Spinach Diarrhea: Why It Can Harm Your Stomach

Germs, nitrate, oxalic acid: If you don’t tolerate spinach, it’s not just allergies or intolerances that are possible causes. Because spinach is often contaminated with harmful substances or microorganisms that can cause diarrhea, for example. However, that does not mean that you will have to do without spinach in the future.

In this article you will learn

  • what possible causes diarrhea has after eating spinach,
  • which substances in spinach can have a harmful effect,
  • how you can reduce these substances with certain kitchen tips and
  • Which delicious alternatives can otherwise replace spinach?

Diarrhea from spinach: what could be the cause?

Whether raw or cooked, fresh or from the freezer: Spinach is an all-round leafy vegetable that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Spinach also contains many healthy ingredients . However, it should not be eaten in excess, because spinach also contains substances that are often not good for the body. For example, if spinach is causing you diarrhea after a meal , there could be a number of reasons.

Diarrhea due to a spinach intolerance or allergy?

If you suffer from diarrhea shortly after consuming spinach, a rare allergy could be responsible. In addition to diarrhea (also known as diarrhea or diarrhea), other allergy symptoms like:

  • cramps
  • shortness of breath
  • Sneeze
  • to cough
  • itchy, swollen mucous membranes, for example in the mouth

In the event of an allergy, your body evaluates harmless substances as dangerous and reacts with an immune response: It sends out the messenger substance histamine, which then triggers allergy symptoms. Cross-reactions are also possible: You could actually be allergic to birch or mugwort , but due to the similar protein structure of the allergens, you could also react with discomfort with spinach.

An intolerance (also called intolerance) differs from an allergy because it is not mediated by the immune system. Rather, it usually arises due to an enzyme deficiency, so that the body cannot break down certain substances in food. In the case of spinach, for example, histamine intolerance can be responsible for digestive problems such as cramps, nausea and diarrhea.

Since, as mentioned above, histamine plays an essential role in allergy reactions, the symptoms of an allergy and histamine intolerance are sometimes very similar. Because histamine receptors are distributed all over the body, the symptoms can sometimes be expressed in a variety of ways and in different parts of the body. These include, for example

  • Diarrhea,
  • Wheals on the skin,
  • Itching,
  • Dizziness,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • A headache,
  • Sniffles,
  • Asthma and
  • Colon inflammation.

Histamine is not only found in large quantities in spinach, but in many different foods such as sauerkraut, aubergine, long-matured cheese, smoked sausage such as salami, chocolate, chickpeas or alcohol.

If, in addition to spinach, you also have problems with chocolate and wine, this could be due to a histamine intolerance.

Histamine is heat-resistant and therefore cannot be destroyed by the method of preparation – for example by cooking. Freezing also has no effect. Food that is stored for a longer period of time can have an increased histamine content.

Oxalic acid in spinach: toxic in high concentrations

While the histamine in spinach only causes problems in the case of intolerance , oxalic acid is toxic to everyone in large concentrations (which, however, are usually not achieved through a normal diet).

Small amounts can be found in many types of fruit and vegetables; oxalic acid is high in, for example, spinach, rhubarb, beetroot, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard and black tea . Most of the oxalic acid is excreted or broken down by certain intestinal bacteria.

How one reacts to foods containing oxalic acid depends in part on the composition of the intestinal microbiome (also known as the intestinal flora).

Germs on spinach can cause diarrhea

Spinach can be contaminated with germs such as noroviruses, E. coli bacteria or listeria . These get on the vegetables, for example, through animal excrement (e.g. when fertilizing). Sometimes the result is a bad stomach or even food poisoning with diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps and pain and vomiting .

There is a particular danger if the spinach is eaten raw. On the other hand, heating (at least two minutes to more than 70 degrees Celsius) kills the germs. If the spinach is to be eaten as a raw vegetable, for example as a salad, it should be washed thoroughly. It is best to wash the spinach several times and use a salad spinner to remove the washing water between baths.

Did you know that the bacterial load is often high, especially in packaged salads? Pregnant women should therefore avoid pre-washed lettuce from the bag or at least consume it quickly and wash thoroughly beforehand in order to avoid diarrhea from lettuce .

Dietary fiber is usually not to blame for the diarrhea caused by spinach

One often reads that spinach contains a lot of healthy fiber , but can therefore also cause digestive difficulties for people who are not used to high-fiber diet. In truth, spinach, with around two to three grams of fiber per 100 grams, is not a high-fiber food (for comparison: 100 grams of white beans contain more than 20 grams of fiber!). This means that after eating spinach you are not at risk of overwhelming your intestines with too much fiber.

The fact that spinach does not contain as much fiber compared to other plant-based foods can also be positive, especially in the case of diarrhea: In this case, it is recommended to use low-fiber foods first , as they do not stimulate the intestinal movements as much and are easier to digest. At the same time, spinach often helps against constipation because, for example, due to its magnesium content , it can develop a laxative effect .

Nitrate in spinach: be careful, especially with babies

As in many leaf and root vegetables, spinach also contains high levels of nitrate . Nitrate is initially not a threat, but is sometimes converted into nitrite, which is harmful to health , with the participation of bacteria . The formation of potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines is also possible.

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Adults who consume nitrate-rich foods from time to time generally do not have to fear any damage to their health. You have to be careful with babies: too much nitrate in the food can lead to an undersupply of the blood with oxygen and the so-called blue rash (cyanosis).

Nitrate, oxalic acid, germs: should you do without spinach altogether? No, because there are a few tips on how you can reduce the stress on leafy vegetables – for example through adequate preparation.

