Tuesday, February 1, 2011 good for you as it is for Popeye...

How spinach makes you big and strong like Popeye - and why mouthwash will undo all the benefits

Last updated at 5:08 PM on 1st February 2011
Spinach does make you big and strong but it is the nitrates not the iron that makes the impact
Spinach does make you big and strong but it is the nitrates not the iron that is responsible
Popeye's secret has been revealed - it is the nitrates and not the iron in spinach that make him strong.
The chemical, abundant in green leafy vegetables, boosts the part of the cell that provides it with energy.
A single helping of spinach is enough to increase the efficiency of mitochondria, small bean-shaped bodies which fuel cell activity and growth.
And in a surprising twist, scientists found Popeye's nemesis Pluto need only have handed him mouthwash to wipe out the vegetable's beneficial effect.
Spinach is well-known as the superfood that gave Popeye the Sailor Man his bulging muscles.
The famous cartoon character, who dates back to the 1930s, pops open a can of spinach whenever he needs to get out of trouble.
Originally it was thought that the iron content of spinach made it a power-food. Now scientists have learned that nitrates are the true energy-boosting ingredient in the vegetable.
Green leafy vegetables of all kinds are rich in the inorganic chemical which until recently was not thought to have any nutritional value.
'We're talking about an amount of nitrate equivalent to what is found in two or three red beets or a plate of spinach,' said lead researcher Professor Eddie Weitzberg, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
'We know that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can help prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but the active nutrients haven't been clear. This shows inorganic nitrate as a candidate to explain those benefits.'
Previously Professor Weitzberg and colleague Professor Jon Lundberg showed that dietary nitrate increases levels of nitric oxide in the body with the help of friendly bacteria.
Nitric oxide is an important molecule which opens up blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation.
The new research shows that nitrates make mitochondria by making them less 'leaky'. This has the effect of increasing their efficiency as biological machines.
Professor Weitzberg's findings are published today in the journal Cell Metabolism.
An odd implication of the research is that mouthwash may reduce the benefits of nitrates.
Bacteria in the mouth are needed to provide the first step in the pathway that uses nitrates to generate nitric oxide.
'In our view, strong mouthwashes are not good if you want this system to work,' said Professor Weitzberg.

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