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Eat Spinach, Lose Weight?

New research from Sweden suggests that a spinach extract may curb cravings.

As anyone who’s ever attended any of my workshops knows, I’m usually skeptical of “all natural” supplements for weight loss. Despite endorsements from famous television doctors (you know who), most of the supplements provide no evidence that they are at all beneficial, and a few “all natural” supplements have proven harmful.

Maybe I need to make an exception for a spinach-based supplement. I’m writing this from The Obesity Society meeting in Boston. It’s the annual meeting of researchers, physicians, and other health professionals working with obesity. I’ve attended a presentation describing Appethyl, a powdered spinach extract. This supplement, developed in Sweden, uses thylakoids which is a spinach extract to decrease cravings for sweets and other highly tempting foods while increasing satiety (the feeling of being full).

One study of 38 overweight women, conducted at Lund University in Sweden, had half of them drink a mixture that had five grams of the spinach extract before breakfast every morning for three months. The other half were given a placebo drink. Both groups were instructed to eat three meals but weren’t given any diet to follow. The women who drank the spinach extract lost 11 pounds which was significantly more than the placebo group. They also reported that it was easier to limit their eating to three meals per day because they didn’t experience cravings.

Another Swedish study found that subjects reported a 25 percent reduction in hunger and less thinking about food for four hours after drinking the spinach preparation. The researchers suggested that our modern processed foods are broken down so quickly after we eat them that the hormones in the stomach don’t have sufficient time to send signals to the brain that we’ve had enough to eat. They speculate that the spinach extract slows the digestion process so that the intestinal and stomach hormones can signal the brain that it’s time to stop eating.

While the weight loss with the spinach extract was significantly better than with the placebo drink, it was still modest (11 pounds) and there were no reports of the long-term effects on eating and body weight. What may be more important than the weight loss is the decrease in cravings and hunger. If these findings hold up in future studies, the spinach extract might prove useful when added to a reasonable diet since many dieters report that cravings have been the downfall of their weight loss attempts.

Spinach is a healthy, low calorie food so eating more isn’t a bad idea, but don’t expect to get the beneficial effects reported in this research. You’d need to eat a huge amount of spinach and really chew it to get results similar to the spinach extract used in these studies. Even Popeye would have a hard time doing that.