Is raw spinach bad for me?

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl:

I bought your book, borrowed my friend’s Blendtec, then bought my own after I learned how much I love the greensmoothiegirl way. I just returned from visiting my in-laws out of town and my MIL is trying to tell me cooked spinach is better for you then raw and in a smoothie. Please send me a good comeback.

Thanks, Jamie

Answer:   I have gotten literally hundreds of questions about this in the past few years due to a couple of references on the internet that spread extensively. In addition to my comments in The Green Smoothies Diet about oxalates (which is what your MIL is referring to) on p. 39, I also wrote a section in Ch. 1 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods on that topic (p. 30) and have written on it on this blog as well, a few times. Here’s one of those links.


But here’s more, from Theresa, a GSG reader, quoting Dr. Norman W. Walker in his book “Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices: What’s Missing in Your Body?”

“Spinach should never be eaten when cooked unless we are particularly anxious to accumulate oxalic acid crystals in our kidneys with the consequent pain and kidney trouble. When spinach is cooked or canned, the oxalic acid atoms become inorganic as a result of excessive heat and may form oxalic acid crystals in the kidneys.” (p. 62).

“When the food is raw, whether whole or in the form of juice, every atom in such food is vital ORGANIC and is replete with enzymes. Therefore, the oxalic acid in our raw vegetables and their juices is organic, and as such is not only beneficial but essential for the physiological functions of the body.”

“The oxalic acid in cooked and processed foods, however, is definitely dead, or INORGANIC, and as such is both pernicious and destructive. Oxalic acid readily combines with calcium. If these are both organic, the result is a beneficial constructive combination, as the former helps the digestive assimilation of the latter, at the same time stimulating the peristaltic functions in the body.”

“When the oxalic acid has become INORGANIC by cooking or processing the foods that contain it, then this acid forms an interlocking compound with the calcium even combining with the calcium in other foods eaten during the same meal, destroying the nourishing value of both. This results in such a serious deficiency of calcium that it has been known to cause decomposition of the bones.” (p. 63)

We learn, over and over, the value of eating foods in their raw form. When I returned from Portland, someone contacted us wanting to return their 12 Steps kit, very alarmed, saying, “I talked to my doctor and he said raw foods are bad for me!” What a tragedy that any health-care practitioner says this and people organize their entire diet around it. To be very simple: raw food is in its most   natural state and most easily accepted by the body. Watch animals in nature: do they cook their food?

14 thoughts on “Is raw spinach bad for me?

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  1. Robyn – I’m just in awe of your patience and persistence on this issue. It must get hard to have to keep saying the same thing over and over. It’s just shocking the lack of nutritional info some doctors still have. And I’d bet the same doctor who discourages someone from eating healthy, also tells them taking a multi to make up for it (while HARDLY ideal) is also a waste of time, leaving their patient with no option but to eat garbage and then take drugs for the bad results. It sounds so cynical to say ‘Well, that keeps them in business, doesn’t it?’ but honestly, you have to wonder if that’s what is going on. But I think most are just ignorant. It’s unintentional malpractice. After I read this post I went into the kitchen and made myself an enormous spinach smoothie, along with carrots, parsley, radishes and avocado – now THAT’S a medicine chest!

  2. My husband and I bought 12 Steps last year and LOVED it. We both felt better than ever and felt so compelled to shar what we’d learned with others, as well as grateful to learn about good nutrition while our children are young. We experienced what felt like very good health while on the 12 Steps diet.

    However, I went through a really stressful time in my life the end of last year, and started having allergic reactions to all kinds of foods from greens to raw nuts to raw fruits and veggies. I felt like I couldn’t eat anything without something sacry happening. I finally went to a doctor who told me I had something called Pollen Oral Allergy which meant that because I had such severe hayfever that the proteins in raw foods looked similar to my body and launched an allergic reaction – to raw foods only. I think I’ve had this problem my whole life, but it got really bad last year, and it’s been debilitating to my life. I still haven’t eaten any nuts for fear of allergic reaction.

