Vegetable rich diets have long been known to keep your heart happy. The cardiovascular benefits of vegetables are in part due to the nitrate content of these vegetables. If you are wondering which veggies have the highest content of nitrate there are two groups: VERY HIGH and HIGH. VERY HIGH vegetables are: red beetroot, spinach, arugula, celery, green leafy lettuces. HIGH vegetables are: Fennel, leeks, parsley, kohlrabi, and Chinese cabbage.
Dietary nitrate has been shown to lower blood pressure, thereby offering a protective quality to the heart and it’s vessels. Nitrate or NO3 is converted to NO2 or nitrite and then to nitric oxide NO. You may be surprised to find out that 85% of nitrate in the diet comes from vegetables and 15% comes from drinking water.
There have been multiple studies, one even done by my husband’s alma mater KSU(go Wildcats), that have shown overwhelmingly that consumption of nitrate rich foods can increase oxygen delivery to your cells with less required energy.
For you scienceY people : MORE NITRATE = LESS ATP to produce the same amount of work.
Another supposed mechanism is simply an increased blood flow better matching the blood flow and oxygen uptake.
Some studies have shown 10% increase in oxygenation. That could be the difference between being wheelchair bound and not, or 40 seconds of time shed from a long distance biking race. Beetroot juice has also been shown to increase oxygenation in patients with peripheral artery disease.
The fast-twitch muscles of athletes are greatly benefited from increases in blood flow supporting explosive movements. That’s right football players, bikers, sprinters, and cornhole players – drink that beetroot juice!
If high blood pressure is your problem, one study showed .5 L of organic beet juice caused 10.4 mm Hg lower systolic and 8 mm Hg lower diastolic blood pressure readings.
So what is the take home? If you want to improve your athletic performance, consider beetroot juice as a pre-workout juice (try at least an hour and a half prior to your workout). If you want to improve your heart health, focus on beetroot juice, arugula, spinach, and celery.
If you are taking coumadin (warfarin) consult your physician if you start eating more green leafy vegetables.
Webb AJ, Patel N, Loukogeorgakis S, et al. Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Hypertension. 2008;51(3):784-790
Lidder S, Webb AJ. Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate-nitritenitric oxide pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013:75(3):677-696.
Lansley KE, Winyard PG, Bailey SJ, et al. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(6):1125-1131.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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