Spinach is a versatile superfood which can be eaten raw or cooked. During my health coaching sessions many of my clients ask if there’s a difference between the two. Therefore, let’s examine the differences between raw spinach and cooked spinach.
Cooked spinach provides a higher percentage of most vitamins and minerals than raw spinach. The protein, calories and carbohydrates are similar. Raw spinach tastes milder than the more bitter taste of cooked spinach. Raw spinach is crispier and drier than the softer cooked spinach. Cooked spinach costs more.
This article will include a side-by-side nutrient comparison. In addition, I’ll examine the benefits of each one, when one method should be used instead of the other and the cost of using each one.
In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article. Both spinaches are part of my nutrition plan.
Raw Spinach vs Cooked Spinach: Nutrient Comparison
The following table compares the nutrients contained in each one per 100 grams.
|Spinach, raw (100 g)||Spinach, boiled (100 g)|
|Protein||2.86 g||2.97 g|
|Carbohydrates||3.63 g||3.75 g|
|Fiber||2.2 g||2.4 g|
|Fat||0.39 g||0.26 g|
|Sugar||0.42 g||0.43 g|
|Vitamin A||9,380 IU||10,500 IU|
|Beta-carotene||5,630 mcg||6,290 mcg|
|Vitamin C||28.1 mg||9.8 mg|
|Vitamin K||483 mcg||494 mcg|
|Vitamin D||0 IU||0 IU|
|Vitamin B6||0.19 mg||0.24 mg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||194 mcg||146 mcg|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.08 mg||0.09 mg|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.19 mg||0.24 mg|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||0.72 mg||0.49 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.07 mg||0.14 mg|
|Magnesium||79 mg||87 mg|
|Phosphorous||49 mg||56 mg|
|Potassium||558 mg||466 mg|
|Iron||2.71 mg||3.57 mg|
|Copper||0.13 mg||0.17 mg|
|Calcium||99 mg||136 mg|
|Zinc||0.53 mg||0.76 mg|
Spinach is nutrient-dense whether it’s cooked or fresh. At first glance most of the nutrients appear to be similar, and they are. Although studying the above table reveals more differences about the two. Therefore, which is healthier?
Cooked spinach is healthier due to its higher percentage of vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin K, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, B5, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper, calcium and zinc. Cooked spinach contains slightly more protein and fiber.
This isn’t to say raw spinach isn’t healthy, because it is. It provides a good number of those nutrients and provides more vitamin C, folate, niacin and potassium.
I use and consume both in my nutrition plan. I mostly use raw spinach in my salads and smoothies. Sometimes I’ll have cooked or sautéed as a side dish with dinner.
The video below explains the difference between eating spinach raw or cooked.
They both have a similar number of macronutrients per 100 grams.
- Both of them provide 23 calories per 100 gram serving.
- Cooked spinach provides 2.97 grams, 0.11 grams more.
- Cooked spinach provides 3.75 grams, 0.12 grams more.
- Raw spinach provides 0.39 grams of total fat, 0.13 grams more.
- Cooked spinach provides 2.4 grams, 0.2 grams more.
The numbers of macros are similar enough where it don’t make much of a difference between the two.
Raw has more vitamin C, folate and niacin. Cooked has more vitamin A, vitamin K, B6, thiamin, riboflavin and B5.
- The largest percentage difference of any of the vitamins is vitamin C. Raw spinach provides, 28 mg per 100 grams, 47% of the daily value. Cooked spinach only provides 9.8 mg or 16% of the DV.
- Raw spinach also provides much more folate, 194 mcg or 49% of the daily value. Cooked spinach provides 146 mcg or 38% of the DV.
- Raw spinach provides 0.72 mg of niacin and cooked spinach 0.49 mg, 47% less.
Other than those three vitamins, cooked spinach provides a higher percentage of the remaining vitamins.
They both provide a good amount and number of minerals. Although cooked provides a higher percentage of six of the seven minerals listed in the table above. Raw provides more potassium.
Here’s a breakdown of each mineral.
- Potassium: Raw spinach provides 20% more potassium.
- Magnesium: Cooked spinach provides 10% more magnesium.
- Phosphorus: Cooked spinach provides 14% more phosphorus.
- Iron: Cooked spinach provides 32% more iron.
- Copper: Cooked spinach provides 30% more copper.
- Calcium: Cooked spinach provides 37% more calcium.
- Zinc: Cooked spinach provides 44% more zinc.
Nutrient Comparison: Things to Consider
While it may seem cooked spinach provides more nutrients, the comparison may seem particularly unfair. When comparing both per 100 grams, keep in mind it takes approximately 6 cups of fresh spinach to make 1 cup of cooked.
For this reason, cooked is much more compact than raw. Therefore, you can consume more of it in one sitting making it easier to consume more nutrients.
Iron Absorption: Why Cooked Spinach Increases Iron and Calcium
Spinach is a good source of iron but you’ll absorb more calcium and iron with cooked spinach than raw spinach. This is so because spinach contains a good amount of oxalic acid.
Oxalic acid or oxalates bind to minerals like calcium and can prevent the body from absorbing beneficial nutrients in the digestive tract. A diet high in oxalates increases the risk of kidney stones in some people 3.
If you’re at high risk of kidney stones already or have kidney disease, your physician may recommend following a low oxalate diet. However, for most people, the benefits of consuming a nutrient dense, high oxalate food, like spinach can outweigh their risks.
Cooking spinach drastically reduces the amount of oxalic acid found in one serving. This is so because oxalic acid breaks down under high temperatures. A study found cooking spinach in boiling water reduced oxalic acid by 40% on average.
