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Which Vegetables Have the Most Nitrates?

What is the optimal timing and dose of nitrate-containing vegetables? In terms of timing for improving athletic performance, since every person is different, two to three hours before a competition is about as specific as we can get.

What about the best dose? How much borscht do we have to have for breakfast? To date, most studies have used a narrow range of doses so it’s not clear if it’s a matter of more is better or if there’s a ceiling, or threshold amount. A group of researchers decided to find out. They set up folks on an exercise bike and had them cycle furiously until they dropped. The subjects made it about eight minutes after drinking a placebo. After one shot of beetroot juice, which is about a quarter of a cup, they may or may not have gained a few seconds. However, drinking a half-cup gave them about a full extra minute. Drinking even more didn’t seem to offer any additional benefit.

That half-cup or so of beet juice corresponds to 8 “units” of nitrate. So, 4 units didn’t significantly work, and 16 did no better than 8. Thus, 8 units appear to be the sweet spot for improving athletic performance. What about for lowering blood pressure? Again, we see the same thing. Blood pressure may have been helped a little by 4 units, but 8 worked better and about equally well as 16. A 10-point drop in blood pressure, which may not sound like a lot, but that may translate into dropping heart attack risk by 25% and stroke risk by 35%.

But, beet juice is perishable and hard to find. What about V8 juice, which has both beet and spinach juice? It must not have much, though, because you’d have to drink 19 quarts a day to hit the target. That why I have a cooking video on making my own!

Straight beet juice is nitrate-packed, but it’s a processed food. How many actual beets or green leafy vegetables would one have to eat to reach the target of eight units? Well, the British Heart Foundation did the work for you and produced a useful chart that you can see in my “Veg-Table” Dietary Nitrate Scoring Method video at the 2:10 minute mark. They took into account both nitrate concentration and serving size for a range of foods, and arranged all of the foods into three groups: a high nitrate group that’s worth two nitrate units per serving, a medium group that’s worth about a half unit per serving, and a low nitrate group that’s worth one-tenth of a unit per serving. The serving sizes they analyzed are pretty small, though, less than three ounces. (Remember, we’re trying to get up to eight units a day.) So, a typical 15-ounce can of beets would nail the daily eight-unit target, as would a really big salad of greens, both of which are in the high nitrate group. Most people only get about a unit a day, and even vegetarians need to double their vegetable intake, and those eating organic may have to eat even more.

Organic produce may have more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, but it tends to have fewer nitrates since synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are banned by law from organic agriculture. Eating 15% more organic veggies to get the same nitrate intake is easy, but, for beets, the spread can be larger. On the other hand, organic beets may have more of certain phytonutrients, like the red pigment for which beets are known, which may explain why the organic beet extracts had significantly higher anti-cancer effects in vitro compared to conventional beets.

For more information on why one would want to boost their nitrate consumption, check out these videos: Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance, Oxygenating Blood with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables, and Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables.

If you really want to take a really deep dive into the background of this fascinating area, see my original 16-part series:

  1. Doping with Beet Juice
  2. Priming the Proton Pump
  3. Don’t Use Antiseptic Mouthwash
  4. Out of the Lab & Onto the Track
  5. Asparagus Pee
  6. Pretty in Pee-nk
  7. Vegetables Rate by Nitrate
  8. Is Bacon Good or Is Spinach Bad?
  9. When Nitrites Go Bad
  10. Hearts Shouldn’t Skip a Beet
  11. Bacon and Botulism
  12. Are Nitrates Pollutants or Nutrients?
  13. Prevention Is Better Than Cured Meat
  14. Carcinogens in the Smell of Frying Bacon
  15. Vitamin C-Enriched Bacon
  16. So Should We Drink Beet Juice or Not?

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

59 responses to “Which Vegetables Have the Most Nitrates?

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    1. Why purchase expensive powder that is semi-processed when you can buy organic beets and juice them yourself. I am not going to have second best with commercial powders….I am going for the real thing which is juicing your own beets. Plus, I eat a lot of raw beets with my huge bowls of green salads: aurgula, kale, spinach. I use NO OILS….no salad dressings. I eat for survival not pleasure. God help all those future children that are going to be consuming marijana edibles.

    2. I tried the powder once in large doses (a couple of TBS) and it irritated my urinary tract big time. I have no such problem when I juice beets (up to 12 oz of beet juice per day). My theory is the oxalates stay in solution in the juice vs the dried out crystals.

  1. For this brand 1 tbsp equals approx. 3 beets. As explained by Dr Greger, it may take more organic beets than regular to get the same result. I would imagine there would be large variance also due to growing and processing conditions. Your brand does not specify anything about nitrates on their website but you could phone the company. Their recommended serving size is 1 tbsp .

    1. *3 med sized beets would be close to what you would get in a 15 oz can of beets , so the 1 tbsp measure would in theory bring you closer to the 8 unit mark. But maybe the company can offer details particular to their product?

      1. THANK YOU!!! You gave great info and ideas! I am going to call them to see what they say about this brand….since i have a giant bag left and all lol

      1. It’s called rocket lettuce in Australia too.

        Of course, none of these terms is English anyway. “Rocket” is the French name (roquette) an I think arugula is Italian.

