Scientists found a new perk to eating spinach

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:15 p.m. ET
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Hedonic hunger — a fancy term that describes those crazy-intense cravings for junk food — is the downfall of many a dieter. Most of us know what we should be eating and what foods make us feel happiest and healthiest. And yet, even the woman who has so much willpower that it might be a superpower has succumbed on occasion to the siren call of ice cream (or cake or candy or chips — pick your poison). Getting our bodies in line with our minds has been a question for the ages, and not just about food.

But, a recent study has found a new supplement that reduced cravings by 95 percent, helping women to stick to their diet plans. OK, so it's not technically "new," but rather a new use for something you likely have sitting in your refrigerator right now: spinach. Now the almighty green can add another accolade to its long list of health benefits: cravings crusher.

For three months, researchers followed 38 overweight women. The women were given a green drink every morning with half containing a spinach extract and the other half being a placebo. The only other instructions they had was to "eat a balanced diet, including three meals a day and not to go on any other diet."

Charlotte Erlanson-Albertsson, lead author of the study, reported that the control group lost an average of 3.5 kilograms, while the group that was given thylakoids lost 5 kilograms. "The thylakoid group also found that it was easier to stick to three meals a day — and they did not experience any cravings," she added.

The scientists chalk up the impressive results to the thylakoids found naturally in spinach and concentrated in the extract used in the smoothies. Thylakoids, a natural part of green plants, were thought to extend digestion, producing a feeling of satiety. "This means that we are able to stick to the diet we are meant for without snacks and unnecessary foods like sweets, crisps and such," Charlotte explained. She added that it may have also worked by helping the women feel the difference between hedonic cravings and true hunger.

Whether it really works like this or not (this is only one small, not replicated study, after all), if it gets you to throw a handful of spinach into your morning smoothie, it's probably a good thing anyhow. Spinach definitely falls into the category of "can't hurt and will probably help." While the researchers used an extract in the study, whole spinach still contains thylakoids, is cheaper, easier to find and looks way prettier in a salad.

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