Is spinach good for your health? ask Popeye and science

Shariq TahirWeb Editor

01st Jul, 2021. 04:31 pm
Is spinach good for your health? ask Popeye and science

If you were raised between the 1930s and the 1970s, or if you were raised by someone who was raised during that time period, chances are you were taught that spinach was an excellent muscle builder.

That idea comes from a comic-strip cartoonist named Elzie Crisler Segar, who created a character based on a rough-edged, hard-drinking local from his hometown in Illinois. Segar named the character “Popeye,” a sailor who first appeared in a comic strip in 1929.

Popeye was obtaining instant power from spinach by 1933 when he began to feature as one of the principal characters in an animated cartoon series called “Thimble Theatre.”

The science of spinach

One factor that could support the spinach-strength link is that it includes a lot of nitrates, which “could promote muscle endurance,” according to Norman Hord, chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Oklahoma. During exercise or physical exertion, these nitrates are rapidly depleted, and replacing them “increases force production in exercising skeletal muscle.”

“More research is being done now to determine if increased nitrate in muscle translates to increase muscle strength and improved athletic performance,” he added.

Timothy Ferriss (born in 1977 and likely too young to have caught the Popeye bug) does not cite the ack-ack-acking sailor when, in his book “The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life,” he recommends a “slow-carb” diet of eggs, meat, fish, lentils, and spinach as the quickest path to weight loss and overall fitness.

This is consistent with Hord’s finding that spinach is high in vitamin K, which lowers blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Unless it’s been overcooked, spinach is also a strong source of vitamin C. There is no cholesterol or fat in it.

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