many meatheads, but a spinach salad can certainly do a lot of good also.
3. Spinach Protects your Heart
One big benefit of spinach is that it's high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are known as essential fats—our bodies cannot make them, so we must receive them from food.
Omega-3 fat consumption has been linked to helping to prevent lupus, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and cancer, but the strongest evidence to date has to do with heart disease.
Omega-3 fats have been showed to help the heart beat at a steady, regular rhythm. This is very important. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states that erratic heartbeats (also known as arrhythmias) are the leading cause of the 500,000-plus yearly cardiac deaths in America. Omega-3 fats also lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function, two other factors that play a major role in heart disease.
4. Spinach Keeps your Eyes Healthy
Spinach and other leafy green veggies are high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to play a major role in eye health and the prevention of cataracts. Specifically, they help protect your eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet sunlight.
A study at The Ohio State University found that lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce ultraviolet eye damage by 50-60 percent. It's not yet fully understood how these antioxidants protect the eyes, but when the number of Americans with cataracts is estimated to hit 30.1 million by 2020, including eye-friendly foods like spinach in your diet is a great idea.
5. Spinach Assists with Appetite Control
Spinach is fairly high in fiber. A single 100-gram serving (as in a typical salad) contains 2.2 grams—nearly 10 percent of your daily value.
A diet high in fiber has numerous benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can help normalize bowel movements, lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar, maintain bowel health and aid in achieving a healthy weight. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states that fiber appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
One of the most interesting effects of fiber is that it slows down digestion, which helps you feel full longer after you eat. This can be a great benefit for people who want to cut calories and lose weight—or for anyone looking for an afternoon snack to hold them over until dinner.
6. Spinach Fights Cancer
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach have powerful cancer-fighting properties. This is believed to be due to their high level of carotenoids, the pigments that give vegetables and fruits their color.
"Researchers believe that carotenoids seem to prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants—that is, scouring potentially dangerous 'free radicals' from the body before they can do harm," according to the AICR website.
The carotenoids in dark green leafy vegetables have been linked to the prevention of breast, skin, lung, stomach, throat and mouth cancers.
The high amount of vitamin C in spinach (100 grams per serving, nearly half your daily value) is also a plus in terms of cancer prevention. Foods containing vitamin C likely lower your risk of esophagus cancer.
7. Spinach Reduces your Risk of Stroke
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, people who consume more dietary potassium have a lower risk of stroke. However, people who take potassium supplements don't experience this benefit.
That means for potassium to be effective, it must be consumed through food, which makes spinach an excellent choice. One hundred grams of spinach contain 15 percent of your daily value of potassium, so it's a solid stroke-fighting food.
8. Spinach Helps Keep Your Skin Clear and Healthy
According to the Mayo Clinic, Spinach is a skin-friendly food. This is likely due in part to its high amount of vitamin A, which has been shown to help prevent skin aging and maintain a healthy skin tone.
On the flip side, a diet high in processed carbohydrates and unhealthy fats has been found to promote skin aging.
9. Spinach Prevents Depression
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, currently 15 million Americans struggle with major depressive disorder.
Inadequate amounts of magnesium have been linked to a reduction in serotonin levels. Serotonin plays a crucial role in promoting a positive and healthy mood, and low levels of serotonin are connected with depression.
One hundred grams of spinach contain 19 percent of your daily value of magnesium, so this food can help combat depression and promote good mental health.
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