Try eating this to strengthen your muscles

Try eating this to strengthen your muscles

Your mom was right. Eating your vegetables is good for you, and there’s more scientific evidence of another reason why: regularly consuming vegetables could be an effective way to promote muscle strength.

A research trial looked at whether a higher habitual dietary intake of nitrate – predominantly from eating vegetables – is associated with better muscle function.

In the study, more than 3,750 men and women were assessed over 12 years. Information about what they ate was obtained from a food-frequency questionnaire to calculate nitrate intake. Their physical activity was also recorded via a questionnaire. To measure their muscle function, the researchers used knee extension strength and the 8-ft-timed-up-and-go (TUG) test. In this timed test, the participant begins fully seated and on “go,” stands and walks as quickly as possible around a cone 8 feet away and then back to sitting.

On average, the study participants derived about 80% of their nitrate intake from eating vegetables. The test results showed that those individuals with the highest nitrate intake – those who regularly ate more vegetables – had 11% stronger knee extension strength and 4% faster TUG times than those with the lowest nitrate intake.  And interestingly, the participants’ physical activity didn’t affect the relationship between nitrate intake and muscle function.

You may have heard to stay away from nitrates in food, but this general statement is a little misguided. There’s a big difference between naturally occurring and synthetic nitrates.

“Synthetic nitrates and nitrites such as sodium nitrate are added as preservatives to processed foods like bacon and hot dogs,” Dr. Omuwa Braimah at Aurora Health Center in West Bend, Wis., explains. “Your body breaks down these synthetic compounds into nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer. However, the nitrates naturally found in vegetables and fruits are handled differently. Your body converts these into nitrites and nitric oxide, which are beneficial for your heart and vascular health, as well as your immune system and muscle performance.”

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and lettuce are particularly rich in nitrates. And so are celery, Chinese cabbage, leeks and onions.

“Make a plan to include more vegetables throughout your day,” said Dr. Braimah. “Look for healthy ideas and recipes for both your meals and snacks.”

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One Comment

  1. Beverly Morgan June 3, 2021 at 11:28 am · Reply

    QQ – don’t beets also contain a good amount of nitrates?

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About the Author

Mary Arens
Mary Arens

Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.