Spinach packs a healthy wallop

Salad with strawberry, spinach leaves, walnut pieces and feta cheese.

Spinach has been billed as a super food since Popeye popped open a can for super-strength in the 1930s. This leafy green vegetable won’t cause an instant transformation like Popeye’s, but it does pack a healthy wallop.

Spinach offers vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and flavonoids. It’s also low in calories and versatile in recipes.

“Popeye the Sailor Man” debuted in 1929 in a comic strip and entered animated cartoons in 1933. A good guy underdog with bulging forearms and a mean uppercut, he had a penchant for canned spinach. Spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach consumption and saving the spinach industry in the 1930s. One of Popeye’s mottos was spinach will make you “strong to the finish.”

Spinach helps maintain healthy skin, hair and strong bones. It may help lower your risk of heart disease as well as prevent cancer, asthma and macular degeneration.

Spinach is an excellent source of potassium, magnesium, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, zinc, manganese, folate, copper, phosphorus and iron. It is also one of the best plant sources of calcium.


Vitamin A is important for skin and hair health as well as the growth of body tissues. One cup of raw spinach has 60 percent of the Vitamin A we need in a day. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, Vitamin A is a compound in retinoids, which are popular in anti-aging skin treatments.

For bone health, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends eating spinach for its vitamin K and magnesium.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends spinach, which is high in iron, as part of an anemia prevention or treatment program. Heart and vascular health are aided by potassium and Vitamin K, both abundant in spinach.

Spinach has been promoted in cancer prevention because it contains cancer-fighting antioxidants and its dark green color makes it high in chlorophyll, which also has anti-cancer effects.

Asthma sufferers may benefit from the beta-carotene and magnesium that are abundant in spinach. Beta-carotene is often linked to orange-colored vegetables such as carrots, but spinach is also an excellent source.

Eyes benefit from the lutein and zeaxanthin in spinach. Scripps Research Institute studies found people who ate spinach three times a week had a 43 percent lower risk of developing macular degeneration.

Two groups of people need to monitor how much spinach they eat. People with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should not eat a lot of spinach. Their diet calls for less than 50 milligrams of oxalate daily and one cup of raw spinach has close to 200 milligrams. The high level of Vitamin K in spinach needs to be balanced by people who take Coumadin (warfarin) to reduce their risk of blood clots. They can still eat spinach but need to do so consistently so their medication can be matched to their consumption.

Spinach loves our cool northland weather. It’s one of the first crops you can harvest from your garden or get from local farmers. It will grow back after it is first cut, so it’s a crop that keeps on giving.


Kale recently took the “super food” spotlight but spinach beats kale in several ways. Spinach is lower in calories and higher in magnesium, potassium, folate, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Popeye had a great message about eating more spinach. Go online and find a vintage Popeye cartoon to inspire your family to give spinach a try.

  • Spinach can be eaten raw or cooked. It is available fresh, frozen or canned.
  • Add spinach to salads that call for lettuce or leafy greens.
  • Add spinach to your sandwich or wrap instead of lettuce.
  • Incorporate spinach into pastas, soups and casseroles.
  • Add a handful of spinach to an omelet or scrambled eggs
  • Add fresh spinach to your smoothie.

This Spring Salad recipe has been one of my favorites for years. Brown Rice and Spinach Pie is an easy casserole.
Spring Salad


  • 3 cups washed baby spinach leaves
  • 3 cups washed and torn salad greens
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
  • ¼ cup sliced mushrooms
  • ¼ cup mandarin orange slices, drained
  • ¼ medium red onion, thinly sliced


  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon poppy seeds
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Toss together spinach, salad greens and other salad ingredients in a large bowl. For dressing, combine the orange juice, honey, mustard, poppy seeds and pepper to taste in a small bowl until well mixed. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly until the dressing is mixed. Toss salad with dressing or serve dressing on the side.
Nutrition facts: Servings, 6; calories, 150; total fat, 9 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; cholesterol, 0; sodium, 50 milligrams; potassium, 270 milligrams; carbohydrates, 12 grams; fiber, 3.5 grams; protein, 3 grams.

Brown Rice and Spinach Pie

Adapted from


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh red pepper
  • 1½ teaspoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 1 package (5 ounces) fresh baby spinach
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ cup skim milk
  • 3 slices reduced-fat Swiss cheese, diced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion, fresh red pepper and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes. Add spinach; cook, stirring about 3 minutes more. Transfer to large bowl and add brown rice, cheddar cheese and spices. Stir to combine.
Whisk eggs and milk together in small bowl. Stir into spinach mixture. Transfer mixture to a pie plate and spread evenly. Top with Swiss cheese. Bake about 25 minutes until lightly browned.

Nutrition facts: Servings, 6; calories, 250; total fat, 10.5 grams; saturated fat, 3.5 grams; trans fat, 0; cholesterol, 135 milligrams; sodium, 190 milligrams; potassium, 170 milligrams; carbohydrates, 25 grams; fiber, 2.5 grams; protein, 13 grams.

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Wellness Program at the Essentia Health St. Mary’s-Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth. Contact her at .

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