Surprise! Spinach really does make you stronger!
It gave the cartoon character Popeye superhuman strength, but Popeye’s spinach-eating habits may have real science behind it. Researchers at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden recently found that spinach increases muscle strength just like Popeye said, just not to superhuman proportions. They even uncovered the reason why. Spinach contains a compound called nitrate that boosts muscle strength.
Eat Spinach for Muscle Strength?
Swedish researchers gave mice drinking water supplemented with nitrate, like the nitrates naturally found in spinach, to drink for seven days. At the end of the seven day period, they discovered the strength in their lower leg and foot muscles had increased compared to mice that drank water that was supplemented with nitrate. They made another interesting observation as well. The mice that sipped nitrate water had higher levels of two proteins that store and release calcium. As you know, calcium is important for muscle contraction.
Unlike some foods where you need to eat large amounts to get the benefits, the amount of nitrate that boosted the leg strength of these mice was equivalent to the amount in a cup of spinach. That’s a quantity most people can handle, especially when you consider the other health benefits of spinach. Even if you don’t like spinach, other green, leafy vegetables are also good sources of nitrate. One in particular, beetroot tops the list and has other fitness benefits as well. Prior research has already shown that beetroot juice boosts endurance and reduces muscle soreness after a workout. It’s those nitrates at work again.
Other Health Benefits of Spinach
Spinach alone won’t make your biceps more defined but it could make it easier to eke out another bicep curl. Plus, spinach has other things going for it. It’s a rich source of flavonoids antioxidants and antioxidant vitamins, including vitamins A, C and E. These components reduce inflammation and may lower the risk of some types of cancer. Spinach is also a naturally good source of carotenoids that are important for eye health. Plus, the inflammation-fighting antioxidants and the fiber and folate so abundant in spinach are important for a healthy heart. Not to mention, nitrate also lowers blood pressure.
The Bottom Line?
Popeye had it right all along. Spinach does make you stronger. Next time you’re ready to make a salad, skip the lettuce and use spinach instead. Add a healthy source of fat like an olive-oil based dressing, nuts or avocado to increase the absorption of the natural carotenoids in the veggies. You can also add spinach to salads in place of lettuce, fold it into an omelet, toss it into soups or simply sautee it in olive oil and enjoy it as a side dish. Other green, leafy vegetables that are good sources of nitrate include Bok Choy, carrots, collard greens and broccoli. Think green and leafy when you choose your veggies. Now there’s another reason to add more greens to your diet.
Science Daily “Beetroot Juice Boosts Stamina, New Study Shows”
Medical News Today “Why Does Spinach Give Us Strength”
WebMD “The Truth about Beetroot Juice”