Green leafy vegetables are higher in nitrates than most other vegetables.
Nitrates often raise concern among some health-conscious consumers. However, according to evidence, nitrates are not only safe, but also heart healthy. Vegetables are grown in nitrate-containing soil, which makes them naturally high in nitrates. Green leafy vegetables have the highest nitrate concentrations.
Nitrate, short for sodium nitrate, is a form of salt. Nitrates are present naturally in some foods, such as vegetables, and are added to other foods, most notably processed meats, to preserve them and prevent rancidity. While there is some health concerns about the level nitrates used in meat products, nearly 80 percent of the nitrate we consume comes from vegetable sources, according to Jeff Sindelar, Ph.D., extension meat specialist at the University of Wisconsin Meat Laboratory. Nitrates exist in soil -- and vegetables take them up as they grow.
Nitrate Content in Vegetables
On his website NutritionFacts.org, Michael Greger, M.D. rates vegetables with the highest nitrate content per 100 grams. By weight, arugula contains more nitrates than any other vegetable with 480 milligrams per 100 grams, followed by rhubarb with 247. Butter leaf lettuce contains 200, spring greens have 183, beet greens have 177, oak leaf lettuce contains 155, while Swiss chard has 151 and beets contain 110 grams. Eight of the top 10 vegetable sources of nitrate are green leafy vegetables with beets and rhubarb being the only ones that aren't.
Although there has been concern about nitrate consumption, particularly in relation to processed meats, Dr. Greger notes that the nitrates in vegetables are heart healthy and can even improve athletic performance. Interestingly enough, the nitrates in vegetables are often extracted for use as preservatives in processed meats. There is no difference between nitrates regardless of the source, therefore all nitrates should be considered safe. Nitrates have been studied for decades and pose no risk to humans whatsoever, according to Sindelar at the University of Wisconsin.
Nitrate Health Benefits
Although dietary nitrates were originally considered a health concern, evidence supporting any toxic effects is weak and recent discoveries of the health and performance benefits of these newly proposed nutrients has challenged that thinking, according to 2010 information provided by USRowing, a nonprofit membership organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of rowing. In addition, nitrates are recommended in high amounts through fruit and vegetable consumption, in diets for treating hypertension and other health conditions. In fact, the human body contains a recently discovered pathway that may exist to utilize nitrates, which plays an important role in the function of the immune system, heart health and athletic performance, according to the USRowing website.