Therefore, nutrient blocking caused by oxalates won’t be as prevalent after cooking.
Even though, raw spinach is still a great choice. If you have an iron absorption issue, the difference in iron content between the two isn’t drastic. Always consult with your physician.
The type leafy greens contain is actually called nonheme iron. The other form, heme, is found in animal flesh like poultry, meat and seafood.
Cooked or Fresh: Taste and Texture
You may want to make a decision about which type to eat depending on its taste. After all, who wants to eat a food they don’t find appetizing? Therefore, let’s examine and find out how each compares in taste and texture.
Raw spinach is slightly sweet and milder than cooked spinach which is more earthy, robust and bitter. Raw spinach is crispy and light while cooked spinach becomes soft, heavy and compact. Raw spinach leaves are dry while cooked spinach becomes slippery.
I wanted to conduct original research and find out what real people, like you, thought about the taste of spinach. So, I polled my clients, readers and members of food groups. I asked, which one tastes better?
- 56% said they preferred the taste of raw spinach.
- 40% said they preferred the taste of cooked spinach.
- 4% said they had no preference.
To conduct more research I setup my own taste taste at home. Two out of the three people present at the time chose the raw spinach.
Raw spinach was the clearcut winner in the battle of taste in the poll and my own taste test.
The Best Way to Cook
Some of the nutrients as seen above are lost during the cooking process. Have you heard steamed is better than boiled spinach?
This is so because during cooking, like boiling, the nutrients leach into the water. In addition, more nutrients are lost when cooking for longer or using higher heat.
The best way to cook spinach is to steam the spinach leaves. Steaming it allows it to retain more of the nutrients. Steaming is more effective in keeping the color and texture. Steaming will also remove some nutrient blocking oxalic acid from the vegetable.
The next best way to cook it for retaining the nutrients is to sautée or microwave it.
The Best Way to Eat Raw Spinach
Raw spinach is one of the best ways to add vitamins and minerals to your diet, especially potassium and vitamin C. If the other food in your meal are low in these two nutrients, adding it can help balance out the nutrients.
It works well in the following:
Some foreign dishes, like Korean barbecue, like to wrap the barbecue and additional ingredients in a large leafy lettuce or cabbage. Using large leaves for similar dishes is a great idea.
The following video gives some great tips on how to eat spinach healthy.
Benefits of Raw Spinach
There are many benefits to eating raw spinach. It depends on what you’re using it for but raw is generally good for salads, smoothies and sandwiches.
Here are some of the benefits:
- Consuming raw spinach means you’re getting far more water from your veggies than if you cook them. This means it can help hydrate you and reach your hydration goals throughout the day.
- It is a high-volume, low-calorie food. This means you can eat a good amount and feel full without consuming too many calories. Eating high-volume, low-calorie foods can help prevent overeating and assist in weight loss.
- Another benefit is folate. The folate content is much higher which is especially important for fetal development. This means expectant mothers, for example, may benefit more from it.
- It is fantastic for incorporating more vitamin C into your diet. Although vitamin C can be found in plenty of other fruits and vegetables, many adults don’t get enough vitamin C in their regular diet.
- Since vitamin C has countless health benefits, there’s no reason not to add some more into your meals.
In the following video an accredited hospital and doctor explain the health benefits of spinach.
Benefits of Cooked Spinach
While no cooking method can maximize your absorption of all nutrients, heating it can undoubtedly increase the availability of specific nutrients. Beta-carotene levels may be 11% more in cooked and have been linked to the following:
- Increased protection from cancer.
- Skin damage.
- Vision problems.
Potassium, calcium and iron are all other minerals that become more available with heat. These have countless health benefits, including:
- Regulating blood pressure
- Building bone strength
- Increasing energy and focus
Compare the benefits of these two varieties in my article, Baby Spinach vs Spinach: Which is Better? A Comparison.
The price of food always goes up but lately it’s the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime. For this reason, how much food costs matters to most people. Therefore, let’s examine the price of each one.
Cooked costs more than raw because it takes approximately six cups of raw spinach to make one cup of cooked spinach. One cup a raw averages $0.14 per cup. One cup of cooked averages $0.84 per cup.
To conduct more original research, I visited my local Walmart super center to check the prices. I found a 10 ounce bag cost $1.98. Each bag contains 14 cups of raw spinach equaling $0.14 per cup.
Since one cup of cooked spinach needs approximately six cups of raw spinach, it was easy to calculate. $0.14 times six equals $0.84.
Find out if kale had more nutrients in my article, Kale vs Spinach: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises the blood sugar in the blood 4. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, nerves, kidneys and eyes 5.
Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:
- Low-GI foods: 55 or under
- Medium-GI foods: 56-69
- High-GI foods: 70 or over
Since avoiding high levels of blood sugar is an important part of consuming healthy food, many people wonder about the glycemic index of each type.
Raw spinach and cooked spinach are both low glycemic foods and shouldn’t cause any spikes in blood sugar.
Besides the two, all leafy greens have a low glycemic index. While cooking foods typically raise the glycemic index, the GI of spinach is low enough not to make a difference as it would with higher GI foods.
Find out if collard greens are better in my article, Collard Greens vs Spinach: Which is Better? A Comparison.
If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.
Read More Spinach Food vs Food Articles
- USDA: Spinach, raw
- USDA: Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Dietary oxalate and kidney stone formation
- Harvard Health Publishing: Glycemic index for 60+ foods
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes