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Medical Myth: Iron in Spinach

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Air date: November 14, 2004


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You remember the cartoon character, Popeye, who eats a can of spinach when he wants to develop some quick muscles.

Popeye's creators chose spinach -- instead of, say, brussels sprouts or broccoli -- because of an 1870 German study that claimed spinach contained about as much iron as there is in red meat!

In reality, this was nothing more than an accounting error. The scientists put the decimal point in the wrong place!

The iron content of spinach is actually one-tenth of what was reported. The mistake was corrected in 1937. It was too late for Popeye, though. He’d already been getting strong on spinach for almost 10 years!

Spinach does contain iron, but no more than other leafy vegetables.

In fact, the iron in spinach is not easily absorbed by the body unless it’s combined with an acid, such as a squirt of lemon juice.

If you are a spinach fan regardless of its iron content, you’ll still benefit from its high vitamin C and riboflavin content.

If, on the other hand, you’ve been choking spinach down all these years in the hopes of building your biceps, now you have an excuse to stop!