Go Green for Heart Health

greensBy Erica Bennett, Dietetic Intern Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

We all know green vegetables are healthy, but did you know that they can also reduce the risk of heart disease?
Along with a myriad of other important vitamins and minerals, leafy greens like spinach, arugula, kale, and lettuce contain a compound called nitrate, which is believed to produce these beneficial effects on the heart.
Nitrate from foods is converted in the body to nitrite. Nitrite is used as part of the compound nitric oxide, which helps to expand blood vessels, and so lower blood pressure. This compound is so effective that it is actually given in pill form to patients with angina, a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.
A recent study also found that increasing nitrate from the diet may act as a blood thinner. It helps red blood cells supply adequate oxygen to the body tissues. This means that the body gets the oxygen it needs without needing to produce extra red blood cells. Overproduction of red blood cells can lead to formation of blood clots, which can cause strokes and heart attacks.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, an eating plan that was developed to promote heart health, recommends 4-6 servings of vegetables daily. As of January 2015, the DASH diet has been ranked as the “Best Diet” by US News & World Report for five years in a row!
While nitrates from natural sources such as vegetables are thought to have great health benefits, the added nitrites and nitrates which are used in curing meats may have a dangerous side. Studies suggest that high intakes from sources like lunch meats can lead to toxicity, especially in infants. Foods high in added nitrites should generally be avoided by pregnant women and young children.
For more information about nitrates and heart health, go to: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286515.php
For more information about the DASH diet, go to: http://dashdiet.org/default.asp