Popeye knew the health benefits of spinach. He ate it raw – to become big and strong. Was Popeye right, or are you better off cooking spinach to maximize its health benefits?
The Health Benefits of Spinach
A single cup of raw spinach supplies half of the RDA for vitamin A – and it’s full of vitamin K, a vitamin that’s important for building strong bones. It’s also a good source of folate, vitamin C, magnesium, and iron. It has no saturated fat, is low in carbohydrates, and has only seven calories per cup. It’s also loaded with antioxidants to protect cells from free-radical damage. What’s not to love about this leafy, green veggie?
Raw Spinach vs. Cooked Spinach: Is One Better Than the Other?
If you have a history of kidney stones, eat spinach cooked – not raw. Spinach has substantial amounts of oxalates – natural plant compounds that combine with calcium to form kidney stones in susceptible individuals. People who have a history of gout, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis should also limit the amount of raw spinach they eat.
Another problem with eating raw spinach is it reduces absorption of minerals such as calcium. This is because the oxalates form complexes with minerals that can’t be easily absorbed by the intestines. Even though raw spinach is a decent source of calcium, only about five percent of the calcium in spinach reaches the bloodstream because of the oxalates. Iron absorption from raw spinach is also limited due to oxalates, although eating raw spinach with a food high in vitamin C improves iron absorption.
Cooking spinach destroys some of the oxalates, but not all. Heat inactivates between five and fifteen percent of the oxalates, but overcooking spinach to further reduce oxalates won’t have additional benefits. It simply destroys the vitamins.
Should You Eat Raw Spinach: The Bottom Line?
People who are sensitive to oxalates, including those with a history of kidney stones, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disease, shouldn’t eat raw spinach – and should limit the amount of cooked spinach they eat since heat doesn’t destroy all of the oxalates. Even those who aren’t sensitive to oxalates should be aware that eating raw spinach reduces mineral absorption such as calcium and iron
Get the health benefits of spinach by eating cooked spinach if you’re not sensitive to oxalates. If you’re oxalate sensitive, don’t eat raw spinach and limit yourself to only small quantities of cooked spinach.
World’s Healthiest Foods website.