A Fitness Fan’s Guide to Spinach!
I ‘discovered’ spinach later in life – after needing to boost my iron levels. These days, baby spinach is an ingredient in most salads I make, and baked chicken layered with spinach is a regular dish on my table!
For this page, I have set aside my personal (positive) bias, and uncovered the facts and figures about spinach. First up below you will find some of the facts and figures, with specifics on the different nutrients you will find in it. Next, the fitness benefits. These are general, based on clean eating, balanced nutrition and (importantly!) what you are not eating while maintaining a healthy diet. After that 3 quick ideas for getting started (recipes). At the end of the page, there are some fun facts and a little in the way of history too.
Nutritional Value of Spinach
There are two ways to measure the nutrition in any food – by the ‘cup’ (approx. 30 grams) or per 100 grams. These numbers use the 100g measurement, if you are going to eat spinach, then any less is more like a garnish than a proper portion!
Calories: Only 23 calories per 100 grams makes spinach perfect for those looking to lose weight. It will fill you up, give you a ton of nutrients, yet is as low calorie as foods come.
You will find a long list of vitamins in Spinach, below are the ones where you get a good proportion of the recommended daily allowance with that 100 gram serving.
Vitamin A: This vitamin helps with the immune system, you get almost 60% of your daily amount from one spinach serving.
Vitamin K: Good for the blood and bones, you’ll get more than enough Vitamin K from a single portion.
Vitamin C: You might associate this common vitamin with fruits, rather than leaves – though you will get 1/3rd of what you need for a day from spinach.
You will also find some of the B vitamins plus a little E.
Here is where spinach really comes into its own. Iron is the cliché with this food, and it is not an urban myth (unlike Guinness, which would require 33 pints to reach a single day’s Iron requirement!). You’ll get 20% of your daily iron from a single 100 gram serving, after accounting for iron absorption inhibiting oxides. In addition, there is potassium, calcium, magnesium and manganese.
Wrapping things up there are 3.6 grams of carbohydrates, 2.2 grams of fibre and 2.9 grams of protein. The icing on the cake (to choose a completely inappropriate saying!) is that fat, sugar and salt are only present in small traces.
Why Eat Spinach? What are the Fitness Benefits?
Three things to cover here. The first is that the nitrate component of spinach will help your muscles work better with the same levels of oxygen. Studies like this one show that just 3 days of spinach eating had a measurable effect. Keep in mind that there are plenty of other foods which are high in nitrates, so this one is not a spinach exclusive.
For me the mix of vitamins and minerals make an indirect difference. With the right balanced diet you’ll have healthy blood, bones and muscles. You’ll be less fatigued after exercise, and generally feel great. That extra iron can keep your haemoglobin levels high too, giving you extra oxygen carrying capacity at the times you need it most.
The foods you are not eating are just as important as what you do eat! When you are focusing on a healthy balanced diet, you will not be eating low GI carbs, sugary foods or processed foods. After just a couple of weeks of clean eating, the foods designed to temp you will start to look and taste awful!
3 Easy Ways to Enjoy Spinach
How, there are plenty of recipes out there, and FitnessReview.co.uk is not a recipe-focused site. Instead of too many details, this section has 3 quick ideas for getting your daily spinach. If you love it as much as I do, there is no reason you can’t do more than one in a day.
#1 Raw Baby Spinach
Perfect for salads. I’ll emphasise the ‘baby’ here, as these leaves are less bitter than the older ones, and small enough that you will not need to chop them. You can get these in pre-washed bags from most supermarkets. Spinach does have a reputation for being hard to wash, so some people re-wash even this one. Add bell peppers, seeds and crunchy cabbage for an amazing salad.
#2 Spinach in Smoothies
Here you can use spinach as the main base for your smoothie, or you can add it to an existing recipe. This is ideal for those who do not like the taste, though would like to have the health benefits. My personal favourite involves a mix of spinach, banana and coconut milk. Why not experiment and see what works for you?
#3 Cooked Spinach Dishes
Moving away from fresh leaves, frozen spinach can also be enjoyed in a lot of different dishes. The advantage here is that you will always have a supply ready in the freezer. Baking chicken in spinach with cheese on the top makes my mouth water just thinking about it. There are plenty of ways to enjoy this meat-free too, for example as part of a lasagne dish.
Spinach History and Some Random Entertaining Facts!
You’ll be munching on the leaves of a flowering plant when you eat spinach. I don’t recommend that you pop to your local greengrocer and ask directly for ‘Spincai Oleracea’ though! This plant will regrow every year, and originally became popular in Europe as it can be harvested in the spring. A claim to fame of this vegetable is that it got a mention in the first ever British cookbook, ‘Forme of Cury’, which was published long before celebrity chef culture took hold – back in 1390.
Origins of Spinach involves much of the world. It is thought to have originated in ancient Persia, before making it’s way to India, China and then to Europe in the 14th century. There was once a prickly version, which was eaten in Germany.
Plenty of positive qualities have been associated with this plant. A study at Oregon University linked Spinach with cancer prevention. I’m not sure if spinach was isolated in this study, or whether clean eating and leafy vegetables in general are the reason for the positive qualities.
There, I got to the end of a page about spinach without mentioning the Popeye cartoon once, ah, wait a moment, doh!
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