Heart Health Vascular Disease

Top 16 Nitric Oxide Foods and Herbs

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: February 13, 2021
arugala are one of the top nitric oxide foods

Why Care About Nitric Oxide?

Dietary nitrate consumption increases nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide or NO plays an essential role in cardiovascular health. Clinical trials with dietary nitrate have revealed improvements in blood pressure, ischemia-re-perfusion injury, and very importantly, vascular lining (endothelial function) as well as arterial stiffness. It has also been linked to improved platelet function and increased exercise performance. Other probable benefits include improved transmission of neural impulses and even better mitochondrial biogenesis. Even an improvement in the control of metabolic syndrome may result from increased nitric oxide levels.

It’s plausible there may be a serious downside to taking NO supplements (such as certain cancers and heart/lung disease at high doses). As a result, I am recommending dietary sources over most types of nitric oxide booster supplements. For now, these boosters are best left to the venue of weight lifting supplements.

  • Nitric oxide foods
  • Nitric oxide boosting herbs
  • Role of the oral microbiome and NO
  • Exercise and NO 

Before we get started, please note that inorganic nitrate-the starter molecule-NO3 has a relatively long half-life of about 6 hours, regardless of the NO3 source ingested. Most studies show that peak plasma NO2 occurs between 2 and 3 hours post-ingestion of NO3, with blood pressure decreases noted between 2 and 4 hours post-consumption. This is why my suggestions for increasing NO in the body with nitric oxide foods and herbs tend to be for the maintenance of vascular health, rather than control of blood pressure.


Nitric Oxide Producing Vegetables

arugala are one of the top nitric oxide foodsPlant nitrates are not the same as animal-derived nitrates. Animal nitrates are found in processed meats. When you eat them, they are converted into harmful nitrosamines, which are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

We’ll discuss what animal products are right for nitric oxide levels in a bit, but you must make this crucial distinction.

The number one food (according to weight) for nitric acid production is arugula (weighing in at 480 mg per 100 grams). In fact, of the top 10 most nitrate-rich foods; 6 are leafy greens.

Spinach, spring greens, butter leaf lettuce, kale, and cabbage are the other five.

Getting beets in your diet is another great way to increase your nitric oxide levels. Beets are listed right after “normal servings” of the above leafy greens for nitrate levels. Beets are not a very popular food; but if you don’t like them, you haven’t tried my Russian grandmother’s beet salad! (Sliced beets, thinly sliced red onions, thinly sliced English cucumber, and the beet juice mixed with sour cream and dill weed as the primary seasoning.)

Celery, leeks, scallions, radishes, turnip tops, mustard greens, eggplant, carrots, and string beans are also decent sources of inorganic, usable nitrates.

Lastly, let’s not forget about beetroot juice. Because juice is absorbed and distributed in the body more rapidly than “solids,” athletes are consuming a fair amount of beetroot juice to increase their strength. If you “spike” nitric oxide levels before you weight train, you’ll experience greater blood flow to your muscles during your workout. As an FYI, if this is your intention, beetroot juice does come in second after arugula for nitrate content (279 mg per 100 g).


When to Eat Cruciferous Veggies

Love your broccoli? And your cauliflower? Me too! However, from now on, be careful when you eat these nutritious veggies. Interestingly enough, co-ingestion of cruciferous vegetables, which are naturally high in thiocyanate, with NO3-rich vegetables, will ablate the helpful influence of NO3 ingestion on blood pressure; in multiple clinical studies.

As a side note, be aware tobacco smoking increases serum thiocyanate, which acts by inhibiting the uptake of NO3from the systemic circulation into the salivary gland and therefore attenuates oral NO3 to NO2conversion. 


Nitric Oxide Producing Fruits

Citrus Fruits: First of all, remember that oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruit are excellent sources of vitamin C; an important water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin C can enhance levels of nitric oxide by increasing its bio-availability as well as maximizing its absorption. Studies also show that it may raise levels of nitric oxide synthase; the enzyme needed for the production of nitric oxide.

Rhubarb: This “fruit” that is a vegetable is full of healthy nitrates (281 mg per 100 grams). It’s important to remember that only the stem is edible, as rhubarb leaves are toxic to humans and our pets. Try it stewed, with a little added stevia for sweetening.

Watermelon: This tasty and hydrating fruit is filled with the amino acid, L-citrulline, which can be transformed into nitric oxide.

Spirulina: This gluten-free superfood alga is loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals, cell-protective chlorophyll and can increase nitric oxide levels, too.

Dark Chocolate and Nuts

Dark chocolate is a delicious way to boost your nitric oxide levels. It’s the flavanols in cocoa that help your body establish optimal nitric oxide levels. In addition, studies have demonstrated that those same flavanols can directly increase nitric oxide-mediated vasodilation. To reap the benefits, choose a minimum of 70-80% dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more flavanols and therefore nitric oxide boost your body will get.

Nuts and seeds are high in L-arginine, the other amino acid involved in the production of nitric oxide. The best nuts for your brain happen to be the best nuts for NO production: walnuts.



Cilantro is not only a rich source of nitrates (247mg per 100grams) but also contains quercetin, a natural antihistamine which can also support detoxification in the body.

Basil is another tasty herb that boosts nitric oxide. It contains 183 mg of nitrates per 100 grams of leaves.

Garlic can boost nitric oxide levels by activating nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme mentioned earlier. This enzymes assists in the conversion of nitric oxide from the amino acid L-arginine.


The Role of the Oral Microbiome

The fundamental role of the oral microbiome in our oral and systemic health is being elucidated more and more with each study that emerges. Elevations in plasma [NO2] following dietary NO3 ingestion and the associated physiological responses are blunted by the use of antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes and toothpaste. This blunting is directly related to the diminution of healthy oral bacteria in the oral microbiome.


Exercise And Other Odds And Ends

Want a final way to give your levels of nitric oxide a boost? Just move! Compelling evidence suggests that regular exercise can significantly increase your body’s intrinsic production of nitric oxide—yet another reason if you need one.

As a final note, the anti-oxidant with mitochondrial boosting powers, CoQ10 is found in meat, poultry, and seafood. And, yes, CoQ10 helps preserve our body’s’ NO stores. This is routinely addressed (your NO levels) by good Integrative Medicine M’D.’s.

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 

Volume 56, 2016 – Issue 12

Dietary Nitrate, Nitric Oxide, and Cardiovascular Health

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