Spinach: Why Popeye the Sailor Man Would Make an Excellent Pregnant Person
When we talk about pregnant women “eating for two,” the concept doesn’t just center around higher calories. A pregnant woman is now responsible for not only consuming all the dietary nutrients her body needs, but also what the unborn baby needs.
There may not be another time in life where healthy eating plays such a vital role in the success of your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your child.
One of the best foods a pregnant mother can choose is…spinach. It’s no secret that leafy greens are good for you, but we’re about to go over 7 specific reasons why it is such a powerhouse for pregnancy.
Here Are 7 Reasons You Should Eat Spinach While Pregnant
First, the obvious: spinach is a superfood packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids…and even fiber and protein, yet it’s extremely low in calories and carries no glycemic load.
It’s way more filling than your average lettuce, and its mild flavor allows it to slip into virtually any savory dish undetected.
Clearly, it’s a winner for any healthy diet.
But here are 7 reasons why it is so great for a healthy pregnancy!
1. Spinach Is Pumped with Iron
A growing baby needs a lot of blood. Your body uses iron to create all that blood, so it’s no surprise you need double the daily intake. Yet around half of all pregnant women have some level of iron deficiency.
Too little iron leads to anemia. Anemia leads to low birth weight or early delivery. For you, it also leads to:
- Extreme sleepiness
- Fast heartbeat
An easy way to avoid this problem is to ensure your prenatal vitamin has iron (most do!).
Next, load up on iron-rich foods like meat, beans, lentils, and…. spinach!
The type of iron found in spinach is called nonheme iron. It does not absorb as easily as heme iron, the kind found in meat. This won’t be a problem as long as you are taking your iron-rich prenatal.
2. Half the Alphabet! Spinach Is High in Vitamins A, B6, C, and K
Leafy greens are known for high vitamin content. So here are 4 vitamins you find in high volume in your spinach and how they impact your pregnancy.
- Vitamin A in Pregnancy: Vital for fetal growth and development; helps repair woman’s tissues postpartum; helps ward off infections. Getting too much supplemental vitamin A can actually be dangerous to pregnant women, so relying on dietary sources like spinach and other green leafy vegetables is ideal.
- Vitamin B6 in Pregnancy: Important nutrient for baby’s brain and nervous system development; aids in the production of serotonin and norepinephrine for both of you; known to help with morning sickness symptoms; can potentially help with proper birth weight.
- Vitamin C in Pregnancy: Aids in skin, tendon, and cartilage development; improves mental development; boosts immune system and fights infections to keep you and baby healthy; essential for proper iron absorption.
- Vitamin K in Pregnancy: Vital for blood clotting, so it prevents uncontrolled bleeding. Supplements can cause jaundice, so the best sources of vitamin K in pregnancy are dietary.
3. Spinach May Even Help Prevent Birth Defects
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, like that found in spinach. Folic Acid is the synthetic form of B9. Either way, vitamin B9 has been found essential for preventing birth defects.
Without appropriate amounts of folate/folic acid, your baby’s risk of neural tube defects goes way up. A common neural tube birth defect is spina bifida, where the spine and spinal cord do not form correctly.
Folic acid/folate are also important for brain development.
While you certainly will need the folic acid from your prenatal vitamin, incorporating excellent sources of this B vitamin – like spinach – into your pregnancy diet is helpful.
4. Spinach Is Good for Bones, Cramping, Fatigue, and Contractions
Two of the most important minerals for a healthy body are magnesium and potassium. Like everything else on this list, the need for these two minerals – along with the lesser known manganese – goes way up while pregnant.
It just so happens that spinach is a good source of all three.
- Magnesium in Pregnancy: Getting plenty of magnesium helps prevent early contractions; vital for building your baby’s bones and teeth and keeping yours strong; prevents muscle cramping; improves fatigue.
- Potassium in Pregnancy: Vital for balancing the electrolytes in all the extra fluid; prevents leg cramps; improves fatigue. Once again, taking too much supplemental potassium may cause issues, so focusing on eating plenty through your meals is your best bet.
- Manganese in Pregnancy: Important nutrient for developing a baby’s bone and cartilage and protecting yours; helpful in the metabolism process.
5. Spinach Can Naturally Balance Your Blood Sugar
Spinach isn’t only filled with vitamins and minerals – it also has antioxidant compounds like alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Aside from improving cell function and the production of energy, ALA also plays a role in proper blood sugar balance.
