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But it's not the iron in spinach that gives muscles a boost. Instead nitrates, natural compounds abundant in vegetables, appear responsible.
In the study, healthy people took nitrate supplements - the equivalent to 1.5 cups of cooked spinach - for three days. At the beginning and end of the experiment, participants rode an exercise bike while their oxygen intake as measured.
Taking nitrate supplements resulted in more efficient muscles - the amount of oxygen needed to fuel exercise was reduced by as much as 5 percent.
It's thought that dietary nitrate helps the mitochondria - the power plant inside every cell - run more smoothly and effectively.
The researchers don't suggest you start popping nitrate supplements before a workout. Rather, they say, the results offer one explanation for the many well known health benefits of leafy green vegetables.
Nitrate feeds into a pathway that produces nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and improves circulation. In doing so, eating nitrate-rich leafy greens could increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles.
While these findings are interesting, there are plenty of other reasons to eat leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collards.
When it comes to vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, leafy green vegetables are hard to beat. They offer fibre, vitamins C, A and K, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and beta-carotene and have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Leafy greens are also an exceptional source of lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that guard against cataract and macular degeneration. Research also suggests a regular intake of leafy greens can keep your mind sharp as you age.
You'll get more calcium, magnesium, iron, beta-carotene and lutein if you eat your greens cooked rather than raw. That's because cooking breaks down cell walls, increasing the amount of minerals and antioxidants available to your body for absorption.
If you're new to leafy green vegetables, the following tips will help you add them to your diet - aim for one serving each day. (One serving is equivalent to 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw). These vegetables are readily available in grocery stores. Other leafy greens worth looking for include dandelion greens, beet greens, mustard greens and turnip greens.
To prepare, trim the roots and separate the leaves. Wash thoroughly. Remove the tough stems and ribs from the leaves. Coarsely chop the leaves. Collard greens are most flavourful when sautéed. But you can also add this green to soups and stir-fries.
Both leaves and stalks can be eaten, however most recipes call for leaves only. After washing, use a knife to remove the tough stems and ribs from the leaves. Coarsely chop leaves. Kale leaves are sturdy and hold up well in soups and pasta sauces.
Rapini (broccoli raab)
You can cook and eat the leaves, stalk and flower heads of rapini just as you would regular broccoli. Rapini has a stronger flavour than broccoli. Some people prefer to blanch rapini for one to two minutes before cooking it in order to mellow the flavour. Discard bottom ¼ inch of stalks.
Savoy spinach has crisp, creased, curly leaves. Smooth-leaf spinach has flat, unwrinkled spade-shaped leaves. Baby spinach has a slightly sweeter taste and is great for adding to salads.
This tall leafy green vegetable has a thick, crunchy stalk that comes in white, red or yellow with fan-like green leaves. Discard bottom 1 inch of stems. Then chop the stems and leaves. The stalks will take longer to cook than the leaves; begin cooking them about 2 minutes before adding the leaves.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.
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