Popeye – should he have eaten a hamburger today instead of his spinach on Tuesday?
We know the cartoon character. Popeye claimed to be strong to the finish because he ate his spinach. Now new research suggests that Wimpy may have been better off by “gladly paying you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
It is true that spinach was originally thought to be a great source of iron. And we know that when people are low in iron, they can tire quickly. But this finding was based on an 1870 reporting error. A decimal point was not used and 35 mg was published instead of 3.5 mg of iron in a serving of spinach. This error was discovered and corrected in 1937 – but this was years after Popeye first appeared in 1929 and spinach became widely associated as his source of strength.
Thanks to more reliable and modern research methods, we have a better understanding of which diet choices to make for muscle strength. In one recent study, researchers followed a group of 100 women between the ages of 60 – 90 years. Everyone in the study did resistance training twice a week. Half of them ate a diet higher in protein. The other half ate a diet higher in carbohydrates. At the end of the study, both groups did the same amount of exercise over the 4 months. However, those who ate the higher protein diet gained an extra pound of lean muscle mass. When their leg strength was measured, this extra pound of muscle allowed them to lift more weight than the group on the higher carbohydrate diet.
As with any dietary change, if you have health issues, you should discuss your options with your doctor. If your diet needs to be adjusted, ask to meet with a dietitian. They can help you identify which sources of protein are best for you and how much to eat. While red meats are high in protein, they should be limited. Instead legumes, tofu, dairy products, poultry and fish are healthier protein choices to consider.
-Cathy Mulloly, Diabetes and Exercise Consultant at Dedham Health