Friday, October 17, 2014

Spinach. Is it even all that healthy, really?

Forgive the blatant clickbait headline. Of course it is fucking healthy, don't be ridiculous. Got your attention though, didn't I? Probably came in here all expecting to read something that would piss you off, right?

Well, read on it could still happen.

Everyone else? Stay with me because I'm going somewhere here. Somewhere I think is important right now with a lot of the talk we see about diet, nutrition, health and food choices these days.

Spinach, obviously, is good for you. It's a leafy green vegetable, full of vitamins and minerals, provides fiber or roughage if you prefer, and the energy content is so negligible you'd really be hard pressed to eat "too much" of it.

It's about as healthy as it gets. If you're sitting there thinking "well not really, I can think of plenty of more nutritious choices of vegetable" and about to scroll down to the comments box to let me know about it... then good, you're a part of the problem I'm trying to address here. So sit there, shut up, and pay attention.

The other great thing about spinach is that it is quite a non-challenging choice of vegetable, for those who might struggle a little to get enthusiastic about meeting their recommended number of servings. Make something else, serve it on a bed of baby spinach. Boom you just added +1 to your serves of vegetables quota. Easy.

Spinach is good for you. Popeye was correct.

Since spinach is healthy, if you eat spinach does that mean you have a healthy diet? A diet that is suitable to fuel your lifestyle and to produce your goal physical condition as an adaption to training?

Well... not necessarily. Adding 100g of spinach to whatever your usual diet is right now will make it healthier by ensuring you exceed your Vitamin A requirements, and by providing a good amount of Iron and Magnesium amongst other valuable nutritional resources. If you were short on those particular resources before, your diet is now somewhat healthier.

Does the addition of spinach necessarily mean that you have a "healthy and appropriate" diet meeting your total energy and protein requirements though? Absolutely not. As described, it will certainly go a long way towards meeting your micronutritional requirements, but it doesn't automatically ensure that you have met all of those requirements, either. Other than Vitamin A which it knocks out of the park.

So spinach is an excellent, sensible, not terribly challenging and healthy choice that is advantageous in meeting your requirements for a healthy diet. A healthy diet would be one that is neither excessive nor insufficient in total energy intake, providing adequate protein, adequate fiber, and your required intake of vitamins and minerals via your "5 + 2" recommended serves of vegetables and fruit, respectively.

I hope I'm making my point clearly enough. Spinach (or any other vegetable) is an excellent choice that may make up a part of a healthy diet. But just because you eat your spinach like a good chap, it doesn't necessarily mean you have "a healthy and appropriate diet".

Similarly, just because spinach is healthy... you probably wouldn't insist that this means anyone not eating it regularly doesn't have a healthy diet. That'd be illogical, wouldn't it?

If you were wondering if I have a point, well yes I do and here it comes.

What about a less healthy choice though?

Including one isolated healthy choice does not necessarily mean your diet is healthy and appropriate. I mean... it probably does. It probably means you're likely to be in the habit of making sensible and healthy choices, but just adding spinach to an otherwise excessive and unhealthy diet doesn't suddenly mean you have "a healthy diet".

The exact same thing is true in reverse.

So often on the internet, everyone wants to give their opinion on what other people should or should not be eating. It might be bread, or breakfast cereal. At the most infuriating it might even be fruit of all things, that "isn't healthy enough" for some people on the grounds that you can get more vitamins from a vegetable instead. As if... I mean really, do I even have to explain why that is so ridiculous as to actually be offensive to anyone with an ounce of sense? I am going to start slapping people in real life for that sort of talk.

Let's consider something like a can of artificially sweetened soft drink, providing absolutely zero nutritional value. Or the regular kind, providing only "empty calories". People shouldn't drink them, right? Because that would mean their diet is unhealthy, and therefore they'll be unhealthy, right?

Of course not.

Just as including one healthy choice doesn't automatically make a diet healthy and appropriate, including an entirely frivolous choice doesn't necessarily make for an unhealthy diet. Your diet on the whole, your total daily intake is either of appropriate energy, macronutrient and micronutrient intake suitable to good health and results from training, or it is not.

There is no reason to believe, imply or infer that an appropriate total intake cannot be achieved without total avoidance of... well, whatever it is. Bread, cereal, processed foods, more than two pieces of fruit a day, ice cream... whatever. People who are training towards a performance or body condition goal have relatively high energy requirements, and with a little mindfulness they can probably fit some of whatever they fancy into a plan to meet but not exceed those requirements.

Singling out individual food choices outside of the context of your total intake and how that relates to your actual requirements is pointless. Criticising someone else's individual food choices, especially with no reason to assume you know what their requirements are or how that choice fits into their total intake... that just makes you a jerk who needs to shut up.

Ready to learn how to meet your nutritional requirements with your choice of foods, rather than restricting your choices? Drop your email in the box for a free education program.