Remember as a kid when you were told to eat your vegetables whether you liked them or not? Hopefully, I was not the only person who had to force-feed myself broccoli while my parents watched to make sure I ate them all. It would not be until I became an adult that I appreciated all the nights of being forced to eat my veggies. Many vegetables contain amino acids and dietary nitrates. These compounds are the building blocks of a molecule called nitric oxide (NO). As more research is conducted on nitric oxide, it is clear that nutrition is the most effective way to influence your nitric oxide production. In this article, we will go over why nitric oxide is essential for your health and outline the best vegetables to spur your nitric oxide production.


Nitric Oxide: Making Blood Flow Great Again

Before we get to the vegetables, let’s go over the basics of NO. Nitric oxide is one of the most important molecules your body naturally produces. It is vital to your health and a plethora of physiological functions. It impacts many essential processes that keep you alive and well. Most of the health benefits associated with nitric oxide come from the process of vasodilation. Vasodilation is the king of nitric oxide benefits. NO achieves vasodilation by helping the muscles within the inner lining of blood vessels widen and relax. As this happens, your blood is able to flow more freely. Better blood flow allows for the optimized delivery of oxygen and nutrients to be distributed throughout the body.

Since NO helps dilate blood vessels, it promotes healthy blood flow. Healthy blood flow influences health benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved brain health, and improved stamina. Unfortunately, NO levels begin to decline after age 40. Your nitric oxide production is at its peak in your twenties, but by the time you hit 50, it can be down by as much as 50%. The inability to produce enough NO leads to an increased risk for health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, or stroke.

One of the best ways to spur nitric oxide production is by consuming the right vegetables.


How do vegetables spur nitric oxide production?

The best nitric oxide foods to consume are ones that contain dietary nitrates, L-arginine, or L-citrulline. These nutrients are found in a variety of foods, but predominantly in fruits and vegetables. Your body uses these nutrients to produce nitric oxide. As a quick disclaimer, the dietary nitrates found in plants are converted differently in the body than the nitrates found in processed meats. When we eat vegetables, one or more of these nutrients gets converted in the body into nitric oxide. Since NO is a gas, we do not consume it directly. Each of these nutrients gets converted into NO via a chemical pathway. The process will look different for each nutrient, but the end result is the same:


  1. Eat a vegetable.
  2. Vegetable gets digested.
  3. Nutrients contained within vegetables are converted into NO.

This is very simplified but you get the point.


Nitric Oxide Health Benefits

We briefly touched on a few benefits earlier, but I would like to talk about a few more health benefits associated with nitric oxide. There have been tens of thousands of studies done on nitric oxide. What researchers have found is that NO provides a wide range of health benefits. These benefits include:


Nitric oxide helps with much more than listed here, but this list gives you a general idea of how essential it is to eat your vegetables and spur nitric oxide production.


Vegetables that will stimulate nitric oxide production

For those who are nervous about supplements and do not want to change too much of their lifestyle, there are several foods you can incorporate into your diet to start boosting your NO production. I have compiled a short list of some of the most popular choices for vegetables that will stimulate nitric oxide production.


1. Arugula

This leafy green has one of the highest concentrations of dietary nitrates in a plant – roughly 480mg per 100g. If you are a salad eater, consider adding this peppery green to your next meal.


2. Spinach

This leafy green is a popular and commonly eaten plant among health enthusiasts. This plant contains well over 250mg per 100g nitrates per serving, making it great for stimulating your NO production. Once again, if you like salads, this green is a great addition. You can even eat a couple of handfuls raw to reap some of the health benefits.


3. Beets

According to many sources, beets are the best single source of nitrates in the plant kingdom. Beetroot can be blended into smoothies, chopped up and added to salads, or steamed and added as a side dish to other meals. Beet juice is popular in the fitness industry as a pre-workout supplement.


4. Garlic

Garlic is often a component in cooking for its flavor profile. However, garlic is also capable of boosting NO production. Garlic boosts NO production by activating the nitric oxide synthase enzyme that aids in the conversion of nitric oxide from L-arginine. Because of this, garlic is also attributed to lowering blood pressure. Despite the scent of garlic being on the pungent side, it is a vegetable that is great for your health.


5. Carrots

Here is one vegetable that many people like to snack on. The good news is that carrots can boost NO production via nitrates. Carrots are great steamed, eaten raw, boiled in a stew, etc. Eating carrots has other health benefits as well, but be aware that they contain roughly 150mg per 100g or more of dietary nitrates.


6. Broccoli

Growing up, broccoli was the bane of my existence. I spent many nights fighting with my parents because I did not want to eat those stupid mini trees! Having grown up, I am thankful they made me eat them. Not only does broccoli come packed with vitamins and antioxidants your body needs, but it has some dietary nitrates your body can use to produce nitric oxide. While broccoli does not contain as high of a concentration compared to other greens, it is still sufficient when consumed on a regular basis. Furthermore, broccoli is one of those vegetables that can be prepared in various ways. Broccoli is great as a raw snack or cooked as part of a meal.


7. Spirulina

This vegetable is actually a type of algae that grows in the sea. Spirulina is often a component of smoothies or daily greens supplement powders. Why this alga is important to us is the nitric oxide precursor L-arginine. This is an amino acid the body uses to produce nitric oxide. One cup of spirulina contains about 4.6 grams of L-arginine, which is plenty to stimulate nitric oxide production. So whether you eat spirulina in its algae form, as a powder/capsule, or in a mix of some sort, do so with the knowledge you are boosting your NO production.


8. Cucumbers

This vegetable is commonly found in a salad. Cucumbers also make a great standalone snack. We are interested in cucumbers because of their L-citrulline content. L-citrulline is an amino acid the body uses by converting it into L-arginine. Then, L-arginine is converted into nitric oxide. Cucumbers contain around 0.146mg per 1g of L-citrulline. Cucumbers are low-calorie and hydrating. This makes cucumbers an ideal snack for those being calorie conscious but still looking to boost NO production.


9. Squash

Most types of squash contain L-citrulline, so work just like cucumbers as a precursor for nitric oxide production. These vegetables are technically fruits, but very few people would look at squash and call it a fruit. Therefore, we will lump it in with the rest of the vegetables.


10. Eggplant

Here is another vegetable with a decent nitrate concentration. Rounding out our list is eggplant. Packing a nitrate concentration between 25-42 mg per 100g serving, consuming eggplant is a great way to boost your NO production. This vegetable is usually the main dish rather than a side, but there are many ways to consume it. If you’re looking for a healthy meal that will improve your blood flow and more, eggplant is a solid choice.


The Bottom Line

There are many things we can do to boost our nitric oxide production. We can exercise more, spend more time outside in the sun, get more sleep, and so much more. However, the easiest thing we can do is add a couple of things to our meals in order to stay healthy and keep those NO levels optimal. As we age, nitric oxide levels will decline. Furthermore, NO is a gas that dissipates rapidly in the body, so it must be replenished just as rapidly.

There are plenty of other vegetables and other foods that could have been added to this list, but I chose to only add the most popular choices for most people on this list. Some honorable mentions that did not make the cut are kale, chard, bok choy, lettuce, and cabbage. Pick a couple of these vegetables that you can add easily to your diet and start enhancing your nitric oxide levels today!