Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Spinach is a vegetable that is excellent for your health as it is rich in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. If you ask someone the first two things that come to mind regarding spinach, they will most likely reply Popeye and iron. Popeye is a cartoon that began airing in the 1930’s and every child knows that the man gains superhuman powers from eating a can of spinach. In fact, after Popeye began airing, US consumption of spinach grew 33%. Most people believe that Popeye gains powers due to spinach having a high iron content. Thus, adults always tell children that if they want to be as strong as Popeye, they must eat their spinach.

Unfortunately, eating spinach does not make you as strong as Popeye. In fact, it is not even related to iron either. Firstly, the reason why Popeye eats spinach was because the producers wanted to advertise the high vitamin A content in spinach. Furthermore, spinach does not have a high iron content. The spinach iron myth originated from a German scientist named Emil von Wolff. In 1870, von Wolff was analysing the nutrition contents of different foods when he, from severe fatigue, accidentally misplaced a decimal point while recording the iron content of spinach. This led to spinach being known to have ten times the amount iron it actually has (to the level of red meat).

One problem with this is that this story is not true either. There are no detailed records of von Wolff’s experiments and no one knows if he misplaced a decimal point or not. The myth most likely originates from a 1980 article in The British Medical Journal that first brought up the story. Does that mean spinach is actually is a good source of iron? Wrong. Vegetarians often claim that spinach has iron levels close to red meat, but there is something about iron that they do not know. Many plants have a high iron content (it is found in chlorophyll which is used for photosynthesis), but this is mostly non-heme iron. There are two types of iron the human body can absorb: heme and non-heme. Heme iron can be used directly after absorption whereas non-heme iron needs to be metabolised by the liver to be usable. This takes a long time and is inefficient meaning it is far more effective to eat foods rich in heme iron. Plant iron is all non-heme iron while 40% of iron in red meat is heme iron, meaning it is a much better source of iron. Furthermore, spinach has a high oxalate content, which is an iron absorption inhibiting agent, making what little usable iron it has unabsorbable. 

In short, it is true that spinach has “iron” but as we cannot absorb it or use it, it practically has no iron content. But if you tell this to your parents and refuse to eat spinach, you may get into a lot of trouble.

Posted in Science & Nature

Cordyceps sinensis

Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus known as dongchoong-hacho(동충하초, 冬蟲夏草) in Korea, with the same characters used in China and Japan. It literally translates to “worm in the winter, herb in the summer”. It is a peculiar fungus with an interesting life cycle. In the summer when the weather is warm, the fungus infects its host (usually ghost moth larvae) through spores. The infected caterpillar is slowly filled with mycelium (thready part of fungi), until it becomes mummified with only the shell remaining. The fungus keeps replicating until it bursts out of the caterpillar’s head with a club-like fruit body (which holds the fungus’ spores). This makes it look as if the caterpillar, which was an insect in the winter, turned into a fungus in the summer (technically it is at this stage, but the caterpillar is long dead). In English, it is also called caterpillar fungus or vegetable worm (which is a misnomer as fungi are not vegetables).

Cordyceps sinensis is an important ingredient in traditional Eastern medicine as it is believed to be a perfect balance between yin and yang due to it possessing both animal and plant (actually a fungus) properties. It is used to treat many diseases from fatigue to cancer.

Although Western medicine usually looks down on and ignores Eastern medicine, research shows that Cordyceps sinensis actually has medicinal properties. Cordycepin, a chemical extracted from the fungus, has been shown to inhibit the growth of viruses, fungi and tumours through its inhibitory actions on a certain protein. There is also research that suggests it can protect the body against radiation poisoning.