Image of thinking young beautiful woman posing isolated over blue wall background holding cabbage and leek, two nitric oxide foods.

Have you heard about all the benefits of nitric oxide foods? Want to learn more about these foods and how they actually work? Keep reading to find out.

What is nitric oxide?

Nitric oxide (NO) is a gaseous molecule that serves several important functions in the body. 

What does nitric oxide do to your body?

Specifically, it works as an intermediate, which means it helps facilitate other bodily processes. Experts believe the body primarily uses NO to facilitate vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels. So, one important function of this molecule is to increase blood flow. Research also shows that NO can help facilitate angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels from old vessels.

How do you increase nitric oxide in your body?

Supplements

Limited research suggests that supplements may not be the most effective way to utilize nitric oxide. According to one Sports Medicine article, for example, nitric oxide-related supplements did not provide a boost in athletic performance in young males. Other studies published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) and The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reached similar conclusions: that nitric oxide-supplements provide little to no boost in NO levels and effectively no boost in athletic performance.

Foods

Research does, though, support the idea that eating foods rich in NO and its precursors (essentially, the ingredients for NO) can be effective in maintaining NO levels and helps facilitate nitric oxide activities. One Nutrients review, for instance, concluded that dietary nitrate can facilitate such activities (the body converts nitrate into nitric oxide).

This review isn’t the only one to reach a similar conclusion. Another Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition review stated that several clinical trials suggest dietary nitrate may boost cardiovascular health. It’s important to note, though, that this review mentions that there’s still plenty of research to be done in regards to potential harmful effects of dietary nitrate.

Foods high in nitric oxide

The best way to boost levels of this gaseous molecule in the body? It might just be through eating nitric oxide-rich foods (or, more specifically, nitrate-rich foods). The healthiest (and most concentrated) sources of dietary nitrate tend to be vegetables, particularly leafy greens. These foods include:

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Pomegranate
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

It’s important to note that these foods naturally contain nitrate. Typically, it’s extremely hard to induce nitrate poisoning through eating these healthy foods alone.

Foods with added nitrates, like sodium nitrate, might be another story. These foods include meats where sodium nitrate acts as a preservative. Some research links these foods with a higher incidence of heart problems. So, when it comes to boosting nitrate oxide via diet, the research suggests that sticking to sources of natural nitrate (like leafy vegetables) is better than reaching for foods packed with sodium nitrate (like some processed meats).

Can too much nitric oxide be harmful?

Yes, too much nitric oxide can be harmful, particularly when inhaled. That’s why the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that exposure over an 8-hour workday not exceed 25 ppm (30 mg/m3); these numbers are the same as the legal limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

When does NO become immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH)? According to the CDC, at 100 ppm.

Most people don’t experience nitrate poisoning through inhaling NO gas, though. What’s more likely is that someone ingests too much nitrate from the water they drink and the food they eat. You see, many fertilizers and even animal waste contain nitrate. Runoff from these sources may lead to nitrate bleeding into a water well. In some cases, this runoff may even affect garden soil, which means the plants growing in said gardens are more likely to have higher levels of nitrate.

Nitrate poisoning is much more serious for infants and children, which means it’s extra important to exercise caution when feeding these groups.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying the importance of nitric oxide in key bodily functions. Considering NO (and nitrate) poisoning is possible, though, it’s always best to play it safe. Before making any dietary changes, always consult a physician and/or licensed dietitian to decide whether deliberately boosting nitric oxide via foods is the right choice for you.

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