Spinach Leaves

According to research published in Cell Metabolism (doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2011.01.004) ingesting inorganic nitrates, traditionally thought as bad for you, is good for you.

Research from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute shows that the mitochondria, the muscles’ cellular power plant, are boosted by nitrate.

Vegetables such as lettuce, beetroot and spinach are known to be good for you. You only have to watch Popeye,the spinach-eating cartoon character, to know that. But they are also rich in nitrates and for over 50 years inorganic nitrate has been associated with negative health effects.

In the 1990’s the same research team led by Jon Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg showed that the body converts nitrate into NO which is involved in many important bodily functions like blood pressure regulation and immune defence.

Now they have shown that nitrate reduces oxygen consumption during physical exercise, so you don’t have to consume so much oxygen to do the same amount of work. They fed healthy people nitrate – the equivalent of 200-300 grams of spinach a day – and then gave them a cycling task to do. The team then analysed samples from their thigh muscles and compared them with samples from the same people when they had taken a placebo.

After taking nitrate, a significant improvement was seen in the efficiency of the mitochondria, which consumed less oxygen, but produced more of the energy-rich substance adenosine triphosphate (ATP) per consumed oxygen molecule.

They have also shown that nitrate reduces the blood pressure of healthy individuals and that in laboratory animals it can help against the metabolic syndrome, a pre-stage of diabetes.

So there seems to be more truth in the theory that eating spinach will make you strong than we first thought. One thing’s for sure Popeye knew what he was doing!

Mike Brown

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