Did you know there’s a simple way to do something beneficial for your heart and blood vessels? Add more nitrate-rich vegetables to your diet! Doing this can be a powerful to boost the health of your body’s most important pump, your heart.
Nitrate-rich vegetables are plant-based foods that contain elevated levels of naturally occurring nitrates. When you consume these compounds, bacteria in your gut convert them to nitric oxide, a molecule that supports various physiological functions, including blood vessel dilation and improved blood flow. Some examples of nitrate-rich vegetables include:
- Lettuce (especially varieties like Romaine)
- Swiss chard
As you can see, there’s a theme here. The best sources of nitrates are leafy greens and from darkly colored ones to those with a touch of bitterness, you have lots to choose from. However, most vegetables contain some nitrates, so simply increasing the non-starchy veggies you eat will help you get the beneficial effects of nitric oxide.
Now, let’s look at why they’re so beneficial for heart health.
Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure places your heart and blood vessels at risk. When your blood pressure rises above normal, it places stress on the inner linings of your arteries. This ongoing force of blood against your arterial walls leads to microscopic damage, raising the likelihood of dangerous clots forming and obstructing the flow of blood. Can a few servings of nitrate-rich vegetables help?
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects enjoyed a significant drop in blood pressure when they consumed nitrate-rich vegetables for 14 days. The benefits were also dose-dependent – the more nitrate-rich vegetables the subjects ate, the greater the drop in blood pressure they experienced. So, isn’t it time to make a generous salad with your favorite leafy greens?
Another foe of robust blood vessels is inflammation. Similar to the impact of high blood pressure, inflammation wreaks havoc on your arteries, altering their normal functioning and subsequently elevating the chances of heart attacks and strokes. What’s more, inflammation operates discreetly, causing harm without your conscious awareness.
Can adding more leafy vegetables to your diet help? Nitrate-rich vegetables have anti-inflammatory power in every bite. When you eat them, you’re helping stamp out the fires of smoldering, low-grade inflammation. So, decorating your plate with leafy greens isn’t just adding a burst of color to your plate; they harbor a potent secret – an arsenal of anti-inflammatory properties that benefit heart health.
What does science say about the anti-inflammatory benefits of nitrate-rich vegetables? According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, nitrate-rich vegetables help lower markers of inflammation, those sneak little markers that show your body is experiencing low-grade inflammation. Less inflammation means a healthier heart and blood vessels.
Protect against oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is another type of “bad guy” that harms your heart and blood vessels. It happens when your cells produce more free radicals than they can neutralize. Those unvanquished free radicals damage cells and tissues, including your blood vessels, which can contribute to the development of heart disease.
Another perk of eating nitrate-rich vegetables is they’re an excellent source of antioxidants. These free-radical fighters help your body better fight oxidative stress. According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, beetroot juice reduces markers of oxidative stress.
Improve exercise performance
Can eating more nitrate-rich vegetables help you get more out of your workouts too? Nitrates improve the efficiency of mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells responsible for producing energy. When your mitochondria are healthy, they’re masterful energy producers that help you push through a workout.
Does science support these benefits? Yes! A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that subjects could exercise longer before fatiguing when they sipped on beetroot juice. The reason? Beetroot juice, with its intriguing burgundy shade, is one of the best sources of natural nitrates. Why did nitrates improve exercise endurance? Nitrates open up blood vessels and help improve the efficiency of mitochondria, the energy producers of cells.
Promote weight loss
Keeping your weight at a healthy level reduces inflammation and places less strain on your heart. Being low in calories, nitrate-rich vegetables may help with that. With all the fiber in veggies, you’ll stay fuller longer and avoid blood sugar spikes.
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that participants consumed fewer calories and lost more weight than those who consumed a diet low in nitrate-rich vegetables.
So, how can you incorporate more nitrate-rich vegetables into your diet? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Get a jumpstart on your veggie quote by sipping a green smoothie with nitrate-rich leafy greens.
- Add beetroot to your next smoothie, one of the best sources of nitrates. When you combine beetroot with fruits, you won’t notice the taste of beetroot.
- Add peppery arugula to your next salad to supercharge its flavor and support blood vessel health.
- What’s for dinner? How about a nitrate-rich spinach and beetroot salad? Add walnuts, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette for a delicious and heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
- Cabbage, a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, is renowned for its anti-cancer properties but it’s also a good source of nitrates.
- Store produce in a cool, dark place to reduce nutrient loss and use it within a few days. Cook lightly or eat them raw to minimize the loss of nitrates and other nutrients.
Lastly, load up your plate and salad bowl with a variety of vegetables to ensure you’re getting a broad spectrum of nutrients. While some vegetables, like beets, are a powerhouse of nitrates, others may provide different benefits, such as antioxidants or fiber, which can also support heart health.
Don’t underestimate the power of nitrate-rich veggies for heart health. They’re free radical and inflammation fighters that help lower your blood pressure and reduce damage to your arterial walls that can lead to blood clots. But don’t forget about optimizing the rest of your lifestyle either. By avoiding obesity, not smoking, avoiding heavy alcohol use, exercising, and making smarter dietary choices, you can lower your risk of death from cardiovascular disease by up to 80%
So the next time you’re at the grocery store, steer your cart toward the produce section and load up on a variety of fresh, colorful vegetables. Your heart and blood vessels will thank you!
- Jonvik KL, Nyakayiru J, Pinckaers PJ, Senden JM, van Loon LJ, Verdijk LB. Nitrate-Rich Vegetables Increase Plasma Nitrate and Nitrite Concentrations and Lower Blood Pressure in Healthy Adults. J Nutr. 2016 May;146(5):986-93. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.229807. Epub 2016 Apr 13. PMID: 27075914.
- “high nitrate diet: Topics by Science.gov”. 2023. Www.Science.Gov. science.gov/topicpages/h/high+nitrate+diet.
- Behrens CE Jr, Ahmed K, Ricart K, Linder B, Fernández J, Bertrand B, Patel RP, Fisher G. Acute beetroot juice supplementation improves exercise tolerance and cycling efficiency in adults with obesity. Physiol Rep. 2020 Oct;8(19):e14574. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14574. PMID: 33063953; PMCID: PMC7556310.