How do I prepare spinach in a way that is gentle on the stomach?

When buying spinach, you should first make sure that it is fresh: a luscious green color and crisp leaves that have not been crushed are an indication that the spinach was only recently harvested, and therefore also that the vitamin and mineral content was not suffered too much.

It is best to keep fresh spinach in the refrigerator for no longer than two days . You can just as easily use frozen spinach. If frozen quickly after harvest, it will retain its healthy ingredients.

Like fresh spinach, the frozen version also contains oxalic acid and can also be contaminated with nitrate and germs. Bacteria and other microorganisms are not a problem, however, as they are killed when the spinach is heated – which should always be the case with frozen spinach.

Avoiding spinach diarrhea: This is how you reduce your exposure to oxalic acid, nitrate and germs

Raw spinach contains more vitamins and minerals because these are partially destroyed by cooking. However, it also carries a greater risk of causing health problems – for example due to bacterial contamination. If you still want to enjoy spinach raw – for example as a salad – you should not store it in the refrigerator next to raw meat and wash it particularly thoroughly before consumption.

Especially raw lettuce should be washed thoroughly to remove the harmful germs.

Not only the germ load, but also the oxalic acid content and the nitrate load can be reduced by cooking. You shouldn’t continue to use the cooking water, as both nitrate and oxalic acid partially migrate into the cooking water. The following tips also help to reduce oxalic acid and nitrite levels:

  • Remove stems and large leaf veins before cooking.
  • Do not keep the spinach warm after preparation, but put it in the refrigerator as quickly as possible – preferably covered or in a freshness box. You shouldn’t leave it there for more than a day. For tips on reheating spinach, see below.
  • Organic vegetables often contain significantly less nitrate than conventionally grown vegetables.
  • Seasonal vegetables grown in the open air tend to contain less nitrate than those from the greenhouse.
  • Ideally, prepare foods that contain oxalic acid, such as spinach, with dairy products. This reduces the availability of oxalic acid in the body.
  • It is best to consume foods with vitamin C for nitrate-rich meals (drink a glass of orange juice, add lemon juice or red bell pepper to the salad). This can counteract the formation of harmful nitrosamines.

Can you reheat spinach again?

Nitrate is converted into nitrite with the participation of bacteria. Hence the now outdated recommendation not to reheat spinach again. Today, however, we have better options for hygienic storage.

Therefore: Spinach can also be eaten warmed up, if you make sure to heat it evenly . However, spinach should not be reheated more than once. In the case of pregnant women, infants and small children, it is better to avoid them altogether to be on the safe side.

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Otherwise, babies are also allowed to eat spinach. Typically, infants start complementary feeding between four and six months of age. Then spinach is also allowed, preferably in porridge form (for example as spinach-mashed potatoes), as the spinach leaves can otherwise stick to the palate of the little ones.

First of all, babies shouldn’t eat spinach more than once a week and instead get low-nitrate vegetables like carrots, zucchini or broccoli. From the age of six months, vegetables that are higher in nitrates are usually also okay.

Can you eat too much spinach?

If you have eaten a lot of spinach, you usually notice the oxalic acid load in an unpleasant mouthfeel and the teeth becoming blunt, because oxalate crystals are deposited here.

Those who regularly consume large amounts of spinach or other foods with a high content of oxalic acid run the risk of a mineral deficiency , as oxalic acid can reduce the availability of calcium, iron and magnesium. In addition to the preparation tips mentioned above, which reduce the content of oxalic acid, care should be taken to ensure that there is an adequate supply of minerals in these cases.

Tasty alternatives: this is how spinach can be replaced

If you cannot tolerate spinach, if you have severe, persistent, or frequent symptoms, see a doctor to clarify the cause. Otherwise you can easily replace spinach with other vegetables . Note, however, that in addition to spinach, other leafy and cabbage vegetables – such as rocket and chard – are often nitrate-rich vegetables.

Luckily, if you get diarrhea from spinach, there are plenty of healthy alternatives such as broccoli.

Tasty alternatives to spinach:

  • Swiss chard (also contains oxalic acid)
  • Broccoli
  • Rocket
  • Kale
  • Römersalat
  • Stinging nettle (also contains oxalic acid)
  • Pumpkin leaves
  • Portulak
  • Report
  • Giersch (also contains oxalic acid)

Spinach Diarrhea: Why It Can Harm Your Stomach

If the consumption of spinach causes diarrhea, a possible cause is not only a rare allergy but also a histamine intolerance. See if you develop symptoms with other foods that contain histamines. In addition, a germ load could be to blame for spinach causing you diarrhea.

To prevent this, it makes sense to cook the spinach . Throwing away the cooking water will also reduce other harmful substances in spinach: nitrate and oxalic acid . Both are non-toxic when consumed in moderation. You can further reduce their salary with certain kitchen tips:

When buying, pay attention to freshness and it is best to use organic goods. Store spinach refrigerated for a maximum of two days. Do not keep it warm after preparation, but quickly put it in the refrigerator. Then you can safely reheat spinach dishes, provided they are not intended to be consumed by pregnant women, babies or toddlers.

If you also consume spinach with dairy products and vitamin C , you will further reduce the levels of nitrate and oxalic acid. Otherwise, spinach can even be recommended for diarrhea. Because of its moderate fiber content, it does not overwhelm the intestines and is considered to be easily digestible.

Should you still not tolerate it, have your symptoms clarified by a doctor and replace spinach with sweeter alternatives such as chard, purslane or groundgrass.

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