Proteins provide structure to nearly every cell in the body, participate in chemical reactions, help repair and make new cells and are vital for proper growth and development. If you follow a diet rich in spinach, this vegetable can help contribute to your protein intake. The versatile nature of spinach allows you to choose fresh, canned or frozen and you may make salads or add the greens to soup, stir-fry or sandwiches.
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The protein content of spinach varies depending on the type of spinach and its preparation method. A single cup of raw regular spinach and New Zealand spinach contains 1 g of protein, while raw mustard spinach contains 3.3 g, according to Calorie Lab. Cooked Malabar spinach contains 3.1 g of protein per cup and cooked New Zealand spinach contains 2.3 g. Frozen and canned regular spinach contain the highest amount of protein, with cooked frozen spinach providing 7.6 g of protein and canned spinach containing 6 g of protein per cup.
Recommended Daily Values
In general, approximately 10 to 35 percent of daily recommended calories should come from protein, according to the Institute of Medicine. For a 2,000 calorie diet, total daily protein intake would be in the range of 50 to 175 g of protein per day. Recommended Dietary Allowances – that is, the amount needed to meet the nutrition needs of 97 to 98 percent of individuals for protein – are 46 g and 56 g per day for adult women and men, respectively, according to the Institute of Medicine. Pregnant and lactating women of all ages need 71 g of protein per day while children ages one to three need 13 g and those ages four to eight need 19 g per day. Adolescents age nine to 13 need 34 g of protein per day.
Incomplete Source of Protein
The protein found in spinach is an incomplete source of protein, meaning it does not contain all nine essential amino acids like a complete source of protein does. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and there are more than 20 different amino acids. Nine of these are essential amino acids, which are not made by the body and must come from dietary sources. Vegetable and plant sources of protein are generally incomplete sources of protein, while animal protein is generally a complete source of protein. Foods that are not complete sources of protein, such as spinach, should not be ignored due to the other nutrients they provide, but it is important to also consume food containing complete protein sources. This is generally easily accomplished by following a well-balanced diet.
Pairing spinach with other foods can provide you with a complete, nutrititious meal. You may choose to grill tofu or lean meats, and combine those protein sources with brown rice and a spinach salad to round-out a balanced meal. Other options might include whole grain pasta with spinach and other garden vegetables lightly sauteed in olive oil.
- Calorie Lab: Spinach
- Institute of Medicine; Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Protein
- Institute of Medicine; Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids; September 2002
- MedlinePlus; Protein in Diet
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Vegetable of the Month: Spinach
- MedlinePlus: Amino Acids