Spinach: The Most Nutritious Vegetable

fresh baby spinach piled high in a dish

When the 20th-century cartoon character Popeye sang that line about the vegetable that gave him strength, kids everywhere sang along. And parents secretly thanked him for praising spinach, a veggie powerhouse.

Spinach's Long History

Long before Popeye came along, though, more than 2,000 years ago, people in southwest Asia cultivated this leafy relative of beets and Swiss chard.

It arrived in North America in Colonial times.

Health Benefits of Spinach

While spinach is low in calories (about 7 calories per cup), it’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

  • Vitamins and Minerals

    A cup of spinach delivers 105 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin A and the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin K.

    It’s also rich in vitamin C, folate, iron, and calcium.

  • Lutein

    Spinach is also an excellent source of lutein, an antioxidant that protects against certain age-related eye diseases.

  • As a Functional Food

    Indeed, leafy green vegetables have “substantial health-promoting activities that are attributed to the functional properties of their nutrients and non-essential chemical compounds,” according to a study in Food & Function.

    The authors wrote that spinach “is widely regarded as a functional food due to its diverse nutritional composition, which includes vitamins and minerals, and to its phytochemicals and bioactives that promote health beyond basic nutrition.”

    Other Compounds

    A 2019 literature survey in Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry noted that some 100 chemical compounds have been isolated from spinach; its components include carotenoids, flavonols, and glucuronides.

    “Potential pharmacological properties of these isolated compounds” include anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-obesity, among others.

  • For Satiety

    One of spinach’s compounds—thylakoids—induces the secretion of satiety hormones, which can help people feel full.

Raw or Cooked?

A fresh spinach salad is a tasty way to take advantage of spinach’s fiber and other nutrients. But if you want to increase the bioavailability of its iron and calcium content, cook it!

Heat breaks down spinach’s oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of the minerals.

How to Select and Store Spinach

Avoid spinach that has yellow, wilted, or bruised leaves. Opt instead for leaves that are a healthy-looking green.

Once you get it home, wash, dry, and refrigerate spinach, and store it in the crisper—with paper towels in the container to absorb moisture. It should last for a week.

Click to See Our Sources

“8 vegetables that are healthier cooked” by J. Branch, www.ConsumerReports.com, rev. 9/27/19

“9 health benefits of spinach” by M. Joseph, www.NutritionAdvance.com, rev. 4/19/23

“Functional properties of spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) phytochemicals and bioactives” by J.L. Roberts and R. Moreau, Food & Function, 8/16

“Health benefits of spinach,” www.webmd.com, rev. 8/14/23

“Spinach, Spinacia oleracea by Susan Mahr, http://Hort.Extension.Wisc.edu

Spinacia oleracea Linn considered as one of the most perfect foods: A pharmacological and phytochemical review” by R.M.P. Gutierrez et al., Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 2019

Our Favorite Spinach Recipes

Nutritious and delicious, there's something for everyone in this list of our favorite spinach recipes.


Nan Fornal

Nan Fornal has experience with fiction, nonfiction, and technical publications, working closely with book and magazine publishers from from first edit to final proofing. She has worked with Exeter Press, Boston magazine, and self-publishers alike.