How to longer: The cheap and simple daily dietary tip that slashes risk of chronic disease

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If life was completely mapped out it would be banal but most people would appreciate greater certainty over their life expectancy. Diet provides a reliable predictor of general life expectancy because the dietary decisions we make greatly determine our risk of developing chronic disease, namely heart disease – a preventable condition that claims millions of lives every year. Underscoring the importance of healthy eating, a recent study shows even small tweaks can have a profound impact.

The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, found eating just one cup of nitrate-rich vegetables each day significantly reduces risk of heart disease.

The study investigated whether people who regularly ate higher quantities of nitrate-rich vegetables, such as leafy greens and beetroot, had lower blood pressure, and it also examined whether these same people were less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease many years later.

Researchers examined data from over 50,000 people residing in Denmark taking part in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study over a 23-year period.

Diet, Cancer and Health is a Danish prospective cohort study aimed at investigating the associations between dietary habits, lifestyle, and cancer development.

The researchers found that people who consumed the most nitrate-rich vegetables had about a 2.5 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure and between 12 to 26 percent lower risk of heart disease.

The systolic pressure is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body – it is a reliable indicator of having a heart attack.

“Our results have shown that by simply eating one cup of raw (or half a cup of cooked) nitrate-rich vegetables each day, people may be able to significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease,” explained lead researcher Dr Catherine Bondonno from ECU’s Institute for Nutrition Research.

She continued: “Our results have shown that by simply eating one cup of raw (or half a cup of cooked) nitrate-rich vegetables each day, people may be able to significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

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“The greatest reduction in risk was for peripheral artery disease (26 percent), a type of heart disease characterised by the narrowing of blood vessels of the legs, however we also found people had a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.”

The study found that the optimum amount of nitrate-rich vegetables was one cup a day and eating more than that didn’t seem to give any additional benefits.

“People don’t need to be taking supplements to boost their nitrate levels because the study showed that one cup of leafy green vegetables each day is enough to reap the benefits for heart disease,” Dr Bondonno said.

“We did not see further benefits in people who ate higher levels of nitrate rich vegetables.”

Dr Bondonno noted that hacks such as including a cup of spinach in a banana or berry smoothie might be an easy way to top up our daily leafy greens.

“Blending leafy greens is fine, but don’t juice them. Juicing vegetables removes the pulp and fibre,” Dr Bondonno said.

Other key dietary tips

It is imperative to eat less saturated fat, sugar and salt.

“Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease,” warns the NHS.

Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese.

Eating a diet high in saturated fat is associated with raised levels of LDL cholesterol, commonly dubbed the “bad” cholesterol.

This is a waxy substance that can clog up your arteries, thereby raising your risk of heart disease.

“Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of getting heart disease or having a stroke,” adds the NHS.

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