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Dietary Nitrate: The Unrecognized Nutrient

Many years ago, people were afraid of the nitrates in food. This was due to several studies on the nitrates often used to keep hot dogs from spoiling.  These artificial nitrates did a good job of upping the profit margins on heated-frozen-reheated-refrozen-ad-naseum movie theater hot dogs, but they were also linked to cancer. The evidence was pretty overwhelming, and naturally everyone became nitrate adverse.

Ironically, vegetables were sitting over in the corner being like “Yo, we have so many natural nitrates. Always have.”  So then scientists were all like “What the hey?” And they tested vegetables to see if they were safe for consumption.  Both Europe and Australia headed inquiries into the subject, and both continents found that veggies were not dangerous but awesome and healthy. And the other continents were like “We believe you. It’s like no duh, but thanks for checking,” except for Antarctica who was like “Nobody lives here.”

Meanwhile, late last century some scientists were like “Hey, remember that simple gas called nitric oxide that everyone thinks is just a pollutant. It seems like it helps our veins dilate. This could be great for blood pressure and whatnot”  After studying the gas in the human body, they wrote up their findings and won a Nobel Prize. Twenty years or so later, it is now believed that nitric oxide is as fundamental to respiration as oxygen and carbon dioxide.  Although there are several ways to generate nitric oxide, one of the best is with vegetable nitrate.

Presently, A new paper published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition ESPEN is calling for the scientific community to classify dietary nitrate as a nutrient. First off it states:

Recent research has demonstrated the important role of exogenous synthesis, via consumption of dietary nitrate (NO3), which may subsequently be converted to nitrite (NO2) and NO in hypoxic conditions1. Dietary nitrate supplements reduce blood pressure2, improve exercise tolerance in peripheral arterial disease3, improve cerebral perfusion in older adults4 and reduce oxidative stress markers5.
and concludes with:

In conclusion, supplementation with high nitrate vegetables increased plasma [nitrate] and [nitrite], which correlated significantly with changes in BP. These findings challenge existing dogma and support the need for research to establish dietary nitrate as a future nutrient in clinical nutrition, both in therapeutics and prevention of disease.

This isn’t the first paper to question whether or not dietary nitrate should be considered a nutrient. A paper aptly titled   “Dietary Nitrate–An Unrecognized Nutrient” was published two years ago in the European Journal of Nutrition and Food Safety.

In the study, researchers had test subjects supplement their normal diets with either high-nitrate vegetables or low-nitrate vegetables.  People who ate high-nitrate vegetables like beets, spinach and kale saw reductions in their blood pressure.

The present findings support the hypothesis that increasing dietary nitrate intake in the form of nitrate-rich vegetables reduces BP, with major public health implications for dietary interventions to reduce hypertension. A population wide promotion of normal BP could substantially reduce the risk of stroke (Seshadri et al. [4].

It has taken decades for dietary nitrate and nitric oxide to get the respect they so widely deserve. And although dietary nitrate hasn’t been classified as a nutrient yet, the beneficial effects are being widely studied and applied to everything from high-intensity sport to senior health.