Spinach has impressive health benefits
Perhaps Popeye had the right idea about eating spinach for strength! This often underrated leafy green veggie has some impressive health benefits. So much so, that we could all take a leaf (pun intended!) out of Popeye’s book.
Dark leafy greens, like spinach, can help to:
- Reduce vision problems
- Lower your risk of heart attack
- Prevent memory loss
This is especially important if you have diabetes as you are at a higher risk of developing these conditions. On average, one in three people with diabetes will develop some form of eye disease. Additionally, keeping your blood vessels and heart healthy is vital, as people with poorly controlled blood sugar are four times more likely to experience heart attack and stroke!
Dark green leafy vegetables are uniquely rich in the phytonutrients called lutein and nitrate. Lutein is the pigment in vegetables that creates the green colour. In your body, it is preferentially taken up by your eyes and brain to protect them. Similarly, dietary nitrate helps your blood vessels to relax, lowers blood pressure and guards against heart attack and stroke.
Popeye was right, it builds muscle
In addition to these health benefits, a new study suggests spinach extract may help build muscles. A 2019 intervention study was conducted with 46 strength training males, over 10 weeks, to examine the anabolic effect of ecdysterone. Ecdysterone is a naturally occurring steroid hormone (yes, some is found in spinach!) claimed to enhance physical performance by binding to the estrogen receptor.
In this study, the guys taking the spinach extract had a much higher increase in their muscle mass compared to those in the placebo group. Perhaps even more enticing for athletes and gym-goers is the fact that these males also experienced significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance.
Spoiler alert: you would need to be eating between 1-16 kg of spinach daily to get as much of the ecdysterone that was tested in the extract used in this study! Apart from being a challenge even for our friend Popeye, large amounts of spinach should be avoided by those prone to kidney stones as spinach is particularly rich in oxalate.
To gain health benefits with regard to the eyes, heart and brain, the required portion is much more achievable. Approximately 1 cup of cooked greens (e.g. boiled spinach, or kale, which is low in oxalate for those prone to kidney stones) or 2-3 cups of raw leaves (e.g. rocket) will provide valuable amounts of lutein and nitrate for your day. But don’t forget to also include a variety of other coloured vegetables—aim for a minimum of 2 cups daily—in addition to your greens.
Still wondering whether you should eat more leafy greens? A 2012 study published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition found that women who served leafy greens, such as spinach, with a meal, were perceived as being better cooks. They were also rated as more thoughtful and attentive. What more motivation do you need?!
4 quick ways with spinach (or other leafy greens)
1. Light snack (or delicious party dip): finely chop cooked spinach, stir through some natural Greek yoghurt with a dash of minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon and season with cracked black pepper. Serve with raw veggie sticks and/or wholegrain crackers. Keeps in the refrigerator.
2. Add colour to your weekend breakfast: serve up some spinach leaves with your eggs on toast. Just like brekkie in a café!
3. Blitz up your spinach: blend any vibrant green leaves with a banana, chia seeds, your favourite milk and a sprig of mint. Perfect summertime breakfast on-the-go. Check out our Green Monster Smoothie (recipe in this issue).
4. Homemade pesto: whip up steamed spinach with half a bunch torn basil leaves, a few garlic cloves, about 1/3 cup pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon juice. Slowly pour in extra virgin olive oil while pulsing until combined into a paste. Toss pesto with cooked pasta, spread on sandwiches or dollop on chicken or fish before baking.
Adapted, with permission, from Sue Radd’s Nutrition & Wellbeing Clinic e-newsletter. Click hereto subscribe.
Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.