Popeye may have overpromised the benefits of eating spinach, but perhaps only by one little.
The green vegetable has been associated with helping maintain your vision, lowering your blood pressure and even, as the sailor himself suggested, improving muscle function. Now a new study suggests that there is another strong benefit that can come from incorporating more spinach into your diet –it can protect you from colon cancer.
The study, published in the journal Intestinal microbes, found that eating spinach can help prevent the formation of tumors in the colon. At least that was the case for rats. Researchers at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center observed rats for 26 weeks and compared the development of polyps (benign growths that could turn into cancerous tumors down the line) in those who ate freeze-dried spinach with those who did not eat leafy greens.
The researchers found out spinach increased the intestinal health of rodents and promotes biodiversity, which played a role in suppressing tumor growth.
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In an interview with Eat this, not that!, Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN and author of The 30-minute cleaning cookbook and Eat pure vegetarian cookbook, noted that the antioxidants in spinach make it a great addition to any diet.
“Previous studies have shown that these protective compounds, together with the vitamin content of spinach, can promote cancer-protective properties, “she said.” Spinach is rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid, manganese, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber. “
While this is not hard evidence that adding spinach to your diet prevents you from ever developing colon cancer, (no single behavior change can offer that kind of security!) At the very least, it is a promising sign. And adding more spinach to your diet certainly does not hurt unless you take certain medications such as blood thinners that require you to keep your vitamin K intake low.
“Spinach is not a ‘magic’ food. It is likely that if the same research was done with other leafy vegetables, it would show similar results,” says Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, author of Eat your vitamins. “The most important takeaway, I think, is to eat your vitamins and make it in many different forms, spinach is an excellent.”
Other foods that can make a difference to help prevent this potentially deadly disease include dairy products and whole grains as well as more surprising red seaweed.
If there is colorectal cancer in your family, or if you suspect you may otherwise be at risk, talk to your doctor. According to the CDC, some symptoms of colon cancer include loss of appetite, abdominal pain, bowel irregularities, such as diarrhea, constipation, and other changes in your stool.
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