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Can I Have Spinach While Breastfeeding?

by
author image Fred Decker
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Can I Have Spinach While Breastfeeding?
bowl of spinach leaves Photo Credit Teleginatania/iStock/Getty Images

Spinach is well known as a versatile, nutritious vegetable, equally good cooked or served raw in salads. Like other leafy greens, it is high in iron, vitamins and minerals, and provides a useful quantity of dietary fiber. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women have different dietary requirements, and it's worth taking a closer look at spinach in conjunction with nursing.

About Spinach

Like Swiss chard, spinach is a member of the beet family. It was first domesticated in Central Asia, where the Persians discovered it and introduced it to the western world. There are many varieties of spinach grown around the world. Some produce thick leaves best suited for cooking, while others have thin, delicate leaves that are perfect for salads, especially when picked young. While most leafy greens are strongly flavored, like collards or kale, spinach is mild enough to adapt itself to almost any dish.

Spinach and Nutrition

Leafy greens in general are healthful and nutritious, and spinach is no exception. It is the leading dietary source of folate; in fact, folate was first isolated from spinach. Folate is found to prevent various birth defects, as well as reduce your risk of premature birth, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. The recommended daily intake of folate, for a pregnant woman, is 600 micrograms, and a 1/2-cup serving of spinach contains 131 micrograms. Spinach is also high in iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, niacin and several other vitamins and minerals. Most of these nutrients are important for nursing mothers and their children, so there are clear benefits to eating spinach.

Concerns

However, there are a few things to beware of if you eat spinach while you're nursing. Uncooked baby spinach, often eaten in salads, is periodically recalled because of contamination by salmonella, listeria, E. coli or other pathogens. These bacteria can make a healthy person inconveniently ill, but they are life-threatening to infants. Uncooked spinach also has "anti-nutrient" characteristics. The oxalic acid, phytic acid and polyphenols in raw spinach bind to nutrients such as iron and calcium, preventing their absorption by the body. Both iron and calcium are especially important nutrients for nursing mothers.

Recommendations

Green leafy vegetables including spinach are a healthful, highly nutritious part of a balanced diet. If you're nursing, you should be eating them regularly. However, it's best to cook your spinach, rather than eating it raw in salads or sandwiches, because of the risk of food-borne illness. Blanching your spinach in boiling water before cooking it will kill any pathogens that may be present, and it also breaks down the anti-nutrient components in spinach that would otherwise impair your ability to absorb iron and calcium.

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