People who wish to look after their heart health are aware that regularly eating vegetables is key.
A new study from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Joondalup, WA, in Australia finds that leafy greens and other vegetables high in nitrates in particular confer significant cardiovascular benefits.
Researchers found that daily consumption of a cup of vegetables rich in nitrates is associated with better heart health.
“Our results have shown that, by simply eating 1 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.”
– lead author Dr. Catherine Bondonno from ECU’s Institute for Nutrition Research
Green leafy vegetables high in nitrates includeTrusted Source spinach, lettuce, arugula (also known as rocket), Chinese cabbage, and parsley. Non-leafy vegetables with strong nitrate content include radishes, fennel, and beet.
The researchers estimate that cooking reduces a vegetable’s nitrate content by about 50%, but that is still enough to promote heart health.
Dr. Bondonno said, “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,” she added, “we also found people had a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.”
The authors note that their findings are consistent with four earlier studies.
Worldwide, roughly 17.9 millionTrusted Source people die of heart disease each year. In the United States, it is the leading cause of death for “men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source.
About 655,000 people in the U.S. die of heart disease every year — one out of every four deaths in the country.
The study appears in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
A long-term study
The researchers analyzed 23 years of data for 56,468 residents of Denmark who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study. All individuals filled out a food frequency questionnaire, and the resulting data was cross-referenced against public health records.
Analysis revealed that people in the highest fifth of intake of vegetable nitrates exhibited a 2.58 mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury, lower systolic blood pressure — which is the first value in a blood pressure reading — compared with those in the lowest intake group (after adjustments for possible confounding differences between the groups).
The higher the nitrate intake, the greater the fall in blood pressure. The top intake group ate an average of 141 milligrams (mg) of nitrate per day. This is equivalent to 2–2.5 cups of leafy vegetables daily.
In contrast, the impact of nitrate intake on hospitalizations across all types of cardiovascular disease (CVD) plateaued at 59 mg per day. It did not increase with further nitrate intake.
Overall, there was a 15% reduction in CVD admissions over the 23 years of follow-up, compared with those with the lowest nitrate intake, which was 23 gm per day. The greatest reduction in risk — at 26% — was seen in hospitalizations for peripheral artery disease.
Speaking to Medical News Today, Dr. Edo Paz of K Health, who was not involved in the research, said he considers the study significant due to its large sample size and lengthy follow-up period.
“However,” he noted, “this is an observational study, and there are some key limitations as a result.” He explained: