Just about anyone who harks back a few decades is familiar with the famed cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man, who downed a can of spinach to produce bulging muscles whenever he needed to get out of trouble. Well researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that Popeye was right all along – spinach really can boost muscle energy.
According to the research, which was published in the journal Cell Metabolism, eating a bowl of spinach every day can make your muscles “profoundly” more efficient. And trust me when I tell you researchers are generally a preety reserved lot, so when they use a word like “profoundly” they really mean it.
Spinach makes your cells use energy more efficiently
The scientists found that eating just 300 grams of spinach reduced the amount of oxygen needed to power muscles when exercising by as much as five percent.
The ingredients which make spinach work so well are the natural nitrates found abundantly in their green leaves. Nitrates make the mitochondria, the so-called “engine rooms” of cells, more efficient.
“It is like a fuel additive for your muscles – it makes them run much more smoothly and efficiently,” said the lead author Dr Eddie Weitzberg of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
In the study, Dr Wietzberg fed people the pure nitrate supplements equivalent to the amount in a plate of spinach every day for three days. At the beginning and end of the experiment participants pedaled strenuously on an exercise bike while their oxygen intake was measured via a tube to the mouth.
At the end of three days, the difference in energy intake was found to be between 3 percent and 5 percent, which is considered to be a significant amount.
Originally it was thought that the iron content of spinach made it a power-food. Now scientists have found that it is nitrates which are the true energy-boosting ingredient found in spinach and other green leafy vegetables.
“We know that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can help prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but the active nutrients haven’t been clear,” said Dr Weitzberg, who added, “It is a profound and significant effect. It just shows that Popeye was right.”
Nitric oxide opens up blood vessels & improves circulation
Previously Prof Weitzberg and colleague Professor Jon Lundberg demonstrated that dietary nitrate increases levels of nitric oxide in the body with the help of friendly bacteria. Nitric oxide helps open up blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation. Nitrates appear to help stop the loss of energy in the mitochondria due to heat loss, making the cell – and thus the muscle – more efficient.
The new study shows yet another benefit of nitrate and the nitric oxides that stem from them; however, questions do remain. While the new study results show that increased dietary nitrate can have a rather immediate effect, it is not clear what might happen in people who consume higher levels of inorganic nitrate over longer periods of time.
It’s likely much healthier to consume nitrates and other beneficial items by eating FRESH vegetables and plants (sorry Popeye, but canned spinach is far inferior to fresh spinach). When you get valuable nutrients from whole food sources, you not only get the natural organic form of such items, but also get all the all-important supporting compounds found in the natural source.
Best of all would be to eat spinach and other produce which is certified organic. In addition to having far less of the common pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals found in non-organic vegetables, organic produce is usually much more nutritious – an important consideration in today’s mineral-depleted soils.
According to natural health authority Jon Barron–author of the book “Lessons from the Miracle Doctors,” a bowl of spinach our grandmothers ate would have had around eight times the nutrition in the typical bowl we eat today. Going organic can help you shrink that number.
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