The nutrient-dense vegetable seems humble enough, but it’s versatility—as the base of salads, a smoothie add-in, or superfood side dish—and loaded list of health benefits make it a standout. While it may not pack on instantaneous slabs of muscle or Hurculean strength, it will make a marked improvement in your overall health and fitness. But perhaps more interesting are a couple of super-weird facts about spinach we’re betting you’ve never heard. (Just skip to #5 if your curiosity is piqued.)
It can reduce hunger and cravings
Spinach isn’t just an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K—it may also reduce hunger and cravings, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. It found that compounds in the photosynthesis cells of spinach promote the release of satiety hormones. Now we know why Popeye wasn’t fat…
It can make workouts easier
Preliminary research published in Cell Press found spinach might make your muscles more efficient during a workout. In the study, participants who took a small dose of inorganic nitrate—an amount equivalent to what’s found in a plate of spinach—for three days consumed less oxygen while riding an exercise bike. That improved performance is thanks to the increased efficiency of mitochondria, which power our body’s cells.
It can prevent cancer
In an Oregon State University study, researchers discovered cooked meat can produce a cancer-causing carcinogen, which can damage microRNA in the human body. But unlike DNA, which is permanently damaged when mutations alter it, microRNA can be restored to normal cell function via healthy lifestyle choices and diet. This is where our leafy superfood comes into play. Spinach consumption can partially offset the damaging effects of cancer-causing carcinogens. In the study, spinach consumption nearly halved the incidence of colon tumors—from 58 percent to 32 percent—in laboratory animals.
It can hold on to bacteria
Unfortunately, because bacteria like to hang out in the nooks and crannies of its leaves, spinach is also one of the most common causes of food-related illness: Leafy greens like spinach lead the list with more than 2.1 million people getting sick from them in a recent 10-year period. But, not to worry: University of California, Davis has just developed a new titanium-based antioxidant cleaner that promises to kill 99 percent of the nasty bugs, which are hard to get rid of even with detergent-based vegetable cleaners, according to a press release.
It can neutralize explosives
You read that right. This research dates back to the late 90s and, if you were a 90s baby (or loved Looney Tunes cartoons), seems fitting in a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner skit: Spinach enzymes neutralize explosives. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory study found nitroreductase enzymes, naturally found in spinach, can eat, digest, and transform explosives such as TNT. The enzymes have a reactivity effect, which degrades explosives, turning them to low toxicity byproducts that can be reduced further to harmless products like carbon dioxide and water. Don’t try it for yourself, though. We haven’t seen any new research indicating spinach’s involvement neutralizing TNT.