Be a Healthier You

Posts Tagged ‘Popeye

When you think of spinach it might just conjure up the image of a pipe-smoking, can-squeezing, partially tattooed sailor with bulging biceps..

Yep, I’m talking about childhood favourite Popeye!


Myth: Spinach gives you big muscle.

Fact or Fiction: Fact.

The science: A review of existing research into the effects of a chemical compound called ‘nitrate’ on human physiology has found that spinach can indeed help to enhance muscle growth (Weitzberg & Lundberg, 2011).  This review was investigated further by the above-named scientists, as part of a research team at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Through experimentation it was observed that nitrate ‘boosts the production of two proteins key to muscle strength’ (Hernandez et al, 2012). Great news for vegetarian bodybuilders!

So, do I need to down spinach Popeye-style?

Yes and no.

Nitrate is found in large concentrations in spinach, but can also be found in beetroot, lettuce, and chard. To achieve optimal results you would need to eat a small bag of spinach, or 2-3 beetroots over the course of a day.

So how about a combination of both and just on the days when you weight train (twice per week for me)?

Not only is this great news for those on a quest to improve health and fitness, it could also mean great medical advances too!

There is potential to improve recovery rates in surgical patients, and to increase functionality in individuals with muscle weakness and muscle disorders if a nitrate-rich diet is adopted.

What was once a fun cartoon playfully extolling the virtues of this unassuming green leaf could now become an iconic part of scientific history, playing a role in medical developments and exercise physiology.

Exciting, huh?

Here’s hoping this great research continues, and that real potential for improving conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and muscle atrophy is identified.


Weitzberg, E. & Lundberg, J.O. (2011) Dietary nitrate – a slow train coming. Journal of Physiology, V.589, Nov, pp.5333-5334.

Hernández, A., Schiffer, T.A.,  Ivarsson, N., Cheng, A.J., Bruton, J.D., Lundberg, J.O., Weitzberg, E. & Westerblad, H. (2012) Dietary nitrate increases tetanic [Ca2+]i and contractile force in mouse fast-twitch muscle. Journal of Physiology,V.590, I15, Aug, pp.3575–3583.

TOMORROW: Do bread crusts really make your hair curl?

Portrait of girl with curly hair

So, we’ve all come across ‘food myths’ at least once in our lives. Old wives’ tales our grannies, aunts, mums or dads told us as we were growing up that go back generations. Little sayings we are sure are unlikely to be true, but that we just can’t seem to let go of.

Well, I’m here to burst your bubble… Or am I?

Over the coming months I will be taking apart some of the most highly-touted food myths I have been subjected to throughout my life. Myths that I confronted head-on in my studies as a budding Public Health Nutritionist, and a couple of others that didn’t quite fit the curriculum!

Surely everyone is familiar with the old ‘carrots help you see in the dark’ speech from your parents as you were pushing veggies around your plate at five years old. What about ‘if you eat your spinach you’ll have muscles like Popeye’? Mum, who do you think you are kidding? But wait, I have seen him down a can of the green stuff and then BAM he looks like a balding Hulk Hogan! And as for ‘bread crusts make your hair curly’ – who said I even want curly hair? (okay maybe I do, I just don’t want to eat the crusts, okay?). You get the picture.

So, without further ado onto today’s myth…

Carrots on display at local greengrocer

Carrots on display at local greengrocer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Myth: Carrots help you see in the dark.

Fact or Fiction: Almost FACT.

There is some scientific basis to this statement, read on..

History of the myth: The myth is believed to have originated in WWII when RAF pilots were fed large quantities of carrots. There was an excess harvest of carrots in Britain at that time, and in a bid to promote carrots to the British public the government attributed the RAF’s flying skills to the high beta-carotene content of carrots.

The science: The β-carotene (beta-carotene) compound found in carrots is turned into Vitamin A within the body. Vitamin A has three main functions for health: 1) immunity; 2) vision; and 3) healthy skin linings.

So, let’s address point 2 a little more. The retina of the eye works with a protein called opsin to produce rhodopsin, a light-absorbing molecule required for dim/low-light vision, and colour vision. Vitamin A contains retinal, an essential component of rhodopsin forming-process. Thus, we can see that carrots do indeed contribute to vision in dimly lit areas though it would be a stretch to claim that they provide humans with night-vision!


Try my super healthy coleslaw recipe to get more vitamin A into your diet!

Or try juicing some with oranges and apples for a delicious breakfast drink!

A little more on Vitamin A…

This wonderful vitamin can also be found in liver, sweet potato, cod liver oil, and Cheddar cheese, as well as many fruits and vegetables.

It is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that if you eat more than your body needs it can be stored away for later. So don’t panic, there’s no need to go out and buy a kilo of carrots every day!!

Caution: Whilst rare, excessive intakes of Vitamin A have been recorded in individuals who regularly consume liver or liver pâté (more than once a week) and do not achieve Vitamin D requirements. Excess Vitamin A can lead to weak and easily fractured bones in later life. To top up your Vitamin D stores try to expose your face and arms to the sun for 20 minutes per day in the summer months (be sure to use sunscreen). Children, the elderly, and individuals with darker skin are the groups least likely to meet Vitamin D requirements and should include eggs, fish, and fortified cereals and spreads/ margarines in their diet where possible.  

See your doctor if you have any concerns about your Vitamin A intake.

Have any food follies you would like me to investigate? Comment below and you may be featured!!!

NEXT TIME: Spinach makes you big and strong – FACT or FICTION?

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