WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Nitrogen, a chemical found in green leafy vegetables, plays a major role in delivering oxygen throughout the body by influencing blood thickness.1 A steady intake of nitrogen improves the body’s oxygen delivery system. As a result, the thickness of blood is reduced, lessening a person’s chances of developing blood clots, a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseasestroke and heart attacks.
WHAT WE KNOW
About 600,000 people die of cardiovascular disease every year in the United States; that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.2 Cardiovascular diseases are a group of illnesses that includes heart attack, stroke, heart failure, arrhythmia and heart valve problems.3 This group of diseases is potentially life threatening, but the good news is you have the power to increase or decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by adjusting simple decisions you make every single day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that those looking to protect their heart against cardiovascular disease should eat a healthy diet that is:
- Low in salt
- Low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
- Rich in fruits and vegetables
WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS
Researchers studying cardiovascular disease conduct studies to determine how individual chemicals within fruits and veggies help protect your heart. Recently they discovered that dietary nitrates, found in dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and collard greens, reduce the production of erythropoietin, a hormone produced by the kidneys and liver.4 Erythropoietin’s main role in the body is to create and protect red blood cells.5 This hormone is crucial in helping to make sure the body has the right amount of oxygen.
Cardiovascular disease causes an overproduction of red blood cells due to hypoxia, also known as oxygen starvation. When your body’s tissues are not getting enough oxygen, more erythropoietin is secreted, which in turn increases the production of red blood cells. As a result, the blood begins to thicken. While an increased amount of red blood cells may sound beneficial because of the increased amount of oxygen in the blood, this is not the case. Thick blood may carry more oxygen, but the thickness makes it more difficult for the blood to pass through small blood vessels, which ultimately continues to prevent tissues and organs from getting the oxygen they need.1
THE BOTTOM LINE
Findings such as this further help solidify the importance of including a wide range of fruits and vegetables in your diet every day. A good place to start, for the avid veggie lover, veggie hater and everyone in between is this: fill half your plate with fruits and veggies at each meal and snack.
5 Ways to Add More Heart-Protecting Veggies To Your Day
- Use our seasonal vegetable guide to help you find fresh leafy greens for every season.
- Canned greens are also an excellent option. Canned Food Facts
- Explore new leafy greens if you’re not crazy about the ones you’re already familiar with.
- Think sautéing or boiling is the only way to go? Experiment with new cooking methods.
- Refer to our fruit and vegetable nutrition database for tips on nutrition, storage and handling.
Video Center: Selection. Storage. Preparation.
How Many Cups Do You Need?
Key Nutrients in Fruits & Vegetables
Fruit & Veggie Database