Raw Spinach Vs. Cooked Spinach: Which One Is Better For You?

When it comes to eating spinach, Popeye was on to something. It's not the sexiest of superfoods, but spinach is always one of the healthiest, easiest leafy greens to eat. Whether you slip it into a smoothie or an omelette, use it as the base for a salad, or just enjoy a plate of steamed spinach with a bit of garlic and olive oil, there's no wrong way to eat it. There are some differences between eating it raw or cooked, but remember: Any way you're eating vegetables is going to be beneficial.

With spinach, the health benefits of raw and cooked are actually tied, since both have unique benefits. Eat it cooked — steamed, boiled, or otherwise heated — and you'll absorb more of the iron and calcium that it contains. And once it's steamed, you can store it in the refrigerator for a few days, using it in different recipes for sauces, smoothies, scrambles, or soups to add nutrients to each meal (via Consumer Reports). Cooking also increases the amount of Vitamins A and E that you can absorb (via Treehugger). It's also easier to eat more spinach when it's cooked, since it cooks down to a fraction of the volume it has when served raw.

What about raw spinach?

When spinach is eaten raw, you absorb more folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium (via Vegetarian Times). Raw spinach is also easier to blend into sweet smoothies, since it's relatively flavorless. And of course, it's packed with fiber and water in its raw form.

Both raw and cooked spinach boast an impressive amount of protein for a plant: 2.9 grams of protein per 100 grams, including all nine essential amino acids — making it a powerhouse vegetable for vegetarians and vegans. Compared to other leafy greens, it's one of the best vegan sources of iron available, cooked or raw (via LIVESTRONG).

A serving size is larger than you might expect: 3 1/3 cups of raw spinach is a 23-calorie serving. If that seems like too much spinach to eat in one sitting, you might want to steam your spinach, in order to eat enough to get the benefits. But even a handful of leafy greens in each meal is a great starting point when it comes to including more nutrient-dense vegetables in your diet.