By Bobbi Barbarich
When people talk about green leafy vegetables, they’re mostly referring to vegetables from the mustard family. This group contains collards, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chard and kale. These most obvious of green leafy vegetables have a host of elixers: abundant amounts of just about every vitamin, an array of cancer- fighting phytonutrients, and cholesterol-lowering fibre. One cup of kale, for example, carries five grams of fibre, 15 per cent of your daily need for calcium, nearly half of your daily magnesium requirement, twice the daily amount of vitamin A and C, and over 1,000 per cent of your vitamin K requirement per day.
While the mustard family is nutritionally dense, carrots, cabbage, and even lettuce all have a particular merit that rarely gets much attention. That substance is nitrate. When ingested, nitrate is converted to nitrite, and then into nitric oxide (NO). NO is a vital signalling molecule in the body. One of NO’s key functions is vasodilation, or widening of the blood vessels, which promotes greater blood flow.Improved blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. NO also reduces inflammation and artery wall stiffness so that blood can flow more fluidly. British researchers recently published a list in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, describing which vegetables are the best sources of nitrates. Top finishers in the nitrate table? Green leafy vegetables.
Here’s a breakdown of the top five leafy greens packed with nitrates:
ARUGULA: It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as omega-3 fatty acid. It also has one of the highest amounts of nitrate.
KALE: Full of nitrates and abounding with antioxidants.
SPINACH: Saturated with nitrates, spinach is also rich in iron and is a good source of folate.
BEETROOT: Loaded with antioxidants and carbohydrates, too.
SWISS CHARD: With red stems and stalks, Swiss chard has a beet-like taste and a nutritional profile similar to kale.
Looking for more leafy greens? Reach for mustard and dandelion greens to beef up your salads. Buy beets and turnips with the tops, roast the root for savoury carbohydrates and steam the greens for a massive nitrate dose. If the greenest of the green vegetables makes you want to run the other way, at least put some lettuce on your sandwich and eat some carrot sticks. Your blood may just flow a little easier.