Will Eating Spinach Like Popeye Really Make You Stronger?

Ever since the release of the popular cartoon Popeye The Sailor Man, people have been obsessed by the idea of getting stronger by eating spinach. Parents will even try and convince their children to eat the green leafy vegetable by telling them all about Popeye.

Girl Eating Spinach

Credits:Sonja Foos/Shutterstock

Is there any truth to this cartoon-derived idea though? Could eating spinach really make one stronger?

How It All Started

You might find this hard to believe, but the entire reason that Popeye uses spinach to get strong is because a scientist made a simple math error! As it turns out, German chemist Erich von Wolf set out to estimate the iron content in spinach in 1870, but when writing down the result, he stated that spinach had 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, instead of the accurate content of 3.5 milligrams. This is a big difference, of course, and is the reason that spinach began to be revered as the vegetable that could make going to the gym unnecessary!

Boy drinking Spinach Juice

Credits:Johan Larson/Shutterstock

It was only 70 years later, in 1937, that this mistake was finally noticed and corrected.

So, does the above blunder mean that spinach doesn’t affect your strength?

Will Spinach Make You Stronger?

Despite the mathematical error, spinach DOES have a positive effect on your muscles. Until now, though, this was thought to be due to the iron content of the vegetable. However, recent research by scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm says otherwise.

Their new evidence suggests that it’s actually the nitrates found in spinach that make muscles stronger.


Nitrate formula


Nitrate structure

You should note that nitrate could be harmful in high quantities, but the nitrate that we actually get from our diet (80% of which is from vegetables like spinach) is of a safe quantity and is beneficial to our health.

How Does Nitrate Do This?

Whenever we make a movement in our body, like flexing our arms, our muscles contract and relax. This contraction of muscles is dependent on the level of calcium in the muscles. Nitrate increases muscle contraction by increasing the concentration of two critical proteins that are responsible for calcium levels in the muscle. Therefore, as nitrate levels increase, the levels of these two proteins increase, as does the calcium in the muscle, enabling greater muscle contraction.

Essentially, you get stronger.

This increase in strength is said to be mainly useful for high-intensity exercises, but there is also the possibility that this process could strengthen weak muscles, helping people with muscle weakness and muscle diseases.

So, while spinach isn’t going to make you instantly and easily grow muscles like Popeye does in the cartoon, it will enable your muscles to contract better and increase your strength.


  1. Business Insider
  2. Karolinska Institutet
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information
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About the Author

Brendan has a Bachelors of Science degree in Biotechnology from Mumbai University (India). He likes superheroes, and swears loyalty to members of the Justice League. He likes to take part in discussions regarding the human body, and when he is not doing that, he is generally reading superhero trivia.

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