Eating Green Leafy Vegetables May Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk

In the Danish prospective cohort study, Bondonno et al. observed an inverse association between vegetable nitrate intakes, up to 60 mg/day, and hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases; more specifically, moderate to high nitrate intakes were associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, peripheral artery disease, and atrial fibrillation; a higher vegetable nitrate intake was also associated with a lower baseline systolic blood pressure and diastolic pressure; the results suggest that ensuring the consumption of nitrate-rich vegetables, corresponding to one cup of green leafy vegetables, may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Image credit: Ilona F.

Identifying evidence-based strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease is a global research priority,” said Dr. Catherine Bondonno from the Institute for Nutrition Research at Edith Cowan University and her colleagues. An important strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease risk is to identify optimal diets and their cardioprotective components. One such potentially cardioprotective component is dietary inorganic nitrate, an exogenous source of nitric oxide.

The primary aim of our study was to investigate the association between vegetable nitrate intake and incident cardiovascular diseases in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study (DDCH) cohort, they noted. Vegetable nitrate was the focus as approximately 80% of total dietary nitrate intake comes from consumption of vegetables. The researchers examined data from 53,150 Danish participants (aged 52-60) of the DDCH study.

They found that people who consumed the most nitrate-rich vegetables had about a 2.5 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure and between 12 to 26% lower risk of heart disease. Our results have shown that by simply eating one cup of raw (or half a cup of cooked) nitrate-rich vegetables each day, people may be able to significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. The greatest reduction in risk was for peripheral artery disease (26%), a type of heart disease characterized by the narrowing of blood vessels of the legs, however we also found people had a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.

The scientists also found that the optimum amount of nitrate-rich vegetables was one cup a day and eating more than that didn’t seem to give any additional benefits. People don’t need to be taking supplements to boost their nitrate levels because the study showed that one cup of leafy green vegetables each day is enough to reap the benefits for heart disease.

We did not see further benefits in people who ate higher levels of nitrate rich vegetables. Hacks such as including a cup of spinach in a banana or berry smoothie might be an easy way to top up our daily leafy greens. Blending leafy greens is fine, but don’t juice them. Juicing vegetables removes the pulp and fiber. The results were published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

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