Eating This Vegetable Can Reduce Heart Disease Risk, Says New Research

Updated: May 29, 2024

From your belly to your heart, a global team of dietetics researchers just made your trip through the produce section a little simpler.

Cardiovascular disease remains one of the leading causes of death globally, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that this condition accounts for almost 18 million deaths each year. This represents 31% of all fatalities.

This staggering statistic underscores just how important effective prevention strategies can be, with lifestyle factors you can control such as physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and particularly diet all influencing your risk of heart disease.

While you probably know the basics of a healthy diet—whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and of course, fruits and veggies—you might not realize that certain health foods can offer greater benefits than others. For example, new research suggests vegetables rich in one particular nutrient can be especially protective for your heart.

Researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia published a May 2024 systematic review in the journal Nutrients, which included five observational studies with a total of 63,155 participants. Their goal was to analyze the effect of consuming nitrate-rich vegetables on cardiovascular disease.

The authors say they narrowed in on nitrate because prior research has established that eating vegetables rich in nitrate “increases nitric oxide bioavailability in the body,” which can help lower blood pressure and improve the health of the cells that line blood vessels, optimizing blood flow.

The researchers say the data indicates an “inverse association” between eating nitrate-rich vegetables and both heart disease and dying from it.

However, according to the review, “The greatest risk reductions for overall cardiovascular disease incidence (15%) and mortality (49%) were associated with moderate vegetable nitrate intakes, with no further benefits associated with higher intakes.” This suggests a “ceiling,” where increasing intake beyond a certain point does not have additional effects.

To reap the greatest benefits without hitting that “ceiling,” the researchers suggest adding just one portion of nitrate-rich vegetables, about 80 grams, to your diet each day to lower your CVD risk.

Vegetables high in nitrates include:

  • Dark, leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce are among the fiercest contenders)
  • Bok choy
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Carrots