Natural nitrates are essential nutrients that help the body heal and thrive. The consumption of dietary nitrates is necessary for optimal health. Nitrates are responsible for turning nitrates into nitric oxide in the body, which can help to prevent many chronic diseases (1), (8), (9).
Although nitric oxide runs through the body naturally, it is important and ideal for your health to eat healthy foods that are high in nitrates (2), (9). Nitrates are complex in that they are in many healthy foods, but nitrites are also a common additive in foods like cured meats (11).
This method helps them to keep their pink or red color and stay fresh longer (3). This production method with high heat cooking breaks down as harmful nitrites in the body, also known as nitrosamines, instead of the healthy and necessary version, nitric oxide. Environmental factors also help to determine nitrate levels (1).
Healthy dietary nitrates naturally produce nitric oxide in the body. This helps to improve vascular health, which is especially helpful to prevent chronic disease. Many studies show that more nitrates can help to prevent ischemic stroke and heart disease (4), (10). Boosting your nitric oxide levels not only helps to lower the risk of common chronic diseases, but it also can improve muscle and nerve function (10).
Summary: Nitrates are found naturally in some foods and convert into nitric oxide in the body. This is very helpful for preventing chronic disease and improving muscle and nerve function. It is not to be confused with nitrites, which are common unhealthy food additives.
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Foods High in Nitrates (Nitric Oxide Foods)
Find out what foods are highest in healthy dietary nitrates so you can boost your levels of nitric oxide in the body and reap all the potent health benefits.
Beets are a healthy blood cleaning food that is high for their nitrate plant compounds. These powerful vegetables can be helpful to add to most diets, too.
These high nitrate plant vegetables belong to the family called Brassicaceae. Beetroot juice can be especially helpful at boosting nitric oxide in the body (12), (13). One study shows that the concentration of beetroot juice increases nitrate levels substantially after just two days at room temperature, compared to other juices (5).
Juicing can be a great way to get more beets into your diet, and to boost nitric oxide levels in your body (1), (12), (13). There are other ways to eat and enjoy beets without juicing, too. Add some color to your favorite salad with bright red beets, or simply add them to a baked potato and carrot vegetable medley for a flavorful side dish at dinner.
Tip: Beets can be roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt, added to smoothies, mixed into chocolate muffin or cake recipes, or incorporated into colorful salads.
Spinach is a dark leafy green that stands out among the rest when it comes to dietary nitrate levels. Many plant foods contain nitrates, but not many are as high as spinach when it comes to boosting nitric oxide (14), (16), (19).
Many people can benefit from more spinach in their diets. That is because spinach is high in many essential vitamins and nutrients like vitamin K, C, iron, folate, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and more (17).
Although spinach is high in dietary nitrates, it is also high in oxalates, which can be a poor choice for those with certain health conditions. You should never eat too many foods high in oxalates like spinach when you have kidney disease or if you suffer from recurring kidney stones, for example (15).
Tip: Spinach is extremely beneficial for boosting nitric oxide levels, and is easy to incorporate into smoothies, soups, salads, omelets, breakfast scrambles, or sautéed with other veggies.
Celery is another vegetable that is notably high in dietary nitrates. Eating more celery can help to prevent your risk of many chronic diseases (18), (19).
This vegetable is also extremely high in many vitamins and minerals, too. These include vitamins A, C, K, potassium, folate, and manganese (18).
Add some more celery to your diet to get the many health benefits with tons of vitamins and minerals. Celery can be easy to add to many dishes too, especially fish. Small pieces of celery go well in dishes like tuna, sardines, and they are an excellent snack to keep on hand.
Tip: Keep chopped celery on hand to toss into tuna salad, tacos, stews, or soups. Keep celery stalks readily available for dipping in hummus or nut butters for a healthy snack.
Lettuce is one of the most common and attainable vegetables out there, and many types of lettuce are high in dietary nitrates (19).
Green leafy vegetables are often the most widely credited for their high nutrient content, but here is where iceberg and other lighter lettuces can claim the stage for their prize in health benefits, too (21).
Lettuce like iceberg lettuce, butterhead, Batavia, and more can be a healthy part of your diet (20), (21). Add some more crunch to your meals by reaping the benefits of these different types of lettuce, along with your dark leafy green varieties.
Tip: All lettuce can be incorporated into a healthy diet. Make simple salad jars filled with lettuce, veggies, nuts, and seeds so you have salad readily available for the week, or go beyond salads and make lettuce wraps for tacos or sandwiches in place of bread or tortillas.
Arugula is less common but just as full of dietary nitrates. A handful of some arugula a day will give you a decent serving of healthy nitrates (22).
