Popeye was right it seems. According to a new study from Edith Cowan University in Melbourne, Australia, eating just one cup of spinach every day can boost muscle function.
It’s not the iron in spinach that gives muscles a boost, though. Instead nitrates, natural compounds abundant in vegetables, appear responsible.
The study found that people who consumed a nitrate-rich diet, predominantly from vegetables, had significantly better muscle function of their lower limbs.
Poor muscle function is linked to greater risk of falls and fractures and is considered a key indicator of general health and wellbeing. Muscle function is vital for maintaining good overall health, especially bone strength later in life.
About the study
Researchers examined data from 3,759 Australians (men and women) taking part in a large ongoing health and lifestyle study. They found those with the highest regular nitrate consumption had 11 per cent stronger lower limb strength than those with the lowest nitrate intake. Up to 4 per cent faster walking speeds were also recorded.
The research found nitrate-rich vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and beet greens provided the greatest health benefits.
It’s thought that dietary nitrate helps the mitochondria – the power plant inside every cell – run more smoothly and effectively.
Nitrate also 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.
The findings suggest that diets high in nitrate-rich vegetables may improve muscle strength independently of physical activity.
Go for green
Include leafy greens as one your daily vegetable servings. One serving is equivalent to one-half cup (125 ml) cooked or one cup (250 ml) raw.
It's also recommended to eat nitrate-rich vegetables rather than taking a supplement. Green leafy vegetables provide a whole range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemical critical for health.
To optimize muscle function, the researchers advise eating a balanced diet that’s rich in green leafy vegetables in combination with regular exercise, including strength training.
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.