While all fruits and vegetables can support your overall health, there is one type of veggie that you should definitely keep in your meal rotation after you hit 50.
You have heard over and over throughout your life how important it is to eat the proper serving of vegetables each day. And as you get older, produce becomes even more integral to your long-term health. While all fruits and vegetables can support your overall health, there is one type of veggie that you should definitely keep in your meal rotation after you hit 50.
“If I am picking one vegetable I will pick leafy greens, specifically spinach,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian on our medical expert board and author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook.
The reason Goodson recommends spinach to those over 50 is that the leafy green is a good source of nutrients that are particularly beneficial as you age, namely calcium, vitamin B12, and potassium.
“Adults over age 50 have increased nutrient requirements for a handful of vitamins and minerals to help support healthy aging,” Goodson explains. “Specifically, they need more calcium to help maintain bone mineral density as they age, more vitamin B12 due to the fact that absorption typically declines with age, and potassium, which is a nutrient of concern for all Americans,” she continues, separately noting that high-quality protein is another important nutrient to prioritize as you age in order to maintain lean muscle mass.
Spinach happens to be a triple threat when it comes to these healthy aging-supporting nutrients. “While one vegetable will not give you the total amount of all three nutrients that you need more of according to the Dietary Reference Intake Recommendation (DRI), leafy greens like spinach top the charts when it comes to providing all three,” says Goodson. “Leafy greens provide calcium, potassium, and some vitamin B12. In addition, they also provide fiber, which is important for gut and heart health as well as antioxidants, which are important for helping the body fight inflammation.”
While spinach ranks as the best vegetable to load up on after you push past 50, Goodson stressed that you still need a balanced diet in order to get the maximum serving of nutrients found in spinach.
“What’s interesting is that many of these nutrients are not high in vegetables,” Goodson says. “The best sources of calcium are dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt. The best sources of Vitamin B12 are primarily found in animal proteins like beef, liver, fish, eggs, dairy foods, as well as fortified cereals. The best sources of potassium are, however, found in fruits and vegetables in addition to dairy foods like milk and yogurt.”
But even if you can’t get the maximum serving of any of these nutrients in one vegetable, you really can’t go wrong when you rely on spinach as a supplemental vegetable in your diet.
Spinach Nutrition Facts
Spinach is a high-fiber food that can add volume, color, and texture to your favorite recipes. Whether eaten cooked or raw, this leafy green vegetable offers a nutritious punch without adding any fat or natural sugars to your diet—helpful if you’re monitoring either of these.
Three cups of spinach (85g) provide 20.4 calories, 2g of protein, 3g of carbohydrates, and zero fat. Spinach is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.
Sodium: 64.6 mg
Vitamin K: 410mcg
Vitamin C: 24mg
Most of the carbohydrates in spinach are from fiber, making it a very filling vegetable. Along with other leafy greens, it may be considered a “free” food on a low-carbohydrate diet because it provides fiber while being low in calories.
Spinach also ranks close to zero on the glycemic index. This means that it will have minimal impact on your blood sugar levels.
There is no fat and no cholesterol in spinach. But adding a little fat to your spinach-containing meal may help your body absorb more of its beta-carotene—especially if the spinach is raw or in the form of a steamed puree.
There are 2 grams of protein in three cups of fresh spinach. That means spinach has almost as much protein as it does carbohydrates.
Vitamins and Minerals
Three cups of fresh spinach provide more than three times your daily vitamin K needs (340%). You also get roughly 25% of your recommended vitamin C intake and 10% of your suggested potassium intake from a three-cup serving of spinach.
Cooking spinach increases its concentration of vitamin A. You will get 64% of your daily value in a half-cup serving of boiled spinach.
There are approximately 20 calories in three cups of spinach, or just under 7 calories per cup. That makes its calorie count similar to that of kale, which provides 7.2 calories per cup (raw).
Spinach is high in fiber while also being low in calories and fat. It is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium, making it a great addition to a nutritious meal plan.
Some Health Benefits of Spinach
Promotes Weight Management
The intake of spinach and other vegetables is significantly associated with a lower risk of weight gain. Some studies have suggested that consuming four servings of vegetables per day, instead of two, may reduce weight gain risk by up to 82%.
Reduces Cancer Risk
In addition to being packed with vitamins, fiber, and minerals, spinach contains chlorophyll, which is responsible for its green pigment. Chlorophyll has strong antioxidant effects, suggesting promising benefits for cancer prevention.
Protects Eye Health
Spinach’s combination of vitamins A and C helps prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition is common in older adults—especially those who are White, smoke, and have a history of AMD—and can make it more difficult to read, see faces, or drive.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. Sautéing your spinach with a healthy fat (like olive oil) or eating it with other foods that contain fat (like eggs in an omelet) can improve absorption of the vitamin A in spinach.
Enhances Blood Functions
Iron is also required for the prevention of anemia. Spinach supports the blood’s ability to carry oxygen through the proper formation of hemoglobin. Furthermore, the vitamin C in spinach enhances the body’s ability to absorb iron.
Perhaps even more significant than its contribution to iron levels, spinach is exceptionally high in vitamin K. Vitamin K clots the blood to reduce excessive bleeding after an injury.