Spinach: Popeye’s Favorite Food

spinach leaves

Image: ThiloBecker/Pixabay

By: Sophia A. Lopez, DTR, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Fifty-five percent of Americans that were buying leafy greens in 2015 were buying iceberg (head) lettuce.Iceberg lettuce is 96% water, which can help keep you hydrated2 but it does not have the plethora of nutrients found in dark leafy greens, like spinach. Although hydration is important, getting a variety of leafy greens will give our body more health benefits. Popeye, an all time favorite television character of the 1930s loved spinach and had influenced many others to love it as well during his time. In America, the consumption of spinach increased by 33% when Popeye was around,3 however today, spinach has been lost in the shadows of kale.

Health Benefits of Spinach

Spinach, like kale, is a dark leafy green vegetable that is high in nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, and vitamins A, K, and C.4,5 Spinach can be eaten either raw or cooked, however there are more nutrients in 1 cup of cooked spinach than 1 cup of raw spinach. Cooking spinach will reduce the leaves in size, therefore providing a larger portion with more nutrients. It takes about 10 cups of raw spinach to make 1 cup of cooked spinach.6


There are 79 milligrams (mg) of magnesium in 0.5 cup of cooked spinach, which provides roughly 20% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).4 Magnesium assists in signaling insulin to lower the amount of glucose in the blood.7 Spinach cannot treat hyperglycemia, but it is a great addition to meals for it’s overall support to healthy blood pressure, bone health, memory, eye sight, and cell function. Magnesium also decreases blood pressure by relaxing and widening blood vessels for easier blood flow.7


Spinach has 167 mg of potassium per 1 cup raw and 839 mg of potassium per 1 cup of cooked.4,5 Potassium also helps decrease blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessel walls for better blood flow. The more potassium is ingested, the more sodium is released out of the body through the urine, which is another method on how this mineral lowers blood pressure.8


Lutein, a carotenoid in spinach improves memory and eyesight through the retina. Lutein crosses the blood brain barrier in order to be taken up through the retina.8

Vitamin K

There are 444 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K (phylloquinone) in 0.5 cup of cooked spinach.The calcium and vitamin K in spinach team up by increasing bone mineral density to keep bones healthy and strong.10 Vitamin K assists in making a protein needed for blood clotting.11 The RDA for adult men and women is between 90 – 120 mcg of vitamin K.12 Individuals taking anticoagulant medications should consult with their doctor on the recommended dietary amount of dark leafy greens, such as spinach. Excessive amounts of foods high in vitamin K can interfere with blood thinning medications.


Cooked spinach has 6 mg of iron per cup.4 Iron is important because it carries oxygen throughout the body and it is essential for neural development and overall cell function in the body.13 On average, non-pregnant women need 18 mg of iron and men 8 mg.14


Other great benefits to eating spinach are its ability to ease constipation, reduce feelings of hunger, and increase satiety.15,16 To alleviate constipation through the diet, one should consume fiber and water.15 In 1 cup of cooked spinach, you will consume 4 grams (g) of fiber and 164 g of water.4 Spinach also contains thylakoids that increases a hormone called leptin. Increased levels of leptin tells the stomach that it is full.16

Vitamin A and C

Finally, spinach is high in vitamin A and C, which helps protect your cells from damage and allows for normal formation and maintenance of organs. These vitamins also keep your skin, hair, nails, and eyesight healthy.17,18,19

Although spinach may not actually give you bulging forearms, or a mean uppercut like Popeye, it does so much more for your body to keep it healthy and strong. Include spinach in foods such as salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wraps. You can add spinach to breakfast meals, pasta dishes, and even smoothies. Any of these methods will increase vitamin and mineral intake without even changing a diet drastically. Sometimes the smallest changes can transform your life, and in this case your health.

Spinach Salad

Author: Sophia A. Lopez
Serves: 1


  • 2-3 cups raw baby spinach
  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
  • 4 oz. chicken breast
  • ½ avocado (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp Italian dressing or balsamic vinaigrette


  1. Layer spinach with orange slices, pumpkin seeds, chicken breast and avocado. Top with dressing and enjoy!

Green Smoothie

Author: Sophia A. Lopez
Serves: 1


  • 1-2 cups raw baby spinach
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds or ground flax seeds
  • 1 cup your choice of milk
  • Ice cubes


  1. Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!


  1. Ag Marketing Resource Center. https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/vegetables/lettuce/. Published March 2017. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  2. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Lettuce, iceberg (includes crisphead types), raw. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Oil, soybean, salad or cooking. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11252?fgcd=&manu=&format=Full&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=ndb&order=asc&qlookup=lettuce, iceberg&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  3. HISTORY OF POPEYE. Popeye. http://www.popeye.com/timeline/. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  4. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Oil, soybean, salad or cooking. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11458?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=spinach cooked&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  5. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Spinach, raw. Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Oil, soybean, salad or cooking. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11457?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=Spinach, raw&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  6. Logsdon J. How Much Spinach is in a Pound? How Many Grapes Are in a Cup? https://www.howmuchisin.com/produce_converters/spinach. Accessed September 4, 2018.
  7. Volpe SL. Magnesium in Disease Prevention and Overall Health. Advances in Nutrition. 2013;4(3):378S-383S. doi:10.3945/an.112.003483.
  8. How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure. How Cigarettes Damage Your Body. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/How-Potassium-Can-Help-Control-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_303243_Article.jsp#.W4HKbC2ZPEY. Published January 29, 2018. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  9. Nutrients for a Sharp Memory – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. Today’s Dietitian. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1217p24.shtml. Published December 2017. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  10. Weber P. Vitamin K and bone health. Nutrition. 2001;17(10):880-887. doi:10.1016/s0899-9007(01)00709-2.
  11. Vitamin K. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-k/. Published February 15, 2013. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  12. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin K. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-Consumer/. Accessed September 4, 2018.
  13. Bersamin A, Hathaway C, Zidenberg-Cherr S. Iron and Iron Deficiency Anemia. Nutrition and Health Info Sheet. https://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk426/files/content/infosheets/fact-consumer-ironandanemia.pdf. Published April 2004. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  14. Office of Dietary Supplements – Iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  15. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/eating-diet-nutrition. Published May 1, 2018. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  16. Stenblom E-L, Egecioglu E, Landin-Olsson M, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Consumption of thylakoid-rich spinach extract reduces hunger, increases satiety and reduces cravings for palatable food in overweight women. Appetite. 2015;91:209-219. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.04.051.
  17. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  18. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  19. Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):866. doi:10.3390/nu9080866.

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