- A new study has found that regularly eating leafy greens can boost muscle function, which in turn could help prevent falls and fractures.
- The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, which can open up the blood vessels, improving blood flow and exercise performance.
- In the study, participants who ate the most nitrates — which are plentiful in leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce — had 11 percent stronger lower limb strength.
Eating leafy greens can do wonders for muscle strength, according to new research from Edith Cowan University.
The study, which published in the Journal of Nutrition on March 24, found that regularly eating nitrate-rich leafy greens, like spinach and kale, can boost muscle function, which in turn may help prevent falls and fractures.
The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, which can open up the blood vessels, improving blood flow and exercise performance.
Over time, a vegetable-rich diet can improve heart health and cognitive health.
“In general, leafy greens are some of the most nutrient-rich, calorie-light foods on the planet — packing a punch with numerous vitamins and minerals,” said Dr. Casey Kelley, a family medicine physician and the founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health.
Leafy greens boost muscle strength and walking speeds
The researchers evaluated health data from 3,759 Australians over a 12-year period.
Participants who ate the most nitrates — which are plentiful in leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce — had 11 percent stronger lower limb strength.
Their walking speed was approximately 4 percent faster compared with participants who ate less leafy greens.
The researchers also surveyed the participants' physical activity. They found that the vegetables boosted muscle strength regardless of whether the participants exercised.
How do veggies improve muscle strength?
Leafy greens are packed with nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide.
“Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels and causes them to widen. This allows for greater delivery of oxygen to the muscles,” said Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist and gastroenterologist based in New York City.
Our muscles require more oxygen when we exercise. Sonpal said that oxygen is essential “for creating fuel while working out and is also important for muscle recovery.”
Increased oxygen flow could allow our muscles to perform more optimally, which may ultimately help increase muscle strength.
How it impacts your overall health
Muscle strength is a critical component of overall health. It helps with everyday tasks like lifting heavy objects, walking, and even getting out of bed.
“Muscle maintenance ensures that your entire system is functioning correctly and efficiently. After all, the human is one complete system, not disparate parts operating independently,” Kelley said.
Muscle strength is also crucial for joint and bone health as it helps prevent pain and injuries.
Lean muscle may facilitate weight loss and weight management. The process in which you achieve muscle strength — diet and exercise — could potentially boost cognitive health, said Kelley.
The new findings from Edith Cowan University build off previous evidence that links vegetables to heart health.
What types of leafy greens should you eat?
The researchers found that lettuce, spinach, kale, and beetroot had the greatest health effects.
Other nitrate-rich leafy greens include fennel, radishes, parsley, cabbage, and arugula.
“Supplements are great for getting your daily servings of vegetables into your diet. However, it’s always preferable to eat your veggies and leafy greens,” Sonpal said.
According to Kelley, supplements may be beneficial for people who don't like the taste of leafy greens, or people who need large doses of nutrients.
For most people, however, eating a cup of leafy greens each day is enough.
“They are often a cheaper option than adding a supplement and may provide a broader base of nutrients,” Kelley said.
The bottom line
New research has found that eating nitrate-rich leafy greens, like spinach and kale, can boost muscle function, which may ultimately help prevent falls and fractures in the future.
The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, which may help improve blood flow, in turn enhancing exercise performance.
Building overall muscle strength through diet and exercise may help people avoid falls or bone fractures in the future.