Recently I went into a well known supermarket looking for some leafy greens to go with the dinner I was cooking. I scanned the shelves and all I could see was packets of baby spinach, rocket or mixed greens, neither on their own, both mixed with baby spinach. I felt like I was in a monoculture world of greens and wanted to run screaming from the veggie aisle (not really, it was more of a sigh and start to think of alternative dinner plans). Dramatics aside, I did on the spot decide to boycott baby spinach for life…well for a little while anyway. I probably need to admit at this point that I am not a fan of baby spinach, I think it is overrated, over consumed and I would love to see more alternatives. While this opinion goes against the advice found in the popular media, which is ‘eat spinach, its a super green’, it isn’t isn’t an uninformed opinion so I have outlined my reasons for boycotting baby spinach below:
1. We are missing out on variety, which has an impact on the health of our microbiome. Not just through the over consumption of baby spinach, but generally reducing our food choices down to a few varieties that are available in the supermarket. I do think greens are an important part of our nutritional intake so consuming them regularly is ideal but mixing it up is key. Add some good old iceberg to your smoothie, celery, zucchini, rocket or even mixed leaves with baby spinach (see a more extensive list of alternatives at the end of the article). This will give you a wider intake of plant nutrients and an interesting start to the day!
2. It is high in oxalates or oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is a naturally occuring molecule which if eating in too large quantities can bind up minerals such as calcium and magnesium from other foods eaten forming oxalates and render the minerals inabsorpbable. In excess oxalates are also linked to kidney stones and inflammation in various body systems. This isn’t necessarily an issue if you have a healthy microbiome but a quick look at the avalanche of research about the health of our microbiome as a population and I think this is an issue we all have to consider. So how do we feed the health of our gut bugs? The key is, yes you guessed it, variety. Of course oxalates aren’t a big issue for most of us if we only consume them occasionally or as part of a varied diet but if your work lunch routinely consists of baby spinach, then it may become an issue, particularly if coupled with digestive health issues.
3. Baby spinach can cause the body to release histamines, a chemical produced by the body that in excess or those sensitive to histamine is linked to headaches, allergic responses, itchiness and rashes. I had one client who was a FIFO worker in a remote mine. This client made every attempt to be healthy in a location with limited supply of fresh fruit and vegetables and so avoided the canteen and instead made his own lunches. Every day for lunch at the mine he ate a spinach and tuna salad. Over a couple of months he started to develop a hive like rash all over his body, which cleared up when he came home and ate a varied, but in his words ‘less healthy diet’. We worked out quickly that the spinach and canned tuna were the culprits, encouraging the release of histamine and leading to the full body rash. A few simple changes in diet including cutting out the spinach and canned tuna and increasing variety saw his rash clear up.
4. Finally and I have to admit it I don’t like the flavour! I know I am already biased however I would love to see more variety next time I go to the supermarket and in the meantime I am fighting the chooks for my garden greens, bug free and delicious but slightly pecked!
So the key take home I would love you to take from this diatribe against spinach is to please consider vegetable and greens variety. Apart from the nutritional value, it will make for some interesting smoothies and salads and hopefully your palate will agree.
P.S. some alternative greens – all lettuce varieties – cos, iceberg, Romaine, butterhead, oakleaf, loose leaf lettuce, field lettuce, Asian greens, rocket, kale, chard, beet green, broccoli microgreens, mustard greens, endive, curley endive, chicory, radiccio (yes it’s red/purple but still), Japanese greens (found in lettuce mixes), escarole, cress, rosette bok choy, broccoli rabe, watercress, dandelion.