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.
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.
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.
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.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold S. McGee
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Breastfeeding Diet
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Spinach, Raw
- Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: Effect of Domestic Processing and Cooking on Selected Antinutrient Contents of Some Green Leafy Vegetables
- USA Today: Spinach Recall: 5 Faces. 5 Agonizing Deaths. 1 Year Later
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Folate