Kale and other leafy greens have been nutritional superstars for several years now, and researchers have recently identified another reason to add them to your plate. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, leafy greens can help protect your heart.
The study suggests that inadequate levels of vitamin K may affect the structure of the heart, potentially resulting in a heart condition called left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). The left ventricle of the heart is its major pumping chamber; in people with LVH, the left ventricle becomes enlarged and, over time, the heart cannot pump blood as effectively as it should.
“This is important research that may help us discover additional ways to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially at a young age,” said Poulina Q. Uddin, MD, an integrative cardiologist with Scripps Clinic. “We already know that vitamin K plays an important role in blood coagulation and bone health, and learning more about its role in heart disease by adding more leafy greens to your diet can benefit just about everyone in many ways.”
Vitamin K, known as vitamin K-1 or phylloquinone in its dietary form, is abundant in kale, parsley, spinach and broccoli — as well as in iceberg lettuce and cabbage — so consuming them may help prevent LVH.
LVH generally affects adults. However, the researchers chose to study adolescents, since heart structure abnormalities that begin in childhood are often good predictors of cardiovascular disease later in life. The authors studied 766 healthy teens between ages 14 and 18. Females represented half of the participants, as did black Americans.
The seven-day study found that participants who ate the least amount of vitamin K-1 had significantly larger left ventricles than those whose intake of the vitamin was adequate. Moreover, the higher the intake of the vitamin, the lower the likelihood of developing LVH, regardless of age, sex, race, body composition, physical activity and other dietary factors.
Dr. Uddin suggests consuming at least two to three servings of leafy greens every day. “Toss a handful of spinach into your smoothie, or sauté broccoli in a little olive oil,” she suggests. “There are lots of tasty ways to increase your greens.”