It has been said countless times to all to eat your green leafy vegetables, but why exactly is that? Dark leafy greens are a powerhouse of nutrition, containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they also are an amazing source of naturally occurring nitrates.

When ingested, these nitrates are converted to nitric oxide within the body to produce amazing benefits to our health. To find out how nitric oxide and dark leafy greens heal our bodies, keep reading!

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1. What is Nitric Oxide?

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Long before nitric oxide was discovered within the human body, scientists knew of its powerful, healing components. In 1880, the drug Nitroglycerin was developed that worked on nitric oxide pathways. This drug was used to treat high blood pressure and angina.

It was later discovered that nitric oxide is a molecule that is produced by almost every cell in our body and is extremely vital to our blood vessel health. Constructed by endothelial cells lining arteries, it plays a pivotal role as a key signaling molecule because it works as a vasodilator, allowing blood vessels to widen, muscles to relax, and blood flow to increase. Due to its vasodilation contributions, it also helps to lower blood pressure.

Nitric oxide levels can be boosted through supplementation, or through the consumption of foods high in naturally occurring nitrates. Thankfully, dark leafy greens are an amazing source of nitrates. For more supplements, try these RxLabs L-Arginine Capsules!

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2. Greens and Nitric Oxide

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There are three ways to generate nitric oxide within the body. The first way is through getting adequate amounts of sunshine, the second is through an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase, and the third and most important way is through dietary intake of nitrates.

Roughly 80% of dietary nitrate is consumed through the vegetable intake. Of the vegetable kingdom, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, lettuce, rainbow chard, etc, contain the highest concentrations of nitrates. For example, arugula, spinach, and lettuce contain about 250 milligrams of nitrates per 3.5 ounces!

When eaten raw, nitric oxide production will increase significantly as cooking dark leafy greens tends to hinder this production rate.

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When consuming a lush, green salad, dietary nitrates are taken in, distributed through saliva where bacterias convert it to nitrites, and then swallowed. This converted nitrite then stimulates the production of nitric oxide within the stomach, tissues, or blood vessels. The production of nitric oxide is what activates the health benefits.

Who knew that so much could come from one mouthful of spinach?

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3. What Nitric Oxide Does for the Body

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When nitric oxide is produced, it works to lower blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, assists the immune system, improves performance in athletes, and elevates your quality of sleep.

Nitric Oxide’s Cardiovascular Benefits

Due to its vasodilation properties, the production of nitric oxide can help lower blood pressure, increase blood and oxygen flow preventing blockages, and ease and relax stiffening arteries. These contributions all work to significantly reduce the chances of developing heart disease or experiencing a cardiovascular event.

Nitric Oxide and the Immune System

Nitric oxide is regarded as playing a major role within the immune system as an intercellular messenger. This is because nitric oxide works as a defensive molecule that fights against infectious organisms. In addition, it also manages the growth, death, and activity of immune and inflammatory cells like macrophages and T lymphocytes.

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Nitric Oxide and Athletic Performance

Because nitric oxide increases blood flow, it delivers more oxygen to muscles used for exercise, increasing stamina and longevity. In so many words, it helps improve work production, synthesizing an energetic, feel-good workout. It is also often taken as a pre-workout supplement for this reason.

Nitric Oxide and Sleep

Nitric oxide production helps facilitate a good night’s rest because it is involved in rapid eye movement, otherwise known as REM. REM sleep is important because it promotes the removal of neurotoxins, leaves us feeling refreshed in the morning, maintains neural pathways, and helps us learn new information.

4. Whole Lot of Green! 

Rainbow Chard and Garlic Scape Fettuccine/One Green Planet

Eating dark leafy greens can be super delicious if you have the right recipes. For some nutritious, nitrate filled meal ideas try this Spinach Salad with Barley Bacon, Arugula Lemon Portobello Pitas, Swiss Chard Quiche with Wild Mushrooms, Buffalo Chickpea Caesar Salad, Herb and Garlic Massaged Kale Salad, Kale, Beet, and Pecan Salad, or these Harissa Tahini Romaine Wraps and Salad.

For more like Your Ultimate Guide to Leafy Greens, we recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!


Lead Image Source: RebeccaDawson/Flickr