As I sit here at the end of January it is stupid cold in my corner of the world. But the sun is shining and the days are starting to get ever so slightly noticeably longer. We’re now less than a week away from letting a rodent who can’t even chuck wood tell us whether winter will last another six weeks or if it will be closer to another month and a half.
All this means is that I am starting to realize that the extra weight I packed on through the holiday season (and the months of pandemic-induced inactivity), isn’t going to be covered by a bulky sweater forever. It has occurred to me that if I would rather not try to squish the extra bulge into a swimsuit when the weather actually does warm up, that I probably need to start eating less cake and more spinach now.
I guess that’s ok. I do like spinach, at least the fresh kind, and I know that it’s good for me because Popeye once said it’s what “makes hoomans strong an’ helty,” and then his forearms ballooned to three times their normal size.
Rumor has long held that spinach is a great source of iron, though not probably as much as originally thought. The story, or at least a version of it, goes that while German researcher E. von Wolff was studying the iron content of spinach in 1870, he misplaced a decimal point, leading to the conclusion that spinach had ten times the amount of iron it really does possess. So, Popeye creator Elzie Sager chose spinach as the superfood to fuel his hero because of a then sixty-year-old math error.
I encountered this story on a daily calendar that features quirky historical tidbits that I got as a Christmas gift. The accidental overcalculation of spinach iron sure does make for a great story, complete with a lesson in the importance of peer review. But like so many great stories, it’s not really true.
We know that now because of the solid investigative work of Dr. Mike Sutton, who also liked the story a lot before he stopped and thought about it and realized it wasn’t exactly well researched. He explained this in great detail in a 2010 article published in the Internet Journal of Criminology. It’s a pretty good read if you have the time and inclination.
In case you don’t want to read Sutton’s thoughtful work, and you’d rather take the word of a blogger who regularly engages in the type of shoddy research that leads to 150 years’ worth of great stories without much truth to them, I’ll sum it up:
- Although there hasn’t been an entirely exhaustive study of the work of E. von Wolff in order to evaluate every decimal point placement, no obvious error of this kind has been found.
- There is procedural sloppiness present in the work of some American researchers studying spinach around 1930, which may have contributed to a misunderstanding, and later clarification, of the iron content of spinach.
- Popeye claimed to eat healthful spinach because it had so much vitamin A, and under the direction of his original creator, never mumbled a single somewhat incoherent word about iron.
- You shouldn’t believe every story you read, even if it comes from a generally reputable source, unless it is supported by a reliable primary source, because everyone loves a good story and sometimes researchers are lazy. Quirky calendar makers and bloggers, on the other hand, are almost always lazy.
- Forearm bulge measurement may not be the most useful way to evaluate good health.
Actually, Sutton didn’t make that last point, but I think you can trust me on that one. I’m a blogger and I know what I’m talking about.
So, I will tell you that in my quest for a better swimsuit body, I’ll be including spinach in my diet, because I like it. It makes a great salad and it has some good stuff in it like vitamin K and beta-carotene, which as Popeye almost explains, does provide your massive forearms with vitamin A. It’s also a good source of folate, is low in calories, and high in fiber. And yes, even though it will probably not give you super sailor arms as soon as you eat it, it has some iron, too.
Most importantly, if you replace some of your cake with spinach, you stand a chance of fitting into your swimsuit in a few months.