Popeye, spinach and iron

Popeye and his girlfriend Olive resulted in a 30% increase in the sales of spinach during the late 1930s. This association between spinach, it’s iron content and superhuman deeds caused deep psychological scarring in what was an otherwise unremarkable childhood. For hours I would sit at the dinner table moving my spinach from one side of the plate to the other. Even the dog under the table bolted when I secretly tried feeding it the green limp wrinkly tasteless porridge. I sometimes resorted to tears.

My brother would lecture.  “Spinach has lots of iron which is why Popeye is so strong dear.  You can leave the table when the spinach has gone and not before”.  Well Mother dear it is about time someone blew the lid of this can of green stuff.

Sot it was a revelation when I discovered the whole thing was a fraud.  For starters the original iron content of spinach has been overestimated due to a misplaced decimal point.

Secondly the iron in spinach is bound to oxalate and cannot be absorbed by the gastrointestinal system.  I can see myself standing in court representing a class action against Popeye for all that childhood torment.  Popeye was a marketing phenomenon created to increase sales of spinach.  He was as successful as a TV evangelist and about half as credible.

Iron is an essential mineral and is part of hemoglobin which is the oxygen carrying part of the blood.  Not enough iron leads to anaemia and in children iron is important for the developing nervous system.  The best form of iron is found bound to a protein called heme found in red meat.  Other sources of iron are found in cereals and some legumes, but these are not bound to heme and not quite as well absorbed.  Iron deficiency is the commonest nutritional deficiency in our society and cheching iron levels is an important par tof geneeral screening.

The amazingly successful Popeye cartoons increased spinach consumption throughout the World but resulted in many stressful family meals.  Now all I have to do is find some dirt on Brussel Sprouts.  The dog won’t eat those either.

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