One-Half to One-Cup Leafy Greens Improves Heart Health

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INM’s Ingredient of the Month is heart-healthy leafy greens for reduced blood pressure, and better brain, eye, and immune health.

You’ve heard the five-a-day rule for vegetables. But did you know that daily intake of only one-half to one-cup leafy greens improves heart health? If you prefer your food raw, one cup will do. Cooked? One-half cup cooked is all it takes to reduce your chances of getting heart disease. That’s pretty easy when you consider that heart disease is the number one killer of people globally, taking the lives of 17.9 million lives each year.

How do leafy greens improve heart health?

The key is dark leafy greens, like collards, kale, beet root and turnip greens, which are rich in a nutrient called nitrates. Nitrites in foods may reduce blood pressure and the risk reduction can be significant. Researchers looked at data from more than 50,000 people living in Denmark during a 23-year period. 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 percent lower risk of heart disease.

one-half to one-cup leafy greens improves heart health
Read more about leafy greens and colorful foods from our partners at Wholistic Matters

“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,” said lead researcher Dr Catherine Bondonno from ECU’s Institute for Nutrition Research. “The greatest reduction in risk was for peripheral artery disease (26 percent), 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.”

Leafy greens contain other beneficial compounds, vitamin K, A and C, and folate, as well as manganese, calcium, and copper. These beneficial nutrients play a role in bone, brain and eyesight health.

Should you get vitamins from supplements or food for better heart health?

At the Institute for Natural Medicine, we say food first. It’s a foundational principle of naturopathic medicine. If your doctor says you need more, by all means supplement under advisement. In the case of this study, food delivered the benefits. The researchers found that eating more more did not show any additional benefits to reduce the risk of heart disease.

one-half to one-cup leafy greens improves heart health
Blending up greens in smoothies is a heart healthy hack that lowers blood pressure

For many, leafy greens fall at the bottom of the list for taste. They can be bitter and peppery. Dr Bondonno said hacks such as including a cup of spinach in a banana or berry smoothie might be an easy way to top up consumption of daily leafy greens. But skip the juicing, she warns. “Blending leafy greens is fine, but don’t juice them. Juicing vegetables removes the pulp and fiber,” Dr Bondonno said.

Lastly, another benefit to some leafy greens like turnip greens, collards, cabbage, kale, bok choy and arugula, are also cruciferrous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower. Our content partners at Wholistic Matters, summed it up: “People who eat cruciferous vegetables regularly have been found to have a lower risk for chronic illness, including heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Eating a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables is also linked with lower risk for certain cancers, including colorectal, breast, bladder, lung, prostate, and ovarian cancers. For more on turnip greens, see this article from Wholistic Matters.

For more on the power of food and natural medicine for health and disease risk reduction, read more in these articles from INM:

What Does the Healing Power of Nature Mean?

How do Naturopathic Doctors Focus on Prevention?

This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

Relationships are the epicenter of Dr. McMath’s work with INM as she supports our content Editorial Board and nurtures connections across the naturopathic space. Dr. McMath became involved in the advancement of the profession as a naturopathic medical student as a member of the board of directors for the California Naturopathic Doctors Association, intern for the Integrative Health Policy Consortium, research associate for Bastyr University’s Health Policy and Leadership Committee, and first ND student to be a delegate to the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Early in her career Dr. McMath helped lead the development of Integrative Wellness at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center and was elected to the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians where she serves on the Public Relations Committee.

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