Perhaps Popeye had it right. He pounded spinach for super-human strength and loved olive oil (although granted, it was a girl, not the healthy fat Rachel Ray is always harping on about!). But is spinach really good for your muscles and can it give you the boost you need to take on ol’ Bluto?
Let’s start with the most basic stuff: Calorie for calorie, spinach is perhaps one of the most nutrient dense vegetables out there (and it’s no slouch in the flavonoid department, but we’ll talk about that in a minute). In the vitamin department, it logs literally off-the-charts levels of vitamin K and vitamin A, providing 1110% and 234%, respectively, per 1 cup serving of boiled spinach (or 6 cups of raw spinach). Why would this be important? Well, vitamin K is important for bone health (especially when combined with calcium and magnesium, spinach’s other bone-building nutrients) and vitamin A is important for reducing the amount of free-radicals in the body as well as preventing cholesterol from oxidation – which is the process whereby cholesterol can cause damage to arteries. This effect is further amplified when the vitamin A is combined with vitamin C – which spinach also has in spades – a combination that is also thought to reduce inflammation, particularly among patients suffering from asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Rounding out the nutrient profile, spinach is an excellent source of folate, which is important for blood health, as well as magnesium, which mimics the role of angiotensin inhibitors to help regulate blood pressure and prevent heart disease. When cooked, spinach is also an excellent source of iron, which is one of the primary components in hemoglobin – and thus has a role in energy production and metabolism.
Now on to the flavonoids: Current research suggests that are 13 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that not only serve as antioxidants but may also reduce the risk of cancer. Specifically, there are several spinach extracts that have been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer, with one study  published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggesting that consuming spinach or other dark leafy green vegetables can reduce the risk of skin cancer recurring among those with a previous history by as much as 55%. A study  published in Cancer Causes & Control, meanwhile, also found that spinach and other vibrantly-hued vegetables could also reduce the risk of stomach cancer (gastric adenocarcinoma). Still need proof? A second study  published in Cancer Causes & Control has also suggested that it may also reduce ovarian cancer risk while a study  published in the September 2004 edition of the Journal of Nutrition suggests that the neoxathin contained in spinach may also help reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
But what about the muscles? Well, the reality is, spinach probably isn’t going to give you super human strength (or gargantuan muscles ala Popeye), but when it conveys this many other health benefits, perhaps it makes sense to keep on eating it and plan on outliving – as opposed to straight pulverizing – Bluto.
Spiff 27  Flickr Photo (CC)
More Smart Fuel