Ever since I made the conscious decision to cut down on meat, I have become more aware of the nutritional content of my meals, wanting to make sure that my diet wasn't going to damage my health. Not that I believe it would do, but more to arm me with the knowledge if anyone challenged me. See my last post as an example of what I mean.
I've actually found that my diet has improved since cutting down on meat, not necessarily due to the lack of meat, but more because I'm more aware of my diet and what I need. However, when I started to read up on sources of iron in my diet I started to get confused, there was no mention of spinach. Lots of other foods such as tofu, fortified breakfast cereals and cashews were given as examples, but not spinach.
Surely, this must have been a mistake? Who can forget the popular children's character of Popeye, who gulped down tins of spinach to transform his weedy little arms into masses of muscle in order to save a damsel in distress or two? But who am I to doubt nutritionists and dietitians? So I had no choice but to walk away from the issue scratching my head in puzzlement.
That is until today, when I was reading a book I recently bought from my local Oxfam called "The truth about food" which accompanies the BBC series with the same name. I came to a chapter on "Spinach: vision for the future?" and I thought, "at last my questions may be answered!".
And I was right, spinach DOES contain iron, and during the 1930s it was paraded as a wonder food due to this. However, in 1937 scientists discovered that due to a mathematical error, the concentration of iron in spinach wasn't as much as they first thought, however for a vegetable the iron concentration is quite high. The problem comes with our bodies inability to absorb the iron in spinach due to its binding with another chemical found in spinach called oxalic acid which makes the resulting compound indigestible and so most of the iron passes through us. Therefore, although we may still be able to get some iron from eating spinach, it is not enough for what we need. However spinach is rich in other nutrients, and the chapter focused on the benefits of eating spinach on our vision.
This goes to show something I'm beginning to learn as I look more into the topic of nutrition, is that it is not always simple. But at least I'm no longer scratching my head!
If you would like to learn more about getting iron in your diet without meat, visit the vegetarian society website.