If you are of a certain age, you might remember that Popeye loved his spinach, and all the strength and vitality it provided.
But the old cartoon sailor's love of the green, leafy vegetable was the exception. Millions of people detest spinach and refuse to eat it -- as mothers everywhere can attest.
That reluctance to eat spinach is unfortunate. Because as it turns out, Popeye isn’t the only one who can benefit from eating spinach.
How healthy is spinach?
Spinach is loaded with nutrients, but low in calories -- an ideal combination that often earns spinach the moniker of "superfood." It is a good source of A, B, C and K vitamins, and is particularly rich in potassium and magnesium.
Spinach also contains choline, dietary fiber and phosphorus, as well as folate, which both promotes heart health and prevents birth defects.
All of these nutrients -- plus carotenoids and flavonoids -- make spinach a great addition to your diet.
Eating spinach has been linked to:
- Healthier hair and skin
- Stronger bones
- Improved digestion
Spinach also is believed to lower the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and age-related macular degeneration.
"Spinach and kale top the list for foods that contain high amounts of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, both important for eye and vision protection," says Jonathan Valdez, Owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Greens like spinach also have few carbohydrates, and are low in sodium and cholesterol.
How to make spinach taste better
Despite all these benefits, spinach retains a bad reputation among the millions of people who don’t like how it tastes.
“Some people who don’t like spinach may be sensitive to the bitterness,” Valdez says.
March 26 is National Spinach Day, making it the perfect time to give the green superfood another try.
If your history with spinach is a bit checkered, try a new approach. Valdez says you can start by preparing it with a little olive oil or vegetable oil to improve the flavor.
Other approaches also can work. “Boiling or steaming spinach may make it more palatable,” he says.
You can also combine spinach with other foods to disguise its flavor. Valdez suggests adding spinach -- either raw or cooked -- to salads.
Or, blend spinach into smoothies with apples, carrots, yogurt and/or almond or coconut milk, he says.
Other places to add spinach and hide its flavor include:
- Stir-fry dishes
Eating spinach leaves the right way also can increase the bioavailability of the fat-soluble carotenoids in the vegetable.
“Chop or cook them, and consume with a small amount of some form of fat in a meal for better absorption,” Valdez advises.
Alternatives to spinach
If you just can’t stomach spinach, Popeye will be disappointed. But you don’t have to give up on the benefits you can get from the vegetable.
"The nutrients in spinach can also be found in a wide variety of vegetables and plants," Valdez says.
Valdez says cooked kale -- which has a generous amount of lutein and zeaxanthin -- might be the best alternative to spinach.
Other good substitutes for spinach include:
- Beet greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Dandelion greens
- Garden cress
- Green peas
- Mustard greens
- Summer squash
- Sweet corn
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
"Think of dark green-leafy vegetables, and other green or yellow vegetables," Valdez says.