Nothing affects our health more than what we decide to eat on a daily basis. In fact, with the advancement of nutritional medicine we know that the risk of many chronic diseases can be significantly reduced by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. Most prevalent are specific nutrient deficiencies in dietary patterns, or diets that are too heavy in pro-inflammatory processed foods. We have known for many decades from nutritional epidemiological studies that diets high in fruits and vegetables are extremely good for the cardiovascular system and help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Recent prospective epidemiologic studies show that green leafy vegetables are particularly supportive for heart health, and that following a healthy diet that is rich in these vegetables help reduce the risk of heart disease and ischemic stroke risk. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) studies found that diets rich in vegetables (i.e., 8-10 servings) help to support healthy blood pressure. The blood pressure benefits of this diet are attributable to many diets high in calcium, potassium, polyphenols and fiber content and low in sodium and animal protein content. However, another nutrient, dietary nitrates, are also known to be supportive of healthy blood pressure when consumed as part of a healthy diet. The dietary nitrate content in food is utilized by the body to make nitric oxide (NO) which supports normal vasodilation, healthy blood pressure levels, and cardiovascular function.
Through our own research and others, we have tested and analyzed over 300 different foods, herbs, and spices that are capable of providing sufficient dietary nitrate that may help support healthy blood pressure levels and cardiovascular health. Through our own research, we’ve created an algorithm that predicts efficient nitrate conversion to nitric oxide. Below are the top ten functional foods that have been tested in clinical trials to help support healthy blood pressure levels:
Most of the above foods contain dietary nitrate that can be utilized to make NO. Others, including curcumin, green tea, and chocolate, contain molecules that will actually activate endogenous nitric oxide production. Garlic contains sulfur-containing molecules that are critical for NO production.
The problem with establishing new dietary guidelines for recommending a specific amount of each of the foods is that their individual nitric oxide potential depends on where, how, and what time of year they’re grown.
We published a study last year showing that celery purchased at a local grocer in Los Angeles has over 30 times the nitrate as celery purchased at the same grocer in New York. Without knowing the details on the celery growing practices, it is impossible to predict if consuming 2-3 servings will contain enough nitrate to support healthy blood pressure levels. The same issue is true with beets, kale and spinach.
So how do you know if you are consuming enough of the functional foods to support healthy blood pressure, or if the functional foods listed above have sufficient nutrients (including nitrate) to generate NO? The answer is you don’t.