Spinach is packed full of nutrients, making it an excellent food to introduce to your diet. This leafy vegetable is high in iron and vitamins, but low in calories, so you can eat as much of it as you want.
Spinach can help promote bone growth, as well as reducing your risk of cancer and controlling blood sugar levels – if it’s good enough for Popeye, it’s good enough for you!
Unfortunately, some people may experience an unpleasant or strange experience after eating spinach, which can put them off having it regularly. If you have had it regularly before, you will likely know what we’re talking about: the weird feeling it gives your teeth.
Perhaps you’ve only noticed it once and thought it was your imagination, but we’re here to set the record straight. In this article, we examine why spinach has this bizarre effect and what you can do to stop it happening.
The magic ingredient that causes the feeling is called oxalic acid. High levels of this are present in all spinach, and it forms insoluble water crystals on the surface of the leaves. When you chew the spinach, it releases these crystals onto your teeth.
This can make them seem like they have been coated with some kind of grit or chalk – not only is this off-putting, it can also make you worry about what other consequences it could have for you.
Oxalic acid isn’t dangerous for you, nor does it harm your teeth. The gritty texture won’t damage your fragile enamel; in fact, it might even be beneficial, since oxalates are often found in sensitive teeth treatments.
In very high doses, oxalic acid can potentially have a negative effect on your teeth, because it is able to bind to the calcium in them. However, it should be fine in the levels in which it is naturally present in foods.
The reason oxalate crystals stick to your teeth rather than simply being swallowed is that they don’t dissolve easily in water. This means that the saliva you produce won’t absorb them when you chew the spinach and it gets mixed around in your mouth.
Therefore, it builds up on your teeth in a similar way to plaque, but you can get rid of it by just brushing your teeth as normal.
There is even a special name for this phenomenon in dentistry circles, which is also used colloquially. It is known as ‘Spinach Teeth’ or ‘Spinach Tooth’, for reasons which should hopefully be obvious.
Because it is such a common experience, most people will immediately know what you’re talking about when you use one of these terms, so you shouldn’t have to spend ages describing what you mean.
The occurrence of Spinach Teeth has prompted researchers to explore new ways of breeding spinach that could potentially prevent it from happening.
Certain spinach varieties already exist that have half the levels of oxalic acid compared to others, but it is difficult to identify these and single them out for cultivation.
This means that consumers don’t have a way of knowing how acidic their pack of spinach will be at the time of purchase
However, there are some ways to lessen the effects, whatever type of spinach you buy. The first is to drizzle your spinach with a few drops of lemon juice. This is also very acidic, but the ascorbic acid can actually dissolve the oxalic acid in the spinach.
It won’t get rid of it all, but it can make a noticeable difference. If you try this, make sure you don’t use too much lemon juice, as that has greater potential to do some damage to your teeth.
The other tip we will recommend here is simple – brush your teeth! This seems obvious, as you should be doing this twice a day anyway.
If you feel uncomfortable, there’s no harm in getting your toothbrush out straight away after your meal, so that your teeth will be lovely and smooth again.
Just be aware that over brushing can cause your teeth to become sensitive, so don’t make a habit of cleaning your teeth more than usual.
Other Foods With The Same Effect
There are many foods that contain oxalic acid, including various vegetables – in fact, it is present in almost all plants to some extent. Not all of these will coat your teeth in the weird film, though, because they simply don’t have a high enough concentration to be able to do that.
You might be surprised to learn that yams, chard, carrots, potatoes and turnips are also high in oxalic acid, even though they don’t tend to make your teeth feel strange when you eat them.
Oxalic acid is the main defense spinach crops have against pests that want to eat them, whereas other plants have different ways to protect themselves, such as natural poisons or spiked leaves.
The main food that people also experience chalky/fuzzy teeth with is rhubarb. While the inedible leaves of the plant have the most oxalic acid, the edible stems contain high amounts of it too.
The level of oxalic acid in rhubarb isn’t constant, and rises significantly in the summer – consuming rhubarb that has been harvested in the spring can help to lessen the unwanted dental side-effects (as well as tasting better than rhubarb picked later in the year).
Other Effects Of Eating Spinach
As well as giving you a strange feeling in your teeth, spinach can cause various additional side-effects. Some only occur from eating too much of the vegetable, while others happen regardless of the portion size.
While these are not generally causes for concern, they can make you feel uncomfortable for some time, so it is best to be prepared before you tuck into a big bowl of spinach.
Because it is full of fiber, spinach can help keep your digestive system running properly. However, this also means that high quantities of it can cause bloating, gas and stomach cramps.
If you notice a strange rough sensation on your teeth after gulping down a spinach salad, don’t worry – you’re not going mad and it won’t cause you any harm!
It is just a result of the oxalic acid that is naturally present in spinach, more so than with most other vegetables.
You can easily brush your teeth to remove the film that has built up on them, leaving them feeling as good as new. Don’t let this put you off eating spinach, as it also has a whole host of nutritional benefits that your body will thank you for.