Eating just one cup of raw vegetables, such as leafy greens like spinach, daily promotes your cardiovascular health, a new study reveals.
In a sample of more than 50,000 people, the biggest eaters of nitrate-rich vegetables had lower blood pressure and up to 26 percent less risk of heart disease, experts found.
Just one cup is what the researchers call a ‘moderate’ intake, and should be an attainable goal even for people who don’t like their vegetables.
Dietary nitrates – found in leafy green vegetables and especially rich in beets – are converted into nitric oxide by bacteria in the oral cavity and stomach.
Nitric oxide, a gas naturally produced by the body and carried in the blood, is already known to help dilate blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
The new research found that people can reduce their risk of heart disease by eating just one cup of nitrate-rich vegetables each day
NITRATE RICH VEGETABLES
– Leafy greens: kale, arugula, chard, spinach.
– Chinese cabbage
High blood pressure – also called hypertension – is one of the main risk factors of cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, with approximately 17.9 million lives annually.
“Our results have shown that simply by eating a cup of raw (or half a cup of cooked) nitrate-rich vegetables every day, people can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said study author Dr. Catherine Bondonno of Edith. Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia.
Interestingly, there did not appear 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 because the study found that one cup of green, leafy vegetables a day is enough to reap the benefits of heart disease,” said Dr. Bondonno.
“We saw no further benefits in people who ate more nitrate-rich vegetables.”
HOW TO MEASURE BLOOD PRESSURE
Blood pressure is a measure of the force the heart uses to pump blood around the body, and it rises and falls in a cycle with each heartbeat.
It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and the reading is always given as two numbers: systolic pressure (the pressure when the heart is pushing blood out) and diastolic pressure (the pressure when the heart is resting between beats).
The systolic reading is the maximum blood pressure and the diastolic reading is the minimum blood pressure.
High systolic blood pressure in one arm indicates hypertension.
For those who find it hard to eat vegetables because they don’t like the taste, the scientists say smoothies are okay.
Hacks like including a cup of spinach in a banana or berry smoothie can be an easy way to boost our intake of nitrate-rich vegetables, according to Dr. Bondonno.
“Blending leafy greens is fine, but don’t juice it – squeezing vegetables removes the pulp and fiber,” she said.
For the study, researchers examined the nutritional intake and blood pressure data of more than 53,150 people who lived in Denmark and participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study over a 23-year period.
During the 23-year follow-up, 14,088 cases of incident CVD were registered.
Researchers found that people who consumed the most nitrate-rich vegetables had about 2.5 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure and between 12 and 26 percent less risk of heart disease.
“The greatest reduction in risk was for peripheral artery disease (26 percent), a type of heart disease characterized by the narrowing of the blood vessels of the legs,” said Dr. Bondonno.
“However, we also found that people had a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.”
Participants with the highest intake of vegetable nitrate were more often female, have a slightly lower body mass index (BMI), are more physically active, have never smoked and have a higher education and income.
Those with high vegetable nitrate intakes also tended to consume more fish, vegetables, fruits, fiber, flavonoids and less processed meat than those with low vegetable nitrate intakes.
The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, adds to the growing evidence that links vegetables in general and leafy vegetables in particular to improved cardiovascular health and muscle strength.
Adding some leafy greens to your breakfast smoothies can be a handy ‘hack’ to reap the health benefits
In March of this year, researchers at Edith Cowan University reported that one cup of leafy green vegetables a day stimulates muscle function.
The team examined data from 3,759 participants, taken over a 12-year period, including details about their diet, their lower limb strength, and walking speeds.
Their analysis found that people with the highest regular nitrate intake 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 widens your blood vessels, potentially allowing greater blood flow to your muscles,” said study author Dr. Marc Sim at the time.
NITRATES IN ROOT VEGETABLES AND LEAVES HELP REDUCE BLOOD PRESSURE
When asked what nitric oxide gas is, many people might suggest that it is ‘hippie crack’, the legal high that has gotten so many Premier League footballers in trouble.
In fact, that is laughing gas. But thanks to some recent and dramatic discoveries, nitric oxide could soon become much more famous – for its many health benefits rather than its dangers.
Nitric oxide, a gas naturally produced by the body and transported in the blood, is already known to cause your blood vessels to expand, lowering blood pressure.
That’s why beetroot is especially good for blood pressure – the body converts the nitrites in this vegetable into nitric oxide.
Researchers have since discovered that nitric oxide does a lot more, including helping you sleep and fighting infections.
And it turns out that we have large, totally unexpected stores of it under our skin, and our blood cells don’t work properly without them.
Increasing our nitric oxide levels by eating more vegetables, such as celery, or exercising more, can help prevent diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Until a few years ago, no one knew that blood cells even carried nitric oxide.
Now we realize that it plays a critical role in ensuring that cells get the oxygen they need, according to a 2015 study at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, USA.
“Cardiologists have always assumed that if your blood carries a normal amount of oxygen, the gas automatically gets into the cells,” Jonathan Stamler, the lead investigator and professor of medicine, told Good Health. Now it seems that was wrong.
What we have found is that the oxygen carried by the blood cells cannot be released into the body cells unless it comes with nitric oxide.
‘When you bring red blood cells and blood vessels together in the lab, the blood vessels close.
‘We eventually found out that the cells did not have nitric oxide. It was lost when you removed the blood cells from the body. ‘
A lack of gas can cause problems generally related to poor blood flow, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, and poor circulation in the legs.
But the discovery also alerted Professor Stamler to a problem with transfusions. ‘
Stored blood loses its nitric oxide, which means that transfusions generally don’t provide the oxygen cells desperately need, ”he said.
‘Transfusions do help with massive blood loss, but in most cases there is only modest blood loss.
Cardiologists have long wondered how patients can have enough oxygen in the blood, but not it in the cells.
“Now we have the answer.”