Nitrates are medications used to treat angina or breast pain. They widen the blood vessels, allowing more oxygen-rich blood to reach the heart. When you take a fast-acting form, you usually dissolve it under the tongue via a tablet or puff of a spray – and that has an almost immediate effect. Most people experience relief from chest pressure or shortness of breath within five minutes.
There are nutrients that contain a chemical compound similar to what you find in prescription nitrates that are almost as effective. While not a substitute for medicine, arugula, lettuce, rhubarb (try this rhubarb puree ), beets, pine nuts, kale, bok choy, fennel and spinach (try this spinach and pumpkin pasta ) are all rich sources of nitrate, a form of nitrogen that they extract from the soil. When we eat these vegetables and seeds, enzymes and bacteria in the mouth—particularly in the grooves of the tongue—convert those nitrates into nitrite.
When that nitrite reaches the stomach, it is converted by acids into an important gas: nitric oxide. This simple chemical could very well be the most researched chemical of recent years and perhaps one of the most important. The scientist who described its functions won the Nobel Prize in medicine for it. Nitrite prevents arteries from constricting, forming plaque, and clotting the blood, preventing strokes and heart attacks. It keeps arteries healthy, open, and free of clots.
The effects of a meal rich in nitrate
Researchers at Queen Mary University in London recently found that people who ate a nitrate-rich meal – such as a bowl of lettuce – had their blood pressure drop by 11.2 mm Hg within hours, and that reduction lasted throughout the day. This is a significant improvement in blood pressure that rivals the best results achieved with potent and widely prescribed drugs. It significantly reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack.
So prepare yourself a salad, one that is rich in leafy greens. Arugula is the richest dietary source of nitrate, but other leafy greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, and spinach, are also fantastic.
Check out this list of vegetables that contain the most and least pesticides before you buy your vegetables for an even healthier diet.
To supply your arteries with nitric oxide:
- Indulge in salads. You don’t have to sell yourself short or be constantly hungry to be healthy and have a strong heart. I’ve worked with several finalists from The Biggest Loser [a reality show in the US in which overweight contestants try to lose as much weight as possible – ed.]. They were all given the largest bowl of salad imaginable and were allowed to fill it as many times a day as they wanted. No, there was no meat, cheese, or eggs on the salad bar; only balsamic and red wine vinegar for dressing. Their salads had a lot of volumes and were so packed with nutrients that the participants were able to fill their stomachs with a lot of nutrition and relatively few calories. At the same time, it was good for their waistline and their arteries.
- Put green vegetables in everything. In soups, sandwiches, smoothies, and whatever you can think of.
- Eat more vegetables. Aside from leafy greens, many other vegetables are rich in nitrates, especially celery and beetroot. One glass of beet juice a day can very well prevent you from having to take medicines for high blood pressure.
Recipe: natural nitrate on your plate
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
4 cups chopped kale leaves
2 cups chopped arugula
½ cup cherry tomatoes halved
½ cup pine nuts and sesame seeds
1 ripe avocado, peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and add dressing to taste.