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.


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