Have you noticed all the “nitrate free” labels on processed meats in the supermarket? It has been a common and wide held belief that nitrates contained in processed meats are linked to causing cancer. So it might be a little confusing, contradicting even, to eat vegetables, which are rich in nitrates!
To eat or not to eat…nitrates, that’s the question! And by the end of reading this post, You’ll be able to form your own answer.
It’s only been within the past couple of decades that the effect of nitric oxide in the body has been deemed essential for function and overall health. Nitrates convert to nitric oxide.
So, let’s clear up some of the most common misunderstandings about foods and nitric oxide and things you may not know.
Not all nitrates are created equal. Read on to learn about the nitric oxide foods that have a positive nitric oxide boost in the body and why it’s necessary!
Disclaimer: This post is meant for informational and research purposes only and not intended to provide or diagnose any health concern or disease. Please refer to your doctor for any medical concerns.
So, What exactly is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric Oxide is a necessary molecule that is naturally produced by the body from nitrates found in certain foods. In small amounts, it’s very beneficial and needed for optimal health levels. It’s important to note that nitric oxide is an unstable molecule, meaning it diminishes very quickly in the bloodstream so it has to be replenished on a consistent basis.
It was actually named “molecule of the year,” in 1992. Nitric Oxide is a key molecule in the cardiovascular system, the immune system, and in preventing chronic disease, such as cancers and inflammation. It was such a big deal that the three scientists who discovered these benefits were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1998.
But wait, nitrates cause and nitric oxide prevents cancer?
Let’s look at how the body produces it.
How is Nitric Oxide Produced?
In order for there to nitric oxide, we have to have the ion nitrate. We are exposed to nitrates every single day, whether it be from smoking (including second hand smoke), inhaling pollution in the air from cars and large factories, ingesting vegetables or eating cured and processed meats.
Naturally Occurring Nitrates
These are found in vegetables and convert to the nitric oxide our body needs.
This is the additive that manufacturers add to processed and cured meats. It acts as a food preservative and artificial color. If this wasn’t added, meat would quickly turn brown. You’ll also notice a salty taste.
It’s when nitrate breaks down into nitrite, it becomes unstable. At that point it can either turn into Nitric Oxide or a Nitrosamine. Nitrosamine is the compound that forms from nitrates that are linked to cancer.
The nitrates in vegetables convert to nitric oxide. The antioxidants and the high Vitamin C content prevent formation of nitrosamine, therefore produces nitric oxide. Antioxidants are know for their cancer fighting agents.
In the absence of Vitamin C and Antioxidants, the nitrates have potential to convert to nitrosamine. Cooking at high temperatures increase the risk of converting nitrates to nitrosamine.
So, if you have a poor diet that lacks these essential nutrients, or you just don’t eat fruits and vegetables, your body lacks the necessary antioxidants and Vitamin C it needs to produce nitric acid.
Why Nitric Oxide is Necessary
According to Nathan Bryan, adjunct assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and a global authority on nitric oxide, says “most (if not all) cardiovascular disorders and chronic diseases are related to the loss of nitric-oxide production.”
That is a pretty powerful statement! But seriously, look at all these benefits.
The Awesome Health Benefits of Nitric Oxide
Necessary for Immune Health
Nitric Oxide is produced by certain immune cells and provides a defense mechanism against bacteria and pathogens that enter the body. it is also an important regulator of the activity, growth, and death of immune and inflammatory cells.
Nitric Oxide and Impact on Brain
The under or over production of Nitric Oxide can have a profound impact on memory and cognitive function due to the constriction of blood flow to the brain. This has been linked to depression, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
Red blood cells transport oxygen to body tissue. The dilation of blood vessels also allow help support function of lungs by increasing the airway.
Prevents Cardiovascular Disease
Nitric Oxide plays a role in increasing blood circulation by dilating the blood vessels. Nutrients, blood, and oxygen are transported more efficiently and effectively to every part of the body. When blood flow in constricted, this leads to a higher blood pressure, a risk of cardiovascular disease.
Aids with Inflammation
Another benefit of increasing blood circulation means the decreased risk of inflammation. Inflammation can occur from constricted blood vessels and the build of of platelets and white blood cells on the blood vessel lining, forming a plaque buildup, or atherosclerosis, leading to inflammation, leading to cardiovascular disease.
Improves Exercise Stamina and Performance
My personal favorite reason is it increases exercise stamina, meaning a longer workouts! it also allows your body to more effectively utilize oxygen!
Top Nitric Oxide Foods Foods to Positively Increase Nitric Oxide in the Body
The majority of vegetables contain nitrates that produce nitric oxide. Any food that has these properties are great for boosting nitric oxide.
- Antioxidants. Other than the cancer fighting properties, antioxidants help increase the life of nitric oxide by neutralizing free radicals roaming in the body.
- Vitamin C. Prevents the formation of nitrosamine, the cancer causing compound from nitrates. Gives the immune system a boost and helps form and protect connective body tissue.
- Vitamin E. Also good for the immune system as well as protecting cells from damage of free radicals that contribute to aging.
- Polyphenols. Reduce the risk of cancer and promote cardiovascular health.
- Glutathione. The SUPERANTIOXIDANT. Supports healthy detoxification.
There ARE some vegetables that are higher in nitrates though for that extra boost, as well as other foods for boosting nitric oxide!
Top 4 Nitric Oxide Foods
What’s the first thing you think of when you see or hear the words “beet juice?” i am remembering a “Goosebumps” episode that slowly turned kids old after drinking their grandparents beet juice. Or maybe that was prune juice? In real life, beef Juice is rich in Nitrates. Drinking 2 cups a day can have a positive effect on the intensity and stamina of exercise, increasing blood flow, and naturally decreasing blood pressure. Nitric Oxide can increase by 21% in just 45 minutes. Now I want to find that book.
Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids and help maintain optimal nitric oxide levels. other benefits include heart health, lowering blood pressure, and protecting cells against oxidative damage.
The high Vitamin C content increases the bioavailability of nitric oxide and allows for maximum absorption.
Spinach, green or romaine lettuce, kale, arugula, and cabbage all can help maintain sufficient levels of nitric oxide, while lowering risk of heart disease and cognitive decline.
Bonus recipe with Nitric Oxide bosting Foods!
Nitric Oxide Booster: Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
- 4 Medium Beets Washed and with the greens cut away
- 1/3 Cup Chopped Walnuts
- 3 tbsp Maple Syrup
- Salad Greens (Romaine lettuce, spinach, green lettuce)
- 2 oz Goat Cheese
- Wash the beets, and cut away the greens. Place in a pot and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender.
- Rinse the beets and place to the side
- In a skillet, toast the walnuts for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the syrup and remove from heat.
- Dice the beets into cubes.
- Put all ingredients together and make a salad! Top with some olive oil as a healthy dressing!
Ok, so no you should know the difference between the nitrates in processed foods and have an idea of foods that can boost the nitric oxide activity in your body in a positive way! Honestly, just another reason we should be eating our vegetables. But it also gives us a reason to enjoy some dark chocolate every once in a while, guilt free! Enjoy these nitric oxide foods in your diet today!