    I’ve seen several natural practitioners also, who have told me that raw food is not good for someone with my condition because my body can’t digest it. I was also told to get off gluten (due to a newly developing autoimmune thyroid condition – apparently gluten and thyroid molecules are similar, and although I have no symptoms of gluten intolerance, they are telling me my body will attack my thyroid every time I ingest gluten), which I did, but now feel even more limited and malnourished than ever. I also found out that I am prediabetic (which seems funny to me, given the fact that I had eaten better than ever before this test), and I am severely deficient in proteins and minerals that my body needs. I was advised to eat meat and raw milk every day and fill my plate 70% with cooked vegetables and consume little to no fruit.

    I am having a hard time because obviously I don’t feel well, but also because I felt so good on a high-raw diet. It was like a slap in the face to be told that eating raw wasn’t an option, and was actually not good for me. I’m not sure what to believe. I am told I have adrenal burnout and that if I follow the diet plan, along with some supplementation, that one day my allergies will be gone and I will be in good health again. I want to believe it, and I do believe that there i something out there that can do that for me, but it’s so completely different than anything I’ve learned from you that I would LOVE if you could share your opinion with me. This cooked vs. raw thing in combination with no nuts or gluten is debilitating and scary. What gives?

    1. Megan, I’m so sorry for all these troubles you’re having! You are getting very detailed, incisive, educated information from your practitioner, it sounds like. I would agree with this (although I studiously avoid going out on a limb with people’s individual health problems): I have seen allergies reverse themselves. Many times. I use to have seasonal allergies that practically put me in bed, in the spring and fall, for almost 20 years….gone now. Ditto others in my family. Hang in there. Your problems weren’t caused by raw food–they manifest themselves coincidentally as you began to change.

  3. The raw spinach thing may explain what happened with our guests we had over for Easter. I prepared a meal, beginning with a small raw spinach/tomato/cucumber salad, topped with raw cashew dressing (really good stuff) Followed by a hot raw soup (made in the blender -raw veggies -including spinach & herbs) hot water blended-including spinach) fantastic flavor in the soup… baked potatoes, dill seasoned cod. The only thing my guests ate was the baked potatoe. I hate throwing out perfectly good food… Maybe they were afraid to eat the Spinach…and dill.

  4. How about this one…Took my 15 yr old daughter to the doctor because she is having a hard time with fluid in her ear. The doctor suggested this may be because she is overweight (5″2″..about 115lbs) or allergies and gave her 4 different medicines. I asked her how long till they worked “a few weeks” and then what about green smoothies to boost nutrition “those are silly and gross” OH OK At that point I simply informed her that when my 15 yr old daughter started throwing up in jars and hiding them in her closet I would be bringing them to the office for them to have since she told her she was fat and we will continue to drink our silly gross food. (PS The fluid is diminishing without any of their silly and gross medicine)

  5. Robyn, are you aware of the green smoothies that are being sold by Jamba Juice in California? I had one a month or so ago, and it was good! I had a green smoothie at Whole Foods Market today that was fantastic. I definitely need to put more spinach in mine at home.

    Enjoying green,

    Liz in CA

  6. Hi Lisa… I think I can top that one (and would love to get Robyn’s input on this!)

    I just received an e-mail earlier today from a very close friend who considers herself a very healthy eater (she’s a nurse) with a link to the following article “New Eating Disorders: Are They For Real?” about newly discovered or classified eating disorders, one of which is Orthorexia. (Part of which I am quoting here: “orthorexia is Latin for “correct eating.” Here, too, the focus isn’t on losing weight. Instead, sufferers increasingly restrict their diets to foods they consider pure, natural and healthful. Some researchers say that orthorexia may combine a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder with anxiety and warn that severely limited “healthy” diets may be a stepping stone to anorexia nervosa, the most severe – and potentially life-threatening – eating disorder.” Okay, I say, but I am not “severely lmiting” my healthful foods, I eat quite a variety, probably more than the average adult. My weight is well wthin normal limits, and I do not worry too much about calories or restrictions, other than making a clear attempt to eat unprocessed whole natural foods, as much raw as I can. So, this doesn’t seem to apply to me…. But then the article goes on to say…”Orthorexics: Those affected may start by eliminating processed foods, anything with artificial colorings or flavorings as well as foods that have come into contact with pesticides. Beyond that, orthorexics may also shun caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, wheat and dairy foods. Some limit themselves to raw foods.” Hmmmm, like that is something bad, say, compared to eating unlimited junk food, highly processed food and foods with pesticides? But that was not enough: the article goes on to describe the TREATMENT the newly classified orthorexic needs in order to be “cured”, I guess, of their disease/condition! Wow, this is the kind of stuff that I find myself running up against since I took up a whole foods, high raw diet just over two years ago (I am not even all raw – yet – would love to be, but I am finding that difficult with a family and the long NE winters).

