NewsWorldCan spinach make you strong? Ask Popeye ......

Can spinach make you strong? Ask Popeye … and science

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(CNN) – If you were a little boy who grew up sometime between your 30s and 70s, or if you were raised by someone who was, chances are good that you grew up with the idea that spinach is a quintessential muscle builder.

We owe it to a comic book artist named Elzie Crisler Segar, who created a character based on a tough, drinking local from his Illinois hometown. Segar christened the character “Popeye,” a sailor who made his comic strip debut in 1929.

In 1933, when he began to appear as one of the main characters in a cartoon series called “Thimble Theater,” Popeye received instant strength from spinach.

And he needed her, thanks to an assortment of enemies both on the high seas and on land. Every time the tiny sailor drank a can of spinach, his muscles bulged, allowing him to crush his arch enemy, a pirate sailor named Bluto, who was much larger and more robust, but lacked that secret green fuel.

The legend of Popeye, and the origin of his superpower, endured for a long time. But, according to experts, answering the question of whether spinach really makes us stronger has some complications.

The science of spinach

One point that could support the connection between spinach and strength is that they contain a lot of nitrates, “which could improve muscle endurance,” says Norman Hord, chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Oklahoma. These nitrates are rapidly depleted during exercise or physical exertion and their replacement “increases force production in the skeletal muscle that is exercised.”

“More research is now being done to determine whether increased nitrates in muscle translate into increased muscle strength and improved athletic performance,” Hord added.

Fitness and exercise guru Timothy Ferriss (born 1977 and perhaps too young to meet Popeye) doesn’t quote the crazy sailor when, in his book “The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything , and Living the Good Life, “recommends a” slow carbohydrate “diet of eggs, meat, fish, lentils, and spinach as the fastest way to lose weight and get in shape.

This is consistent with Hord’s observation that spinach contains a lot of vitamin K, which helps lower blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Unless they are cooked beyond recognition, spinach is also a good source of vitamin C. They have no cholesterol and no fat.

Harold McGee, dean of culinary science, argues that there are better sources of strengthening minerals. “Despite Popeye, spinach is not very rich in iron, although it is a good source of vitamin A,” he wrote in his now classic book “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.”

Although McGee is not referring to the iron of bodybuilding, iron is necessary to sculpt big biceps and an admirable six-pack.

How to get the benefits of spinach

Atlanta nutritionist Rahaf Al Bochi highlights the benefits of this vegetable for overall health.

“I recommend adding spinach to your diet, as it is loaded with antioxidants and vitamins such as folate, magnesium and vitamin A, as well as fiber, which are important in reducing the risk of chronic diseases,” says Al Bochi.

They are also full of other substances that provide various benefits. Spinach is high in lutein, which is believed to support eye health and reduce the incidence of macular degeneration, a concern especially in people 55 and older. The level of lutein drops substantially when spinach is cooked, but increases if it is used in a blended form, so to obtain this benefit, it is best consumed in a smoothie, according to a 2019 study published in Food Chemistry.

Green leafy vegetables of many types, including cruciferous ones like broccoli and bok choy, are known to inhibit heart disease and stroke, as well as certain types of cancer. Spinach adds to these, and the greatest benefits are derived from these vegetables in their raw or lightly cooked form.

Lastly, a diet that includes green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and greens, which contain all the good things Al Bochi noted, appears to help slow cognitive decline. A 2018 study of 960 older adults posted in Neurology reported that those who consumed 1.3 servings a day or more were, cognitively speaking, an average of 11 years younger than those who included little or no green leafy vegetables in their diet.

Are there any drawbacks?

Even with its full potential, Popeye’s favorite food has some drawbacks. Spinach, especially raw spinach, can give some people an air, well, fizzy. Spinach may taste bland to some palates, but it naturally contains enough sodium that you don’t need to add salt; If you want to enhance them, it is better to add lemon juice than salt, since too much sodium is not empathetically a good thing.

“Too much of any food is unhealthy,” Hord said. “Spinach contains oxalic acid, which can bind minerals in the diet, such as calcium, and make them unavailable for absorption.”

If you are concerned about getting enough calcium in your body, you may want to leave spinach out of the cheese lasagna in which it is so often used. Too much oxalic acid is also a way to cause kidney stones, and therefore, Hord added, “it can negatively affect people” who are susceptible to them.

The vitamin K in spinach also ‘can interfere with the workings of blood thinners like warfarin. People taking blood thinners may limit their consumption of spinach for this reason, ”Hord said.

Add spinach to the diet

Now, with all these caveats in mind, what is the best way to use spinach? With all due respect to Popeye, a can may not be the tastiest way to bring them to the table. Many people enjoy raw spinach in their salad. This is usually fine, but remember that spinach can be a good vehicle for E. coli, listeria, and other harmful bacteria and germs.

For this reason, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cooking spinach at 60ºC for 15 seconds, which kills potentially deadly bacteria. Lightly sautéing fresh spinach in a drizzle of olive or avocado oil fulfills this requirement, plus it’s tasty and nutritious. Another option is to thoroughly wash spinach and other leafy greens in drinking water before eating.

“It is very versatile and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. You can enjoy spinach added to salads, smoothies, rolls, stir-fries in stir-fries, soups and pesto, ”says Al Bochi.

They are versatile and tasty, without a doubt. But can they strengthen you? They may not be explosively strong, like Popeye’s. But spinach has many other merits, so if you are willing to eat it, do not hesitate. But not from a can, please.

Gregory McNamee writes about books, science, food, geography, and many other topics from his home in Arizona.

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