Foods like this that are high in nitrates are absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal mucosa, helping to prevent inflammation, blood clots, and more (6). This type of lettuce can be a little trickier to get the picky eaters in your family to eat. It has a distinct flavor and texture that is different from your typical iceberg lettuce crunch.
But there’s good news if you want the picky eaters in your family to enjoy arugula, too. You can easily get arugula as a mix with spinach and other leafy greens in your local supermarkets, too. Tiny sprigs of arugula mixed into a big batch of different lettuce are sure to act as a great health disguise.
Tip: Toss small sprigs of arugula into a mixed bed of salad greens, incorporate into pasta dishes, or simply sauté it in olive oil for a tasty side dish.
6. Garden Cress
Garden cress is a vegetable in the cabbage family that you can eat raw or cooked. It has a similar flavor to the watercress, which is a tangy variety. But it looks different (23).
This tremendously healthy vegetable is related to the watercress, but it looks like a sprout with small leaves and white ends.
Add some garden cress to your next salad or sprinkle it into your next meal for some extra flavor and another way to add a healthy boost of nitric oxide to your body.
Tip: Garden cress, a vegetable in the cabbage family, is very healthy and easy to add to dips, stir-fry, or soups.
This sweet-tasting vegetable has a remarkably similar taste to licorice.
Full of dietary nitrates, the fennel bulb can also help with a whole slew of digestive issues such as heartburn, bloating, loss of appetite, and more (24).
Try out some fennel as a snack or in some new recipes to see if you can add a new sweet vegetable into your diet.
Tip: Fennel is a sweet-tasting vegetable full of dietary nitrates. Add it as a pizza topping, incorporate into a colorful pasta salad, or toss it into a creamy cucumber salad.
Radishes are high in many essential B vitamins, vitamin K, C, and they are full of dietary nitrates that can improve your overall health (25), (26).
Radishes have an almost mildly spicy flavor, so they can go in many dishes, too. If you don’t care for the taste of radishes, try to soak them in some lemon overnight for a fermented take on this healthy vegetable.
The flavor goes well in salads, and it’ll give you an extra boost of vitamin C, too.
Tip: Radishes have a mild spicy flavor. Thinly slice and add them to sandwiches, shred into salads, or simply eat them sliced dipped in hummus.
Parsley may be a small leafy green plant typically used as a garnish on dishes, but it packs a powerful punch of nitrates and nutrients (25), (28).
Making up over 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A, parsley is full of nutrients for optimal health. These nutrients benefit many parts of the body including the eyes, heart, joints, muscles, and more (27), (28).
It is also high in vitamin C, K, folate, and more. And parsley does not always need to be used for garnish purposes. Get creative with how you use parsley in the kitchen. You can blend it with your favorite seasonings and oils to make a healthy dressing, or even add it to a tasty smoothie.
Tip: Parsley is the perfect garnish for any dish. It packs in high amounts of vitamins C, K, folate, and nitrates. Add fresh parsley to vibrant salads, pasta, soup, or even smoothies.
Most dietary nitrates are in plant foods, but there are some in fruits as well. Although the content is not as high as plant foods, strawberries do have a higher level of nitrates than other fruits (7), (29).
Fruits like currants, cherries, raspberries, and gooseberries all have medium levels of nitrates, but they are not as high as strawberries. Other fruits like apples appear to have significantly lower levels than all these fruits (7), (29).
Adding some strawberries to your diet is easy to do at any meal. Throw some into your oatmeal, cereal, pancakes, or waffles in the morning, or add it to a side salad with goat cheese and your favorite nuts. You can even just have a healthier snack of dark chocolate covered strawberries to get some more of this sweet fruit in your life.
Tip: Strawberries are highest in nitrates of the fruits. A fresh bowl of strawberries is perfect for dessert or a snack. It even pairs well with savory foods like goat cheese and nuts.
Nitrates are different than nitrites in that they are naturally present in many plant foods (30). Nitrites are the common food additive that can cause damage to your health, while dietary nitrates can do the body good (1), (8), (9), (31).
Do you eat a lot of healthy dietary nitrates on a regular basis? Although these high nitrate foods are healthy, they may not all be right for your regular routine. Just because one food is healthy does not mean it will do your body good to eat it all the time.
Make sure you take the time to see what foods work for your diet and lifestyle for the long term and switch them out often to get the most health benefits.
Take an inventory of your diet by examining what foods show up the most often in your life. See if you can incorporate some of these high nitrate healthy foods more.
If you think your diet can use more healthy nitrate foods, speak to your healthcare professional, and see what they can help you achieve.