A new study shows that consuming just one cup of raw vegetables, like leafy greens like spinach, every day boosts your cardiovascular health.
In a sample of over 50,000 people, the biggest eaters of nitrate-rich vegetables had lower blood pressure and up to a 26 percent lower risk of heart disease, according to experts.
Just one cup is considered a “moderate” intake by researchers and should be an achievable goal even for people who don’t like their greens.
Food nitrates – found in green leafy vegetables and particularly rich in beets – are converted into nitric oxide by bacteria in the oral cavity and stomach.
It is already known that nitric oxide, a gas naturally produced by the body and carried in the blood, helps the blood vessels expand and thereby lowers blood pressure.
The new study found that by consuming just one cup of nitrate-rich vegetables every day, people can lower their risk of heart disease
VEGETABLES RICH IN NITRATES
– Leafy vegetables: kale, rocket, Swiss chard, spinach.
– Chinese cabbage
High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) such as coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
“Our results showed that by consuming one cup of raw (or half a cup of cooked) nitrate-rich vegetables every day, people can significantly lower their risk of cardiovascular disease,” said study author Dr. Catherine Bondonno from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia.
Interestingly, there did not seem to be any additional health benefits from eating more than the optimal amount (one cup per day).
“People don’t need to take supplements to increase their nitrate levels, as the study showed that one cup of leafy green vegetables per day is enough to get the heart disease benefits,” said Dr. Bondonno.
“We didn’t see any other benefits in people who ate more nitrate-rich vegetables.”
MEASURING BLOOD PRESSURE
Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which the heart pumps blood around the body. With every pulse it rises and falls in a cycle.
It is measured in units of millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and the reading is always given as two numbers – systolic pressure (the pressure when the heart pushes blood out) and diastolic pressure (the pressure when the heart rests between beats).
The systolic value represents the maximum blood pressure and the diastolic value is the minimum blood pressure.
High systolic blood pressure in one arm alone indicates high blood pressure.
For those who find it hard to eat vegetables because they don’t like the taste, scientists say smoothies are fine.
Hacks like a cup of spinach in a banana or a berry smoothie could, according to Dr. Bondonno can be an easy way to increase your intake of nitrate-rich vegetables.
“Mixing leafy vegetables is fine, but don’t juicing – juicing vegetables removes the pulp and fiber,” she said.
For the study, the researchers looked at food intake and blood pressure data from over 53,150 people living in Denmark who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study over a period of 23 years.
During the 23-year follow-up period, 14,088 cases of CVD incidents were recorded.
The researchers found that people who consumed the vegetables richest in nitrates had about 2.5 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure and a 12 to 26 percent lower risk of heart disease.
“The greatest reduction in risk was seen with peripheral artery disease (26 percent), a type of heart disease characterized by narrowing of the blood vessels in the legs,” said Dr. Bondonno.
“However, we also found that people are at lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.”
Participants with the highest intake of vegetable nitrate tended to be female, had a slightly lower body mass index (BMI), were more physically active, never smoked, and had a higher level of education and income.
Those with high vegetable nitrate intake tended to consume more fish, vegetables, fruits, fiber, flavonoids, and less processed meat than those with low vegetable nitrate intake.
The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, adds to the growing understanding that vegetables in general, and leafy greens in particular, are linked to improved cardiovascular health and muscle strength.
Adding leafy greens to your breakfast smoothies could be a useful “hack” to reap the health benefits
In March of this year, researchers at Edith Cowan University reported that one cup of leafy green vegetables per day helps increase muscle function.
The team examined data from 3,759 participants enrolled over a 12-year period, including details of their diet, lower limb strength, and walking speed.
Their analysis found that people with the highest regular nitrate consumption had 11 percent stronger lower limbs and four percent faster walking speeds than those with the lowest nitrate intake.
“We know from previous research that nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it dilates your blood vessels and potentially allows more blood flow to your muscles,” said study author Dr. Marc Sim at the time.
NITRATES IN ROOT VEG AND LEAFY GREENS HELP LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE
When asked what nitric oxide gas is, many people might suggest it was “hippie crack,” the legal high that has gotten so many Premier League footballers into trouble.
In fact, it’s laughing gas. However, thanks to some recent and dramatic discoveries, nitric oxide could soon become much more popular – for its many health benefits, rather than any dangers.
It is already known that nitric oxide, a gas naturally produced by the body and found in the blood, causes your blood vessels to expand, thereby lowering blood pressure.
This is why beetroot in particular is so good for blood pressure – the body converts the nitrites in these vegetables into nitric oxide.
Researchers have since found that nitric oxide does a lot more, including helping you sleep and fighting off infection.
And it turns out that we have vast, completely unexpected stores of it under our skin, and our blood cells don’t function properly without them.
Increasing our nitric oxide levels from eating more vegetables like celery or getting more exercise could help prevent diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Until a few years ago, nobody knew that blood cells even carried nitric oxide.
Now we realize that it plays an important role in making sure cells get the oxygen they need, according to research at Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, USA in 2015.
“Cardiologists have always believed that if there was a normal amount of oxygen in your blood, the gas would get into cells automatically,” Jonathan Stamler, lead researcher and professor of medicine, told Good Health. “Now it looks like this is wrong.
“We have found that the oxygen contained in blood cells can only be released into the body cells if it is supplied with nitric oxide.
“When you put red blood cells and blood vessels together in the lab, the blood vessels close.
‘We finally found out that the cells lack nitric oxide. It was lost when you took the blood cells out of the body. ‘
A lack of gas can lead to problems generally associated with poor blood circulation, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, damage to the kidneys, and poor blood circulation in the legs.
The discovery also made Professor Stamler aware of a problem with transfusions. ‘
Stored blood is losing its nitric oxide, which means that transfusions generally don’t provide the oxygen cells may need urgently, ”he said.
“Transfusions help when there is massive blood loss, but in most cases there is only modest blood loss.
“Cardiologists have long been confused about how patients can have enough oxygen in their blood, but their cells lack it.
“Now we have the answer.”