Spinach Makes You Strong
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Spinach makes you strong.

Don’t Believe That!

“Eat your spinach so you can grow up to be big and strong!” Generations of children have heard this familiar phrase from their parents. It worked for Popeye, didn’t it?

The muscle building powers of spinach allegedly come from its high iron content. The problem is that spinach is not an especially good source of iron. In fact, Popeye’s creator, E.C. Segar has stated that he choose Popeye’s go-to snack solely due to its high levels of Vitamin A (actually, beta carotene, which is converted by the body to Vitamin A).

Spinach IS rich in iron, but so are all leafy green vegetables and many other foods. At http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000119000000000000000.html, Spinach comes in at 49th place in a ranking of iron-rich foods. Even this is misleading – spinach also contains a substance known as oxalate, which inhibits the absorption of iron. High levels of oxalate can even remove iron from the body. Bottom line: you do not want to rely on spinach for your dietary iron needs.

As an example of a myth-within-a-myth, multiple widely-quoted sources attribute Spinach’s iron-powerhouse reputation to a typo. Supposedly, a 19th century German doctor misplaced a decimal point and published a figure for the iron content of spinach that was ten times higher than actual. This mistake was then said to have been republished many times over the years with no one catching the error. I almost fell for this explanation myself until I discovered the exhaustive research of Mike Sutton, who thoroughly refuted this story (https://www.bestthinking.com/articles/science/chemistry/biochemistry/the-spinach-popeye-iron-decimal-error-myth-is-finally-busted).

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