Spinach-gate: The first #altfacts story involving a vegetable

Monday, May 29, 2017. Author Martin Cheifetz

One of the first recognised superfoods, but for the right reason?

At the risk of highlighting my advancing age, I was introduced to spinach by the Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons, back when TV had 3 channels. Popeye ate lots of spinach and developed incredible strength and some seriously muscular arms. As a scrawny little kid, I wanted to be big and strong like Popeye, and failed miserably….both in my quest for size and strength as well as succeeding to get some spinach down my neck.

It turns out, Popeye wasn’t entirely correct about attributing his power to spinach. As the story goes, back in the 1870’s, a German scientist was calculating the amount of iron in spinach and other green vegetables. Apparently, the scientist misplaced a decimal point, which had the #altfacts effect of attributing an iron content to spinach that was 10x higher than reality.

Meanwhile, the Popeye cartoon launched in 1929 and helped boost spinach sales with an early version of #fakenews touting the leafy green’s muscle-building properties. However, the “Spinach-gate” error wasn’t noticed until the late 1930’s when someone rechecked the math in the 50-year-old research. By then the word was out, the myth was in full swing, and one of the world’s first “superfoods” was born.

Outside the world of fake news, and inside the FitnessGenes laboratories, where we only take an evidence-based approach to our recommendations, spinach is one of those incredibly nutritious foods that you should eat often. In fact, you should probably eat it with every meal, and I’ll give you a few tips for how to do this, even if you don’t like the taste.


Health benefits of spinach

Regardless of the innocent #altfacts #fakenews error in Spinach-gate, you should still eat spinach regularly. Here’s why: 

1. It’s one of the most nutrient dense, low-calorie foods on the planet. In fact, spinach is the opposite of the Obesity-Malnutrition Paradox we wrote about last week. 100 grams of spinach contains only 23 calories, has 3g of protein, about 4g of carbs (>50% of which is fiber), 52% of the DV for Vitamin A, 31% of the DV for Vit C, 49% of the DV for Folate, and 402% of the DV for Vitamin K! (We discussed the importance of Vitamin K here).

2. On the mineral side of the equation, 100g of spinach has 34% of your DV of iron (sorry Popeye, not 340%), 39% for manganese, 20% for magnesium 14% for copper and 10% for calcium.

3. Spinach is loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients which have numerous anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.

4. Packed with carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, spinach is excellent for your eyes.

5. The cumulative effects of all of these vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory agents also play a role in reducing blood pressure, improving blood triglyceride levels, and contribute to healthy hair, skin, nails, bones and teeth.

Based on these facts (which we assure you are #realfacts) it’s pretty safe to say that if everyone ate spinach leaves with the same voracity that they stuffed french fries and pastries down their pie-holes, we could eradicate the overfed and undernourished dilemma rather quickly.


Preparing spinach

If you already like spinach, simply add it to everything. Baby spinach has a very mild flavor, so it won’t really alter the taste of your food, but it will increase the nutrient density of every meal. Add fresh spinach leaves to every salad and every sandwich (use it instead of lettuce). Check out this week’s delicious Peanut and Bean Sprout Rice Bowl recipe which is a supremely tasty and interesting way to eat more fresh spinach. Alternatively, try this refreshing spirulina and spinach smoothie after your next workout. 

When I have time to make a cooked breakfast, the first thing that goes on my plate is a handful of fresh spinach leaves. The spinach serves as the bed for my eggs and whatever else I’m eating. In fact, that’s typically how I eat most of my spinach….it lines my plate. Eggs on a bed of spinach. A can of tuna on a bed of spinach, or grilled salmon on a bed of spinach with quinoa. Here’s an interesting little fact…..spinach and quinoa are from the same plant family.

If you don’t like spinach, you need to get creative. Frozen, chopped spinach is really helpful here as it’s easy to disguise. For example, make black rice or black quinoa. Add a handful of frozen, shredded spinach in during the last 2 minutes of cooking. You won’t notice the color or the flavor, but you will get the nutritional benefits. If you like to drink smoothies, make your favorite berry smoothie with only 2/3rds fruit and swap in frozen spinach for the remaining 1/3. Particularly if you use dark berries, like boysenberries, blackberries, or blueberries, you’ll never notice the color or flavor difference. Add frozen, chopped spinach to every soup, stew, pot of chili, lentil or legume dish...you won’t notice the flavor, but you’ll get the nutritional benefit...you get the picture.


Spinach and your genetics

If you have any questions, please contact me via email at martin.cheifetz@fitnessgenes.com or tweet me at https://twitter.com/martincheifetz


If you enjoyed this article, please check out my other FitnessGenes food blogs:

How do you choose your foods?

Which yogurt is right for you?

Avoid dietary failures with technology and personalization

Cauliflower. Potatoes, Cashews, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Eggs, Quinoa, Borlotti Beans, Almonds, Teff, Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas

Out of the kitchen, I also cover the following topics for FitnessGenes:

Savings, Longevity, and the Year in Fitness

3 Pro-basketball players in the same family?

Jamaican sprinting/African distance running dominance

A genetic overview of an Olympic rower

5 things I learned from my DNA test


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References and for further reading: 







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