Image of Catherine Bondonno, Ph.D.

Consuming a single cup of nitrate-rich vegetables each day reduces the risk of heart disease, according to a 23-year study by nutrition researchers.

Investigators examined how the regular consumption of these foods — which include leafy green vegetables and beets — affects vascular health and long-term cardiovascular risk in a Danish population-wide study. Participants who consistently ate more of these foods had about a 2.5 mm Hg lower systolic blood pressure overall and between 12% to 26% lower risk of heart disease, reported Catherine Bondonno, Ph.D., of the Institute for Nutrition Research, School of Medical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, in Perth, Australia.

The benefits plateaued at about 60 mg per day (or about one cup), with the greatest effect on peripheral artery disease risk — lowering it by 26%, Bondonno said. The risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure were reduced as well. That’s compared to participants who consumed the least amounts of these vegetables, or about 1/3 cup per day.

Based on the results, the investigators don’t believe dietary supplements are necessary for additional cardiovascular risk reduction if these vegetables are consumed daily.

Bondonno recommended finding creative ways to add leafy greens to the daily diet, such as blending a cup of spinach into a smoothie. She does not support juicing foods, however, because this can compromise health benefits.

“Juicing vegetables removes the pulp and fiber,” she said.

The study was published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.