During pregnancy, you have a heightened chance of developing a type of diabetes called gestational diabetes.
Though you can still have a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and baby, you do run the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes after the birth and feeling less comfortable during your pregnancy.
Getting plenty of alpha-lipoic acid in spinach (and broccoli, yams, Brussels sprouts, and carrots) can be one positive step toward keeping a healthy blood sugar level.
6. Keeping Things Moving, Spinach Keeps Your Digestion Healthy
Thankfully, spinach (and any leafy green) can help us in the fiber department.
Whether you are pregnant or not, getting plenty of fiber is essential for day-to-day wellbeing by helping with things like healthy and regular bowel movements.
While all these are important during pregnancy too, a pregnant woman will find even more benefit from upping her fiber intake including:
- Improving blood sugar (we already know that’s important!)
- Avoiding the all-too-common pregnancy constipation
- Preventing hemorrhoids (common in third trimester)
- Helping to encourage a proper amount of weight gain, but not too much
7. Spinach Boosts Your Omega-3 Fatty Acids without Seafood
The National Institutes of Health have shown us that omega-3 fatty acids are “critical” for the development of a baby’s brain and retina.
Omega 3s are also known to help with anxiety and depression. Since pregnancy hormones often have mental health symptoms, this can be an added bonus for mom.
As we know, fish is one of the top sources of those essential omega 3 fatty acids. Yet pregnant women tend to lower their seafood intake to prevent mercury overexposure.
Fortunately, leafy greens are another great source of fatty acids – and spinach tops that list.
Spinach Safety 101
Spinach may be a veggie hero, but we also know spinach is sometimes on local recall lists due to E. coli or listeria outbreaks.
So how do you ensure you are getting all those spinach health benefits without developing an infection?
- Pay attention to recall lists put out by the CDC or any local health organization
- Wash every piece of produce you buy – even if it says pre-washed
- Cut off any damaged part of the spinach. Normally this may be fine to eat, but these areas have a slightly higher chance of bacteria. Don’t risk it while pregnant.
How do you wash spinach thoroughly without bruising it? It couldn’t be easier. Do a two-step water swish! Here’s a short video to demonstrate:
Raw Vs. Cooked
Some veggies are healthier cooked; others are healthier raw. When it comes to spinach…both are great!
- When your spinach is raw, you often get more of the vitamins and minerals like folate, vitamin C, and potassium.
- When your spinach is cooked, you often get more fiber, protein, and iron.
Your best bet is to mix it up throughout the week!
Ways to Enjoy More Spinach?!
Not sure how to incorporate more spinach into your weekly menus? Here are 8 tasty ideas to incorporate spinach into your pregnancy diet.
Bonus: they are all very easy and take little effort on the part of a tired pregnant woman.
- Toss a small handful of raw spinach into your morning smoothie or protein shake. Fruits like bananas with strong flavor and thick texture hide the presence of the spinach entirely!
- Spinach will cook down beautifully in just about any stir-fry, curry, soup, pasta dish, or morning egg dish you can imagine. Just toss in large handful or two a few minutes before serving.
- This simple spinach basil pesto recipe can turn any boring meal into something fantastic with little effort.
- Have a leftover bag of baby spinach that may go bad soon? Toss it into a pan with a good drizzle of oil, a clove or two of garlic, and a shake of salt (a squeeze of lemon is delicious, but not necessary). Cook until slightly wilted.
- This crustless spinach quiche recipe can be head ahead of time and warmed up for quick breakfasts or snacks. (Roast a sweet potato or make a side of healthy whole grains and it can turn into dinner!)
- These crispy spinach chips can be a great alternative to potato chips. Kale chips are also tasty!
- Swap spinach for regular lettuce on any sandwich or burger.
- Feeling more ambitious? Saag Aloo is a popular Indian dish heavy on the spinach. Learn how to make it here:
It’s Pretty Simple, More Spinach = Healthier Pregnancy
Though nothing can truly take the place of a high-quality, well-balanced prenatal vitamin for ensuring you are getting the exact amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need, a healthy pregnancy diet is not to be ignored.
Adding nutrient-dense foods like spinach to your meals will not only help you baby develop properly, but they will also keep you healthy and feeling your best during your pregnancy.
Don’t drop all your good habits post-delivery; breastfeeding mamas will benefit from some extra leafy green nutrients too!