Popeye the Sailorman is a character in a US cartoon strip and cartoon films. Popeye is a sailor who smokes a pipe, and when he eats cans of spinach, his muscles immediately grow much bigger and he becomes very strong. When Popeye underwent a muscle-busting transformation whenever he scented a whiff of spinach most people laughed at the artistic license, but it looks like the effect was based on fact, not fiction. A team at Rutgers University led by Ilya Raskin has found that spinach contains steroid-like compounds that boost the growth of muscle cells.
Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the team explain how they extracted chemicals called phytoecdysteroids from the plant and then treated muscle cells in the dish and even live rats with them. The muscle cells speeded up their growth by about 20%, and the rats became stronger.
Although a human would have to eat over a kilo of spinach each day to obtain enough of the chemical to achieve any kind of body-building effect, these plant-steroids are exciting for another reason: they seem to be able to exert their growth-promoting effects but without binding to the chemical docking stations normally exploited by anabolic steroids. This means that they could be able to achieve beneficial effects in the body but without the side effects associated with anabolic steroid use - including voice changes, acne, hairiness, mood disturbances and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Spinach isn't probably going to make you as strong as Popeye, but it does contain important vitamins and antioxidants that are beneficial to the body During studies during the 40s or 50s people discovered that spinach was significantly more rich in iron than any other vegetable, and from then on, the "Eat your spinach!!!" cliche was used. Little did they realize that there was actually a misplaced decimal point in the data, making the spinach seem more iron rich than it really was. That aside, spinach IS an iron rich food, but not nearly as much as people have seemed to think all this time.