by Madeline Halpert Health Writer
Medical Reviewer David M. Axelrod, M.D.
David M. Axelrod, M.D.
Medical Reviewer David M. Axelrod, M.D.
David M. Axelrod, M.D.
Adding greens to your diet can color your plate and nourish your heart. According to a study from the International Journal of Epidemiology, eating leafy green and cruciferous vegetables helps reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and even mortality. These energy-dense green veggies are packed with a variety of nutrients that work together to target important risk factors for cardiovascular disease like cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation. Ready to go green for your heart? We’ll show you the best picks.
The #1 Reason Eating Green Veggies Helps Your Heart
“The biggest health factor that you find in any plant, especially greens, is the fiber component,” says Susan Levin, R.D., the director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. When we consume green vegetables, the soluble fiber from the plants becomes gummy and sticks to excess cholesterol circulating in the body. “Fiber is the only train ride out of town,” says Levin. Maintaining low LDL cholesterol levels is key to heart health, since a buildup of can block arteries and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease over time, according to a study published in The Lancet.
Crave Kale for a Strong Heart
The trendy superfood contains essential heart-healthy nutrients, especially nitrates, which improve blood flow, says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University in State College, PA. After we eat kale, the nitrates from the plant turn into nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and opens the arteries. The result? More oxygen-rich blood moves through the vessels towards the heart muscle, blood pressure decreases, and your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump.
Snack on Spinach
Green leafy vegetables may not be the first foods that come to mind when we think of potassium, but a serving of spinach contains more potassium than a banana. Kris-Etherton says the nutrient can help improve blood pressure. How does it work? According to the American Heart Association, potassium helps ease stress on the blood-vessel walls and it helps the body remove excess sodium—high levels lead to fluid retention. That extra fluid in your blood means your heart must work even harder to move it around your body.
Save Room for Swiss Chard
Just one serving of the vegetable contains more than three times your daily value of vitamin K, an important nutrient for brain, bone, and heart health. Levin says that low levels of vitamin K are linked with increased calcification in the arteries, a process that makes them stiff. Getting enough K helps keep arteries flexible, which in turn helps keep blood pressure in check, says Levin. Plus, it’s practically a rainbow! The dark green leaves have colorful yellow, red, purple, and pink stems. Just make sure that you are not taking medications that may interact with vitamin K or a change in diet. In particular, changing your diet with these leafy green vegetables can alter your body’s levels of blood thinners like Coumadin.
Fuel Up on Broccoli
“Broccoli is filled with vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E, which have antioxidant effects,” says Kris-Etherton. When consumed in their vegetable form, antioxidant-containing foods may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by fighting against free radicals, which damage cells. If those free radicals happen to be damaging cholesterol that's in your arteries, your immune system may mistake it for an invader and attack. The result? More heart-disease causing inflammation. Cruciferous veggies, including broccoli, put the brakes on all of that, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Get Your B with Brussels Sprouts
Folate is an essential nutrient for healthy cell growth, and Brussels sprouts, a cruciferous vegetable, are loaded with it. The nutrient plays an active role in heart health by lowering homocysteine. When levels of this amino acid get too high, it can damage the lining of the blood vessels and increase blood clotting. And when that happens, the risk for stroke and other cardiovascular disease goes up, according to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Braise Bok Choy
A leafy green and cruciferous vegetable, bok choy helps reduce risk for cardiovascular disease and even has anti-cancer properties, according to the National Cancer Institute. The Chinese white cabbage is packed with folate, numerous vitamins, and even calcium. Levin recommends cooking your bok choy with apple cider vinegar or lemon. The acids make the nutrients in the greens more absorbable—and the dish even tastier. “The bitterness of the greens with the sour citrus makes them taste sweet,” said Levin.
Cook Collard Greens
“Collard greens have magnesium, which is an under-consumed nutrient that is involved in all sorts of chemical reactions in the body,” says Kris-Etherton. In a study from the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers found that a daily dose of 600 milligrams of magnesium helps lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension. Though the exact science remains unclear, this may be because the mineral helps blood vessels relax, which increases the flow of blood through the body and eases pressure on the heart. Plus, magnesium eases heart-damaging inflammation, too, but scientists still aren’t sure exactly how.
Go for Green Beans
“The little pod within the green beans is a starchy legume full of fiber and folate, which have lots of benefits for heart health,” says Kris-Etherton. Plus, green beans are packed with nutrients such as vitamins A, B, and C as well as a compound called lutein. This vitamin A precursor helps fights inflammation and may help prevent hypertension through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a study in the Journal of Hypertension.
Make It a Salad
Levin says that when it comes to getting your vitamins, it can be tempting to look for the nutrients in a pill form. But she says that the biggest health benefits come from the synergistic effects of eating vegetables and their variety of nutrients in their most basic form. To get the most out of your greens, Kris-Etherton suggests combining several vegetables together in a salad with a healthy oil-based dressing. The sauce, while adding flavor, also helps to increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from the vegetables, providing a “nutrient-dense bonus.”
- Fruit and Vegetable Study: International Journal of Epidemiology. (2017). “Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28338764/
- Cholesterol Study: The Lancet. (2019). “Application of non-HDL cholesterol for population-based cardiovascular risk stratification: results from the Multinational Cardiovascular Risk Consortium.” thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)32519-X/fulltext
- Potassium and Heart Health: American Heart Association. (2016). “How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure.” heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure
- Cruciferous Vegetables and Cardiovascular Disease: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2014). “Cruciferous vegetable intake is inversely correlated with circulating levels of proinflammatory markers in women.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24630682/
- Antioxidants and Free Radicals: Pharmacognosy Review. (2010). “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/
- Homocysteine and Blood Clot Link: Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis. (2003). “Elevated plasma homocysteine leads to alterations in fibrin clot structure and stability: implications for the mechanism of thrombosis in hyperhomocysteinemia.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12871504/
- Folate and Stroke Study: Journal of the American Medical Association. (2015). “Efficacy of Folic Acid Therapy in Primary Prevention of Stroke Among Adults With Hypertension in ChinaThe CSPPT Randomized Clinical Trial.” jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2205876
- Folate and Homocysteine Study: Journal of the American Medical Association. (2001). “Randomized Trial of Folic Acid Supplementation and Serum Homocysteine Levels.” jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/647576
- Cruciferous Vegetables and Anti-cancer Properties: National Cancer Institute. (2012). “Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention.” cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet
- Magnesium and Hypertension Study: American Journal of Hypertension. (2009). “Oral magnesium supplementation reduces ambulatory blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19617879/
- Vitamin A and Inflammation Study: Journal of Hypertension. (2010). “Circulating Carotenoid Concentrations and Incident Hypertension: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920800/
Meet Our Writer
Madeline Halpert is a Michigan-based freelance writer who covers wide-ranging topics including the COVID-19 pandemic, issues concerning young adults and mental health. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington