MealEnders Blog

The Lean, Green, Weight Loss Machine–All About Spinach

By Tami Lyon, MPH, RD
September 30, 2015

food-salad-healthy-lunch (1)

Spinach isn’t just your average green. This super-vegetable is a nutritional heavyweight and contains more nutrients than most people can name. Whether it’s eaten raw or cooked, spinach packs a punch—it’s great for weight loss, fitness and general health maintenance.

The Delicate, Green Nutrient-Packed Machine.

This natural nutrient factory has a lot offer your body. It’s low-calorie, high-nutrient combination make it an excellent weight loss food. It boasts an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, including folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and magnesium. Spinach is best known as a source of iron, and to a lesser degree, calcium.Spinach-Fast-Facts_01

While spinach is renowned for its iron content, few people realize that only two percent of that iron is naturally absorbed by the body. At first glance, this dismal absorption rate seems to render the spinach’s iron nearly useless. But that’s not the end of the story: you can eat spinach with vitamin C and/or meat, poultry or fish to up your rate of iron absorption.

But do keep in mind that like all of us, spinach isn’t perfect either: it’s low in the essential amino acid methionine, making it an incomplete protein (missing one or more essential amino acids). Though by pairing spinach with a complementary companion such as whole grains, which are rich in methionine, you can create a complete protein that will fill all your protein needs.

nutrient chart

Not All Spinach is Created Equally

You may have noticed that like most vegetables, spinach comes in several different varieties and there are several ways to get your spinach fix. First, there’s baby spinach versus mature leaves. Baby spinach has a more delicate texture, whereas mature leaves are fleshy and substantial. Next, there’s the organic type in comparison with its non-organic counterpart. Since conventionally grown spinach is included in the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” (a list of fruits and vegetables whose growth uses especially high amounts of pesticides), it’s a good idea to spend a little extra for the organic variety.

Choose your spinach wisely. When purchasing, select spinach with small, crisp leaves and slim stems for the highest quality and best taste. Or, you can opt for frozen spinach if you’re not sure that you’ll eat it right away. But finding use for your spinach shouldn’t be hard, since it is so versatile; serve it raw in salads or add it to smoothies, wilted with scrambled eggs or pasta, or cooked as a side dish or in soups.

The Science of Spinach: How and Why it Can Aid in Weight Loss

Considering that spinach is not only a nutrition powerhouse, but it can also help with satiety—the super-green is also great for weight loss. Spinach membranes contain thylakoids, which you may have studied in your freshman biology class. Thylakoids are a regular part of the plant anatomy and where the photosynthetic process takes place. But as it turns out, they may be more than just a plant part: several recent studies examined the effect of thylakoids on appetite and weight loss. A 2014 study from Lund, Sweden had 38 overweight women consume a green drink before breakfast for three months in a blind study. Half of the participants received a drink that contained five grams of spinach extract, and the other half received a drink with placebo. Dietary instruction was simple: eat a balanced diet that includes three meals a day and do not follow any other diet plan.

And all in all, it seems like the thylakoids did good work. When compared to the control group, the women who drank the thylakoid concoction lost 43 percent more weight and averaged five kilograms of weight loss in three months versus the 3.5 kilograms lost by control subjects. They also reported a 95 percent reduction in hedonic hunger (eating for pleasure rather than for biological hunger).

Another study, published this year in the journal Appetite, found that a single dose of thylakoids consumed before breakfast had a significant impact on hunger and satiety for the entire day. Twenty-two normal and overweight women completed the randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Thylakoid consumers reported decreased hunger and increased satiety for the remainder of the test day. As a bonus, the test group reported a reduced desire for the unhealthy stuff we crave, such as potato chips, chocolate and cinnamon buns. So it was pretty much a win-win.

Versatile, nutrient-dense and satiety enhancing—what more could you want in a vegetable? Spinach could be the natural and unprocessed answer to your weight-loss prayers.

 

References

  1. Caroline Montelius, Daniel Erlandsson, Egzona Vitija, Eva-Lena Stenblom, Emil Egecioglu, Charlotte Erlanson-Albertsson. Body weight loss, reduced urge for palatable food and increased release of GLP-1 through daily supplementation with green-plant membranes for three months in overweight women.Appetite, 2014; 81: 295 DOI:1016/j.appet.2014.06.101
  2. Environmental Working Group. Dirty Dozen 2015. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php
  3. Margen, Sheldon.The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition: How to Buy, Store, and Prepare Every Variety of Fresh Food. New York: Rebus, 1992. Print.
  4. Margen, Sheldon.Wellness Foods a to Z: An Indispensable Guide for Health-Conscious Food Lovers. New York: Rebus, 2002. Print.
  5. Stenblom, E., 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.
*Individual Results May Vary