Readers Digest
Magazine subscription Podcast
HomeHealthHealth Conditions

Medical myths: Spinach is full of iron

Medical myths: Spinach is full of iron

Our resident myth buster Dr Max Pemberton is here to put another old wives tale to bed. This time, is spinach really a good source of iron?

Where did the myth come from?

We all know that Popeye had spinach to thank for his muscles. Unfortunately, outside of cartoons, this vegetable isn't quite as miraculous as we've been led to believe.

The idea that spinach is full of iron dates back to 1870 and a research paper written by Dr Emil von Wolff, a German scientist. His figures showed that it had an astonishingly high amount present. In fact, this was a mistake as he'd misplaced a decimal point in his calculations—so the result was ten times higher than it should have been.

This faulty measurement was not noticed until the 1930s but, by then, the idea had stuck. 


What's the truth?


Spinach might not be quite as full-to-bursting with iron, but it does contain more than many vegetables. Unfortunately, it's not all good news.

Iron comes in different forms—the non-haem form found in spinach is hard for the body to use, as it's absorbed very slowly. Spinach also contains a chemical, oxalate, which binds with iron and makes it even harder for the body to absorb.

So, there's nothing to worry about?

There's no doubt that spinach is good for you—it has lots of nutrients as well as fibre. But if you want to build muscles like Popeye, you can't rely on spinach alone.

Find out about more curious medical myths with Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them, available on Amazon. 

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

Loading up next...
Stories by email|Subscription
Readers Digest

Launched in 1922, Reader's Digest has built 100 years of trust with a loyal audience and has become the largest circulating magazine in the world

Readers Digest
Reader’s Digest is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (which regulates the UK’s magazine and newspaper industry). We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. If you think that we have not met those standards, please contact 0203 289 0940. If we are unable to resolve your complaint, or if you would like more information about IPSO or the Editors’ Code, contact IPSO on 0300 123 2220 or visit