It’s no secret that veggies are a healthy food group. Plenty of research exists touting the benefits of increasing your daily vegetable intake, and getting the right amount can help you age more gracefully, fight inflammation and see your overall health improve. But there might be even bigger benefits to adding more plants onto your plate, especially when it comes to your risk for heart disease.
A research study published in April 2021 in the European Journal of Epidemiology suggests that plants – leafy green vegetables, to be specific – may potentially lower the risk of heart disease. And all you need is one cup to see your risk decrease.
In this study, researchers examined over 53,000 participants over the course of 23 years. At the study’s start, the average age of the participants was 56 years old and not one was currently diagnosed with heart disease. After the years of observation concluded, researchers drew a link between participants who ate the most nitrate-rich vegetables, particularly leafy greens, and the risk for heart disease.
The participants who ate more leafy green veggies saw a 12 to 26 percent lower risk of heart disease. Researchers found that one cup of these veggies per day was the optimal amount – participants who are more greens didn’t really see a corresponding bigger decrease in their risk.
Why leafy green veggies are so great for your heart
What is it about vegetables, and leafy greens in particular, that makes them so good at protecting your heart? Researchers involved in the above study believe there may be a connection to the nitrate present in those leafy greens.
Nitrate gets turned into nitric oxide when your body digests the veggies, and that in turn relaxes and expands your blood vessels. This can potentially help lower blood pressure, an effect that the researchers saw in those who ate one cup of greens or more daily.
Your diet can play a direct role in high blood pressure, or hypertension. And as a contributing factor in dangerous conditions like heart attacks, strokes and organ damage, lowering your blood pressure can potentially lower your risk for all kinds of related heart ailments and diseases. So, if you’re hoping to keep your heart in good shape, your blood pressure is often a first line of defense.
How to make leafy greens the star of your meals
You don’t need to change your entire diet and start eating leafy green vegetables at every meal (but honestly, that isn’t a bad idea!). As the study’s researchers discovered, just one little cup per day can have a big impact on your heart health.
One of the easiest ways to up your leafy greens? Make hearty, satisfying salads the star of your meals. You can have salads for lunch each day without ever getting bored. Just try salads like these for variety and plenty of green veggies in every bite:
- Middle Eastern Chicken & Rice Salad with Tahini Dill Dressing
- Spinach Salad with Crispy Artichokes & Basil Dressing
- Hail Kale Chicken Caesar with Creamy Chive Dressing
- Collard Salad with Tahini Dressing
- The Laguna Green with Asparagus, Strawberries & Orange Tarragon Vinaigrette
- Asian Kale & Tofu Salad
You can make your salads extra-special and even tastier with our expert tips for superior salads. Or, go beyond salads and discover new ways to make your favorite greens into sides or added into mains with 10 ways to eat veggies that don’t include any salads. You can also find variety by changing up your usual green suspects for new veggies. Try these five not-so-common varieties for something new.