        Just as a courgette is called zucchini in Australia. Although, in the end, these are just pretentious names for a type of squash or young marrow.

  2. Sorry about using this link for a tech suggestion. Not sure how else to contact you. Your green “Support” button blocks my ability to click on the arrows that expand your videos to full screen. I have an iMac laptop and use both Chrome and Safari. Thank you. Connie

    1. Hi Connie, I think this has to do with the resolution of your screen or the size of your laptop. On most screens, the button doesn’t cover the video. Perhaps play with the resolution settings? I hope that helps! If not, then you can click that support button, which opens a message box to submit a question for a possibly better answer :)

      1. Thank you Kate for the very quick reply. The support button does not cover the video, but covers the arrows allowing me to expand to full screen. The is true on both of my different sized laptops. Your tip on my resolution is probably the ticket. I’ll have someone check it out. I so enjoy Dr. Greger’s videos and writings. You guys & gals are the best!

  3. So, I just happened to make some beet juice yesterday. If anyone’s interested, here’s the recipe:

    3-4 “medium” beets
    dark red or black grapes (use the amount that comes packaged or that you can cradle in both hands)
    3 lemons
    Wash the beets, grapes and lemons. In a juicer, juice each separately, the beets first, then grapes, then lemons. Strain each of the juices before combining.

    You can use the fiber from the beets and grapes in your garden or worm bin. (Don’t use the lemons; worms don’t like them.)

    1. HI Robert,
      Thanks for the beetroot tip.. I usually throw two carrots in the juicer with 3 beets and a splash of low sodium V8 for volume. I tried my own “study” and after the beet root lowered my BP I stopped taking it for a week.. Slowly began to creep up so It works for me!! I’m fortunate that I can get beets with the green tops. Very mild and I steam them up with broccoli, onions, Bok Choi with an avocado vinaigrette.. Delish!!

  4. A typical 15 ounce can of beets lists beets as the first ingredient, then water, then salt. But after checking several cans, I found that the beets were only about 7.5 to 8 ounces and the water weight was nearly equivalent. So, if you eat a full can of beets you are only eating maybe 8 ounces of beets. And, if you consume the water as well you will get 875 mg of sodium. The benefit to your arteries of eating this can of beets, would seem to be offset by the damage to your arteries of consuming the salt. I’ve read that if you drain and thoroughly rinse the canned beets, you can reduce their sodium by about 40%. But, I’d like to know if eating canned beets is even a net plus.

  5. Mitch: I should have mentioned that I will also juice the beet greens. One more addition, you can use cherries (when in season) instead of grapes. Cherries are super healthy.

  6. hi; sorry to be picky but…. where do you get the eight units of nitrates per day? you mention that the study gave 8 units to people. four did not work, sixteen did no better than eight. so you
    need to take eight units before exercise to see a good effect, four will not do. so you must take
    eight unit all at once or very close together and not throughout the day. how long did the
    eight unit last? one hour? four? twelve? twenty four? eight units dropped blood pressure. good.
    but how long did that effect last? again, one, two, twenty four hours? if eight units drops the bp
    but the effect last only four hours then getting eight unit throughout the day will not work well,
    unless the effect of the nitrates lasts a very long time. and looking at how long nitrates last for
    angina prevention you would probably have to take the eight units closer to every six hours,
    three times a day. again as with nitrates to treat angina, the body builds up tolerance and you
    need a nitrate free time each day. the same may be true for nitrates from foods.

    1. pj, the third paragraph in today’s article talks about the 8 units being the amount to aim for to get the best result. Here in this video, you can see it illustrated on a graph,. Dr Greger suggests trying it 2 to 3 hours before a competition, but everyone is different. There are 16 videos in the beet series listed under that video as well as listed here below the article.

      I don’t believe the 8 units are intended to ‘last all day’. Dr Greger is talking about athletic performance improvement. However, I do know that Dr Esselstyn instructs hs patients to be eating their greens every two hours, and if I am not mistaken, this is based on the same premise of bathing the endothelium in nitrate and thereby aleviating angina pain. Including foods from the best sources of nitrates in our meals throughout the day would not be difficult to do without extraordinary effort.
      There is a chart on this page that shows the best sources

    2. Hi, pj. There are a number of topics discussed here, and in the corresponding video. One topic is athletic performance. For that, one 8-unit dose 2-3 hours before competition appears to be ideal. For blood pressure reduction, 8 units per day seems to be most effective. A whole food plant-based diet may, over time, eliminate angina entirely. We cannot assume that nitrate-rich foods would build a tolerance in people in the same way that nitrate drugs do. I hope that helps!

  7. I find that greenhouse grown “Boston” or “Bibb” lettuce works well for blood pressure effects. I take about 12 oz a day in a smoothie. Boston lettuce was one of the greens mentioned in Gregor’s high nitrate list and I find it the most palatable.

