Leafy Greens and Strong Muscles
The famous 1930s cartoon character Popeye the Sailor had a line in his theme song that you should commit to memory: “I’m strong to the ‘finich’, ‘cause I eats me spinach.” Popeye has been the world’s top purveyor of spinach since he started the practice of regularly downing a can every time he needed super human strength.
Funny thing is the creator of the cartoon chose spinach to give Popeye strength based on its iron content. It turns out a scientist in the 1870s made an erroneous claim about the iron content of spinach, leading to an iron value ten times higher than it should have been. The error was corrected in the 1930s, but the myth of the extraordinarily high iron content of spinach persisted for a long time.
Now we are learning that leafy greens like spinach actually do make us stronger, but not so much because of iron. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that people who consumed a nitrate-rich diet, predominantly from vegetables, had significantly better muscle function in their lower limbs.
Researchers examined data from 3,795 Australians over a 12-year period and found that those with the highest nitrate consumption had 11% stronger lower limb strength than those with the lowest nitrate consumption. They also walked 4% faster.
The study shows that nitrate-rich vegetables may bolster muscle strength independently of any physical activity. The best source of nitrates is leafy green vegetables. Eating just one cup of leafy greens every day could increase your muscle strength whether you work out or not.
A balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables in combination with regular exercise is ideal. We recommend that you eat a variety of vegetables every day, with at least one serving being leafy greens. Leafy greens have also been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease due to their nitrates.
While leafy greens are really good for us in more ways than we understand, most of us don’t eat them because we don’t like them. I think they are important enough for your health that everyone should eat at least a cup of leafy green vegetables every day—maybe even two.
When we think of leafy green vegetables, we usually think of lettuce or spinach, but there are actually quite few different kinds of greens you can eat. Here’s a list of 13—I’m sure I left some out.
- Collared Greens
- Beet Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Swiss Chard
- Bok Choy
- Turnip Greens
- Dandelion Greens
- Radish Greens
There are lots of ways to make greens taste good. The obvious way most people eat greens is in a salad with lots of other vegetables, and maybe some cheese and salad dressing. Forget the croutons. And ditch the salad dressing. Almost every salad dressing on the market is made with industrial seed oils. Read the label. If a salad dressing contains soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, or canola oil don’t eat it. In fact, think of it as poison.
The best type of dressing to put on your salad is olive oil, avocado oil and/or vinegar. All of which are healthy and good for you. Primal Kitchen has an entire line of salad dressings made with avocado oil. These are the only commercial salad dressings we recommend.
Also, try squeezing lemon juice on your salad to bring out the natural flavors of the vegetables. Do this enough and you won’t need salad dressing.
When I want to kick things up a notch, I use salsa for my salad dressing. Nothing like making vegetables taste good by adding more vegetables.
Now to my favorite way to eat leafy greens—I do this quite often. Kale, collard greens, spinach, beet greens, turnip greens and radish greens are all amazing when they are sautéed in bacon grease. I do this for breakfast quite a bit. Cook your bacon, save the grease, and sauté some leafy greens. This also works well with olive oil and avocado oil, but bacon grease is my favorite.
Leafy greens can and will make you stronger and healthier. Make sure you eat at least one cup a day, so you’ll be “strong to the ‘finich.’”