WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Dietary nitrate promotes eye health and reduces the chances of developing eye problems later in life. More specifically, nitrate lessens the likelihood of developing primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), a disease that causes irreversible vision loss.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Dietary nitrate, an inorganic compound composed of nitrogen and oxygen, is found naturally in soil and water.1 The highest levels of this compound are found in green, leafy veggies. The veggies that contain the highest concentration of nitrate and are also the most widely available are: Swiss chard, oak leaf lettuce, beet greens, basil, spring greens, butter leaf lettuce, cilantro and arugula.
Until recently, there has been concern about potential health hazards of dietary nitrates found in processed meats, such as bologna, bacon and other lunchmeats. However, a growing body of research suggests that nitrate plays an essential role in immune function, cardiovascular health, eye health and exercise performance.1,2 Nitrate enhances blood circulation, which is why the cardiovascular system and vision benefit from the compound.
WHY THIS MATTERS
POAG is caused by rising pressure and reduced optic nerve blood flow in the eye that leads to impaired vision. The pressure in the eye rises slowly, but at a rate that is slow and does not cause any pain or discomfort; the cornea adapts to this pressure without swelling. Since the development of POAG is painless, a person may not realize that s/he is losing vision until later stages of the disease. At that point, vision will be irreversibly damaged, as POAG wreaks havoc on the delicate optic nerves. Unfortunately, this type of nerve cannot be restored. As a result, blind spots develop, starting from the peripheral field of vision and slowly making their way to the central vision. Vision is most effected when POAG reaches central vision.
POAG is the most common type of glaucoma in the United States, with 1% of the population having this form of glaucoma. The disease primarily effects those ages 50 and older. Because POAG severely limits a person’s quality of life and ability to live independently, researchers are actively seeking ways to prevent progression of the disease.
A new study from Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School sought to better understand the connection between intake of dietary nitrate and the development of POAG. The study included over 100,000 men and women, ages 40 and older, who have been included in the research since 1984. Every two years, participants answer surveys on their diet and provided medical information from eye examinations. To be eligible for the study, each participant needed to be free of POAG.
Participants were divided into five groups based on nitrate intake: group 1 had the lowest intake (80mg/day) and group 5 had the highest (240 mg/day). This study found that group 5, or those who included the highest amounts of green leafy veggies in their diets, experienced a 20 to 30 percent lower risk of developing POAG.
Here at Fruits & Veggies–More Matters, we always advocate for eating fruits and veggies as one of the most effective ways to promote a healthy lifestyle. Research continues to solidify this approach as we discover new and exciting ways that fruits and veggies benefit our health and wellbeing, in both the present and the future. As always, we suggest filling half your plate with fruits and veggies during every meal and snack as a surefire way to ensure that you’re getting all the vitamins, nutrients, fiber and antioxidants that your body needs to thrive and for you to feel your absolute best.
Remember that all forms of fruit and vegetables matter – fresh, frozen, canned, puréed, dried, or 100% real juice – in reaching your goal of filling half your plate with fruits and veggies. If you’re excited to add some more green veggies into your diet, see which veggies are in season during the winter months.
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