NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Spinach has long been considered nutritious, and some studies suggest the leafy green could also promote weight loss.
The dark green vegetable is used in everything from salads to fancy dishes. And health care professionals point to its many benefits.
"It’s a leafy green, and leafy greens have been shown to help decrease the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart disease and stroke, primarily. They’re also really healthy foods to eat because they have a relatively low-calorie content and a lot of nutrients in them,” said Dr. Lydia Bazzano, a nutrition expert in Tulane University’s School of Public Health, who holds both a medical degree and a PhD in epidemiology.
Spinach cells innately contain chloroplasts which include stacks of membranes called thylakoids.
"The membranes around those chloroplasts, which are a component of most green leaves, can bind with the two hormones or enzymes that come out from the pancreas when you eat fat,” said Dr. Frank Greenway, Chief Medical Officer at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
Greenway was the lead researcher for a study on the patented spinach-based supplement Appethyl, which is made of concentrated thylakoids.
"It looks green, as you would expect from a green leaf, and it smells sort of like alfalfa,” Greenway said as he held a bottle of the powdered spinach extract.
Results of the research conducted by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center appeared in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
As part of the study, a group of overweight and obese women and men from Louisiana were given the spinach extract, while others consumed a placebo.
Researchers examined the effect of taking the concentrated extract of spinach thylakoids on appetite, food intake and satiety compared to the placebo.
They found that the supplement significantly increased a feeling of fullness and reduced cravings for a period of two hours after the study’s participants had eaten a standard meal.
"And we think that this really is something that’s more effective for craving than it is probably for hunger. In other words, the craving system is also called the reward system, and it’s what allows you to eat dessert after you’ve had a big Thanksgiving meal and you know you’re not hungry, but that piece of pie still looks good to you,” stated Dr. Greenway.
Greenway said when people eat foods containing fats, the thylakoids in spinach restrain certain hormones activated by the fatty foods.
"These thylakoids, what they do is they bind the colipase and the lipase and kind of hold it in hostage for a little bit…By holding it back, it causes other hormones to go up that reduce people’s appetite,” said Greenway.
Researchers believe the concentrated spinach extract helps with weight loss.
“It’s been shown that it can cause some weight loss...like over a 90-day period there was about 5 kilograms of weight loss from the spinach. The placebo group lost about three and a half," Greenway stated.
A different study concluded that overweight women consuming five grams of the spinach extract for three months demonstrated a 43 percent greater loss of body weight compared to those who took a placebo.
Dr. Bazzano, who was not part of either study, says the health risks associated with being overweight cannot be overstated.
"You can have lots of heart disease of course, it can actually impair your breathing,” said Bazzano.
And Dr. Bazzano said it is plausible that a spinach supplement could help people feel fuller longer and contribute to weight loss.
"It absolutely does make sense that something like that could contribute to weight loss and make you feel fuller longer. There are many different systems in your body, mostly in your brain and in your gut that help control this feeling of fullness and satiety, and so having that spinach extract as they did in the study does seem like something that could absolutely affect that feeling of fullness,” Bazzano said.
But is it possible to get the same effects from just consuming raw or cooked spinach?
"Well, I don't think so because this is something where they've isolated those little membranes, and you put a certain amount of this into your water glass and stir it up and drink it. I think it would be hard to eat enough spinach to get that much,” answered Dr. Greenway.
He also said the spinach supplement is not in the same league as prescription medications, in terms of inducing weight loss.
"When you try to approve a drug for obesity, you’d like to have more than five-percent more [weight loss] than the placebo, in this case it’ll be more like three-percent,” said Dr. Greenway.