'Superfood' spinach actually gave 'Popeye the Sailor Man' his bulging muscles, suggests a new study.
The new Swedish study has suggested that after eating leafy green vegetables, a source of inorganic nitrate, healthy people showcase increased efficiency of the mitochondria that power our cells.
And the effect is so strong that it starts working in just three days.
However, the researchers aren't recommending anyone begin taking inorganic nitrate supplements based on the new findings.
"We're talking about an amount of nitrate equivalent to what is found in two or three red beets or a plate of spinach. 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," said Eddie Weitzberg of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
Weitzberg and his colleague Jon Lundberg have suggested that the increased mitochondrial efficiency is owed to lower levels of proteins that normally make the cellular powerhouses leaky.
The new results have shown that increased dietary nitrate can have a rather immediate effect. But it's not yet clear what might happen in people who consume higher levels of inorganic nitrate over longer periods of time.
As an interesting aside, Weitzberg said that the benefits of dietary nitrates suggest that powerful mouthwashes may have a downside.
"We need oral bacteria for the first step in nitrate reduction. You could block the effects of inorganic nitrate if you use a strong mouthwash or spit [instead of swallowing your saliva]. In our view, strong mouthwashes are not good if you want this system to work," he said.
The study has been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.