We all know how Popeye loved his spinach and by eating it he was able to grow his muscles, right?
Well, according to Samuel Arbesman, mathematician and scientist, this whole concept is based purely on a mathematical error. In his fascinating book, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date, Samuel Arbesman talks about how scientific errors can lead to popular myths.
One of the myths he talks about, is that spinach is exceptionally high in iron, thus making you stronger. A myth that the famous cartoon Popeye was based on. But here’s the story: In 1870, German chemist Erich von Wolf was doing a research on the amount of iron in spinach and other green vegetables. When he was writing up his findings, he accidentally misplaced a decimal point, making the iron content in spinach ten times more than it is in reality. The iron in 100g of spinach is 3.5 milligrams but Erich von Wolf wrote down 35 milligrams! (the article continues after the ad)
This was the real cause that led to the misconception that spinach is exceptionally high in iron. To put that into perspective, if indeed spinach had 35 milligrams of iron, eating a serving of it would be the equivalent of munching on a small piece of paper clip! Since this myth spread over the US and Popeye writers were aware of spinach’s insanely health properties, they decided that the character should eat spinach to built its body and increase its muscles. And boy it was a hit! It is estimated that the cartoon character is responsible for boosting spinach consumption in the US by 30%!
In 1981, the British Medical Journal published an article to try and debunk the spinach myth but it was already too late. Who cares, anyway? We all prefer facts that sound cool over the truth right?