Popeye was right it seems. Research suggests eating spinach can make your muscles stronger.
But it's not the iron in spinach that gives muscles a boost. Instead nitrates, natural compounds abundant in vegetables, appear responsible. It's thought that dietary nitrate helps the mitochondria - the energy machine inside every cell - run more smoothly and effectively.
Nitrate feeds into a pathway that produces nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and improves circulation. In doing so, eating nitrate-rich leafy greens could increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles.
There are plenty of other reasons to eat leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collards.
When it comes to vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, leafy green vegetables are hard to beat. They offer fibre, vitamins C, A and K, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and beta-carotene and have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Leafy greens are also an exceptional source of lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that guard against cataract and macular degeneration. There's more: research hints that a regular intake of leafy greens can keep your mind sharp as you age.
You'll get more calcium, magnesium, iron, beta-carotene and lutein if you eat your greens cooked rather than raw. That's because cooking breaks down cell walls, increasing the amount of minerals and antioxidants available to your body for absorption.
If you're new to leafy green vegetables, the following tips will help you add them to your diet - aim for one serving each day. (One serving is equivalent to 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw). Other leafy greens worth looking for include dandelion greens, beet greens, mustard greens and turnip greens.
To prepare, trim the roots and separate the leaves. Wash thoroughly. Remove the tough stems and ribs from the leaves. Coarsely chop the leaves. Collard greens are most flavourful when sautéed. But you can also add this green to soups and stir-fries.
- Drizzle sautéed collard greens with extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top with toasted pine nuts.
- Add blanched collard greens to a chicken stir-fry. To blanch, bring water to boil in a large pot. Add greens to boiling water and cooked for 1 to 5 minutes, or until greens have wilted. Remove from the heat and drain. Allow greens to cool then squeeze moisture from them.
- Sauté collard greens with cubes of firm tofu, minced garlic, and a hint of curry paste for a vegetarian meal.
Both leaves and stalks can be eaten, however most recipes call for leaves only. After washing, use a knife to remove the tough stems and ribs from the leaves. Coarsely chop leaves. Kale leaves are sturdy and hold up well in soups and pasta sauces.
- Add chopped kale leaves to sautéed garlic and red chilli flakes; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Drizzle with roasted sesame oil just before serving.
- Sauté kale leaves with chopped apple. Before serving, sprinkle with balsamic or apple cider vinegar.
- Add raw kale leaves to any soup and simmer until leaves are tender.
Rapini (broccoli raab)
You can cook and eat the leaves, stalk and flower heads of rapini just as you would regular broccoli. Rapini has a stronger flavour than broccoli. Some people prefer to blanch rapini for one to two minutes before cooking it in order to mellow the flavour. Discard bottom ¼ inch of stalks.
- Sauté blanched rapini for 3 to 5 minutes with minced garlic. To serve, drizzle with fresh lemon juice and sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.
- Add chopped blanched rapini to a tomato-based pasta sauce with turkey sausage.
- Sauté rapini with minced garlic, red chilli flakes and chick peas for a vegetarian dish.
Savoy spinach has crisp, creased, curly leaves. Smooth-leaf spinach has flat, unwrinkled spade-shaped leaves. Baby spinach has a slightly sweeter taste and is great for adding to salads.
- Steam spinach and add a splash of raspberry vinegar just before serving.
- Add layers of steamed spinach to a lasagne recipe.
- Add chopped spinach or baby spinach to pasta sauce at the end of cooking.
This tall leafy green vegetable has a thick, crunchy stalk that comes in white, red or yellow with fan-like green leaves. Discard bottom 1 inch of stems. Then chop the stems and leaves. The stalks will take longer to cook than the leaves; begin cooking them about 2 minutes before adding the leaves.
- Toss cooked Swiss chard with penne pasta, extra virgin olive oil, sautéed garlic, lemon juice, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped black olives and grated Parmesan cheese.
- Add steamed Swiss chard to omelets, quiches and frittatas.
- For variety, use Swiss chard in place of spinach in recipes.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.