Nutrition myth-busting: Spinach makes you strong - like Popeye!

Nutrition myth-busting: Spinach makes you strong - like Popeye!

You’ve probably watched the cartoon where Popeye the Sailor gets himself into some trouble, but eats a can of spinach to gain extra strength and beat the bad guys. 

But is there any truth in that? Does eating spinach make you extra strong like Popeye? Well, the answer is both yes and no and here’s why. 

Spinach is good for regular doses

Spinach has a lot of health benefits like improving eyesight, preventing cancer, and lowering blood pressure. It also is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K1, iron, calcium and folic acid. So incorporating spinach into your diet is a great idea.

But, like most good things, too much of it can cause some serious damage. Since spinach is so high in calcium and oxalates, this can sometimes cause kidney stones if you consume too much spinach, especially if you aren’t drinking enough water everyday.

And if you’re on a blood thinner, you should talk to your doctor before ingesting too much spinach because vitamin K1 plays a big role in blood clotting. This means eating too much of vitamin K1 can offset the effects of your blood thinner making it super dangerous, so definitely talk to your doctor first if this applies to you.

Spinach can make you strong, but not from the iron

Some people think that the main component in spinach that makes you strong is the iron content, but researchers have proven this to be wrong. The iron content in spinach is not high enough to have much of an effect on someone unless they eat an absurd amount of the leafy green.

In one 13.5 oz can of spinach, there is 6.6 mg of iron, of which we as humans can only absorb 1 mg due to the iron-blocking effects of oxalic acid in spinach. This means that a man aged 19–50 would need to consume at least eight cans of spinach every day to hit his required level of iron. A woman of the same age would need to eat 18 cans of spinach, and a pregnant woman would need to consume a whopping 27 cans of spinach!

But, that doesn’t mean spinach can’t have muscle building benefits. What researchers have found in spinach that helps build muscle mass and improve athletic performance is the chemical ecdysterone.

Ecdysterone is a derivative of cholesterol, which greatly affects the muscle cells. But this chemical is more prominent in spinach extract than in spinach itself.

You have to eat A LOT of spinach to gain muscle strength

Researchers found in a 2019 study that people who were given capsules filled with 200 milligrams of ecdysterone showed a significantly higher increase in maximum muscle strength than the placebo group.

But in order to get that much ecdysterone without taking a supplement, you would have to eat just under eight cups of spinach per day, which is a lot of greens! But again, you have to be careful because eating too much spinach could be dangerous for your body.

In conclusion, spinach theoretically could make you strong like Popeye, if you take supplements with spinach extract or if you eat copious amounts of spinach per day.

Does it mean you should do this to get stronger? Not exactly. You may want to consult with your doctor to find the best way for you to get those gains in the gym instead of suffering through kidney stones.

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