    I say very little at this point to anyone about what I choose to eat or not, and this is very sad to me, since I am trying to just be the example of what good fitness/nutrition can be – even if it takes awhile for people to see the changes. I would love to bring more awareness to the issues with food in our country (I am a yoga/fitness instructor and am inspired to make a difference in people’s lives and health), but have become very aware that the message will only land where it is welcome. This just seems to put the ultimate stamp of “disapproval” on the way many of us are choosing to eat to circumvent GMO, pesticides, processed foods and additives. Robyn, I have to give you credit that you can keep up the good fight despite resistance, but would love to know what you do when confronted with this type of information?

    This is the link, if you are curious to read it yourself (if posting links is allowed??)

    1. Linda, you’re not the first to write us about this. I love it when somebody …. on the internet so it must be true! ….. makes a syndrome or malady out of positive choices! I think the best reaction to this is to just laugh at it!

  7. Yes, I must admit that was not my FIRST reaction, being it was personally sent to me, but it is truly laughable (and a little sad).

    I don’t even mind everyone thinking I am a little nuts (pun intended) or a “tree-hugger”, but still, it is frustrating when you see so many people (family) struggling with health issues, weight issues, etc., and they don’t take you seriously. I hate feeling like I have given up. A clinical diagnosis sure won’t help my cause (though it appears they haven’t made this an “official ” diagnosis – yet!)

  8. Linda, I saw this, and haven’t had the chance to read it yet. Thanks for saving me time.

    Quite a few years ago when I was learning about eating differently and learning about all of the bad things about food, I felt like I had an eating disorder. If I couldn’t afford the things I felt like I should be eating, or I didn’t have something readily available, I just couldn’t/wouldn’t eat. Now I am so fully aware of all of the good stuff there is, there isn’t enough time in the day to make or eat it all!

    I so relate to your last comment. My husband even jokes to his friends that he had bird seed and tree sap for dinner. I find that everyone has their own opinion on what is good/bad (for them). They accept everything as is and cannot even imagine changing something to make a better life for them self. Now I just keep my mouth shut and don’t bother, and let them make THEIR comments about all their problems and tell me if I get any skinnier, I will blow away.

  9. Wow, Linda Eating good food is an eating disorder??? That is just amazing, I am trying really hard to eat better and be healthier but I do have most people tell me I am crazy. My standard answer at this point is kinda rude I know but….so are they. I simply say “I am eating food that is alive so I stay alive, Did you ever wonder what the dead food is doing to you?” I am not a poster child for health…yet. Still trying to beat the smoking, still trying to eliminate all processed foods, and still trying to get to a good weight…but I am trying!!! My current biggest motivator is my hair thinning, I am very vain about my hair, I am guessing its a very long term thyroid issue as my body temp is and has been 95.3 for years and have many other “symptoms”…I will get there!!!!!

  10. I have short term motivations for eating the way I do, but also long term. I find an answer people seem to readily accept is that, if I want to have good cognitive function in my older years (which is very important to me since I have no children or nieces and nephews to come along side and help me through those years) I need to build a foundation for that with healthy choices now – you don’t just arrive at 80 in great physical and mental shape by eating french fries for 50 years. I will literally need to have my wits about me, and it’s the habits of a life time that let you live out the later days of your life well. Most seem to accept that this is true, and admit they wish they had the discipline to be more forward thinking, but for now that office party birthday cake looks so good-they’ll do better tomorrow…always tomorrow. Also, when the people riduculing my smoothies in the lunch room are on blood pressure medication and 40 pounds overweight, and have a diabetic husband, their scorning of my choices doesn’t cut very deep, honestly.

  11. Sorry, but this is misinformation. Spinach contains something called isothyocyanates which can block the uptake of iodine when eaten raw. It is recommended that they be cooked for people who have low iodine levels. If a person has normal iodine levels (most people do not), then there is no worry to eat spinach raw or juice it. However, by adding iodine to your diet, this should enable one to eat raw cruciferous vegetables without the side effects of thyroid issues.

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