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March 24, 2021

Green, leafy vegetables boost muscle strength — here's how to add them to your diet

Spinach, kale and lettuce are packed with nitrates that enhance the musculoskeletal system

Healthy Eating Vegetables
Leafy vegetables benefits Karolina Grabowski/Pixabay

Leafy vegetables, like spinach, are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, folic acid and calcium which are needed for muscle function, strong teeth and bones.

It is no secret that green, leafy vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but new research says eating just one cup of these nitrate-rich foods per day can increase muscle strength.

A study conducted by Australian researchers found participants with the highest nitrate consumption — predominantly gained from vegetables — had stronger lower limbs than those who consumed the least amount of nitrates. They also had faster walking speeds. 

These improvements occurred independently of any physical activity, though the researchers emphasize the importance of regular exercise, including weight training. They found vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale and beetroot provided the greatest benefits. 

"We should be eating a variety of vegetables every day, with at least one of those (servings) being leafy greens to gain a range of positive health benefits for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system," said lead research Marc Sim, of Edith Cowan University. 

"It's also better to eat nitrate-rich vegetables as part of a healthy diet rather than taking supplements. Green leafy vegetables provide a whole range of essential vitamins and minerals critical for health." 

Leafy vegetables are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, folic acid and calcium which are needed for muscle function, strong teeth and bones. 

Leg muscle strength helps reduce risk of falls and fractures and improve general health and wellbeing. About 36 million older Americans fall each year, with 32,000 dying as a result of their injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, was based on data from 3,759 Australians who participated in Melbourne's Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute study.

It is important to note that while nitrates in processed meats like bacon and ham have been linked to increased cancer risks, natural nitrates such as potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate in vegetables have positive health effects.

Previous research also has found a link between cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and collard greens and better blood vessel health.

Not everyone, however, naturally enjoy eating vegetables. So how can people slip more into their diets? Here are some suggestions from nutrition experts:

• Blanche vegetables like kale and broccoli rabe to reduce their bitter taste.

• Drink green smoothies.

• Use noodles made from veggies and a sauce filled with greens when craving carbs.

• Snack on veggie chips instead of potato chips.

• Use vegetables as a wrap for a sandwich or add them to a soup.

• Try to eat an assortment of raw and cooked vegetables to keep tastebuds happy.

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