High blood pressure is a risk factor for many diseases, including stroke, coronary heart disease, kidney failure and other health conditions. What is actually being determined when blood pressure is measured is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood. Over time, if pressure is elevated and remains that way, it creates damage to the body.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, one in three adults in the U.S. has high
blood pressure. Many people have high blood pressure for years and don’t know it because there aren’t necessarily any symptoms, but all the while damage is being done to the heart, kidneys, blood vessels and other parts of the body.
High blood pressure can be improved with making some diet changes. A reduction in sodium intake, losing weight and embracing the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) lifestyle are well-known steps that can lower blood pressure. Based on a study published in “Hypertension,” we now have another dietary intervention that can help lower blood pressure — the addition of vegetables rich in nitrates.
Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London looked at the impact of consuming nitrates on blood pressure in rats and then confirmed their findings in a small study involving human patients with high blood pressure.
Vegetables rich in nitrates include beetroot, lettuce, cabbage and fennel. Vegetables take up the naturally occurring chemical nitrate through their roots from the soil in which they grow. The researchers explained that nitrate is converted to nitric oxide (a gas) and it has a relaxing effect on blood vessels that helps to lower blood pressure.
The participants in the study all had a systolic blood pressure between 140 to 159 mmHg. They were not on medication for blood pressure and did not have any other known medical problems.
They were given a drink of 250 mL (just over 8 ounces) of beetroot juice or water with a small amount of nitrate in it. The beetroot juice contained 0.2 g of dietary nitrate. During the 24 hour period that their blood pressure was monitored, the participants averaged a ten-point decrease in blood pressure levels. The researchers were surprised at how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect. What is not known is if the effect is maintained over the long term.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, concluded that the study shows promise in that it may be possible to reduce high blood pressure by eating more foods that contain large quantities of nitrates such as green vegetables and beetroot. He further stated, however, that more studies in patients are needed to determine if nitrate-rich vegetables are effective at lowering blood pressure over the long term.
If you are interested in experimenting with beetroot, here are a couple of recipes to try. If you have a way to monitor your blood pressure at home take it before and again a couple of hours after trying one of these recipes.
If the idea of drinking beetroot juice doesn’t appeal to you then try eating beets. The same health benefits can be gained from eating 100 g (about 3.5 ounces) of cooked beetroot as drinking 250 mL (about 8 ounces) of juice.
Beetroot Juice with Carrot and Celery
1 small beetroot (the smaller the sweeter)
2 large carrots
1 stalk of celery
Wash the vegetables. Remove the tops from the carrots and beetroot. Peel the beetroot if the skin is tough. Slice the vegetables for your juicer. Juice and serve. If you want a bit sweeter juice add an apple or use 2 apples instead of the carrots.
Beetroot Juice with Cucumbers and Pineapple
1 small beetroot
½ of a cucumber
1 cup of pineapple chunks
Remove the top from the beetroot and peel if the skin is tough. Peel the cucumber if it is
waxed, otherwise just wash. Slice up the pineapple. Cut up fruit and vegetable for your
juice. Juice and serve.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.