    Also, I noticed that nitrate/nitrite conversion that occurs in saliva creates an alkaline PH in the mouth. That’s the first clue that I know something has a lot of nitrates in it – my saliva PH increases an hour or two after consumption and stays that way for a day. Yet another benefit of nitrate – better oral health. It seems nitrates should be considered a necessary nutrient for human health.

  8. Will someone please post how many beets they juice to get a cup? I don’t like beet juice and the beets go bad when I buy a bunch of 3 at the store. I’ve started adding beet powder to my fruit smoothies and want to come up with a conversion estimate. I may go back to juicing whole beets but it’s tough to stay on task when you don’t like the task – ie drinking beet juice. I have a bag of this powder but have no way to know that it is what it’s supposed to be. (A family member imports from China and has been entertained on high-end liquor that was obviously fake even given perfect packaging because it took over 1/2 a bottle to get a mild buzz.)

  9. Hello, sounds like such great heart benefit, but what about all the sugar in beets,
    they are called sugar-beets sometimes, especially in the south…???

    1. Beets are high in sugar. They do however contain fiber as well which may influence the degree and immediacy of the metabolizing of the sugar some theorize.
      Eating the stems and leaves also puts the sugar to fiber ration down.
      All fruits contain sugar. But the good effects of other things in fruit such as fiber and other nutrients outweigh the negative of the sugar. By my guess beets are the same though they are not fruit.. Would I only live on beets or fruits…no. there is a limit to my opinion on benefit verses sugar ration consumption.

    2. Sugar beet is a variety and type of beet. Bred specifically for its high sugar content. Totally different to the typical beet that we call beetroot here in NZ. If you farmed beetroot as a sugar crop you’d never make any money!

      1. April is right in her regard anyway. One red beet in a package I have contains about 7 grams of sugar. While that is way less than the 42 or so in a can of coke it is still high..
        My typical tomato sauce contains 3 grams per serving.
        No added sugar it is just what is in the beet naturally.

  10. Thought I may mention, supermarkets in America now are often carrying a cooked beet item. Four or five cooked beets in a clear type package. They are non gmo and do not have any added salt.
    They are found in the produce section and have very long expiration dates as they are vacume sealed.

    I have been favoring arugula but my guesstimate is as beets weigh so much more per comparable serving we get more bang for our buck with beets than arugula, even though arugula provides more in the way of nitrate. My problem with beets has been they tend to go bad quickly. But arugula is sometimes not available as well.

    These are very juicy, I would guess one is getting at least a quarter cup of juice with each beet. But the product itself is sort of expensive. I add one per day to a smoothie so defray the cost in that way. One per day is not so expensive. I expect I am getting benefit though there is not science to support it directly.

    1. Just off the top of my head I think they are. I expect Dr Greger has addressed it in one of his videos on it as he has a bunch. Perhaps one of the volunteers will chime in to address this.

      But assuming they roughly, are the things to look for would be….if one wants GMO free the can must say GMO free. Pesticide use is probably increased with GMO products. And if one wants them without salt it may be a bit hard to find one. They are out there but may be hard to find. Canned beets typically they add salt.

    2. With people experiencing gallbladder problems, fresh cooked beets will often relieve their symptoms completely. But canned beets do not help at all.
      Something vital gets lost in the high heat canning process.
      But I haven’t been able to find out if nitrates are lost.

  11. That’s interesting. Being a longterm cyclist I’ve tried all sorts of natural concoctions and the only thing I notice that gives me a benefit is beetroot juice on race day. However recently I’ve bought concentrated beetroot juice “shots”, which is more economical than buying bottles of beetroot juice. 70mls is equivalent to 500mls of beetroot juice apparently. Equivalent to 32 nitrate units assuming 125mls (half a cup) is 8units. This is good news as means drinking 1/4 of a shot is all I need to receive a boost. Means I’ll save money. Thanks Dr Greger :)

    1. Like this product Al’ o? Looks good to me. I did try beets before swimming my morning km, (though Im not an athlete – history of heart surgery and some copd) but I have to say I noticed a difference. I was eating roasted beets on salad with arugula for breakfast about 90 min before my swim. Normally I would eat oatmeal early, then an apple maybe an hour before. I will try the shots, especially for longer winter swims of a mile.

  12. I wanted to add my opinion educated to by DrGreger, is anyone who has any cardia deficiency problems CHF or other would seemingly be well advised to consume things like arugula and red beets or beet juice throughout the day.
    Only once would not probably provide the necessary benefit throughtout the day, as the effect for athletes at least seems to wear off withig 3 hours or so.
    Though it is always beneficial to consume then even once a day rather than not at all.

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  16. Hi there,
    A quick question regarding nitrates and daily intake.
    A study published in 2013 in the British Journal of Clinical Pharamcology ( references Acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 4.2mmol or ‘Nitrate units’, however it would seem that optimal athletic performance comes from 8.4mmol or ‘Nitrate units’ around 2-3 hours prior, i.e. double.
    Have the ADI levels changed since 2013, or would consuming 8.4mmol, say three times a week (to assist athletic performances) on top of a vegan diet put someone at a higher risk for unwanted nitrate related carcinogens?
    Any feedback is much aprpeciated.

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