Nitric oxide is important for your health for many reasons. From healthy circulation to optimal oxygen and energy transport throughout the body, this molecule also helps with signaling for healthy muscle contractions, blood vessel function, and normal blood pressure responses that are already in a balanced range.
Nitric oxide can be made from arginine, an amino acid. Citrulline, another amino acid, can be converted to arginine and supports healthy nitric oxide. Nitrates and nitrites from foods can also be converted in the body to produce nitric oxide. Your body can increase or decrease conversion as needed.
A healthy, balanced diet provides an abundant supply for the body to make nitric oxide. If you want to focus on increasing your body’s nitric oxide, the 17 foods below are some of the best sources.
Nitrates (NO3−) and nitrites (NO2−) used to be considered unwanted dietary components. But then scientists learned that nitric oxide—a beneficial molecule that supports healthy circulation, cellular signaling, and energy use in the body—can be made from a few important pathways. The main difference is that nitrates and nitrites that naturally occur in food can be beneficial, while those added to foods as preservatives may not produce beneficial compounds like nitric oxide.
The following foods can be used to increase nitric oxide in the body, either through dietary nitrate and nitrite conversion or by providing the amino acids arginine and citrulline.
Leafy greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods that exist. They also help fuel nitric oxide by providing a rich supply of nitrates. Spinach, kale, and chard contain the highest amounts of nitrates along with other bioactive compounds that support healthy circulation, blood vessel elasticity, cell signaling, and overall health. These other bioactive compounds include folate, vitamin K, and beta-carotene.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend 2½ cups per day of vegetables for a 2,000 calorie food intake. On a weekly basis, at least 1½ cups should come from dark green vegetables, including leafy greens. Most Americans do not eat dark green veggies this often. Add kale to a soup, spinach to a smoothie, or mix them both into salads for an effortless way to boost your healthy nitrate intake.
You may think that meat, poultry, and seafood wouldn’t rank second on a list, right behind leafy greens, but these protein-rich foods are an excellent source of nitric oxide. That’s because they contain coenzyme Q10, which has antioxidant-like properties that help the body to maintain a healthy nitric oxide balance. Red meat like beef, lamb, and bison contain more coenzyme Q10 than poultry and seafood. Red meats are also rich sources of arginine, the amino acid that can be converted directly into nitric oxide. Turkey, chicken, salmon, and other seafood also contain arginine. Dairy products, eggs, and legumes also provide coenzyme Q10. A well-rounded diet supports healthy nitric oxide levels but also the other enzymes and nutrients that support overall wellness and healthy cellular function.
Dark chocolate contains many flavonoids and antioxidants that have many health benefits, including protecting cells by increasing nitric oxide synthesis. In a study that compared dark chocolate to white chocolate effects, the people who ate the dark chocolate had significantly more nitric oxide after just 15 days.
You can’t replace leafy greens with cocoa, but if you’re looking for ways to support robust nitric oxide synthesis, dark chocolate should be on the menu. Just remember that dark chocolate and milk chocolate do not have equivalent benefits, since milk chocolate contains more sugar and milk and less of the actual cacao that provides the antioxidant-like benefits.
Red wine gets a lot of chatter when it comes to health. Is it good for you or not? Obviously there are lots of individual components to wellness, like health conditions and genetics. When it comes to red wine, the proposed benefits stem from the antioxidant activity of polyphenols, including resveratrol.
Still, in the medical and research communities, there remain mixed opinions on red wine and health. Some researchers urge caution with alcohol, including red wine, because epigenetics and unique environmental impacts could mean that any alcohol has a potential for negative cellular impacts. There are no definitive answers regarding red wine consumption—even with some noted health benefits of moderate consumption, medical providers do not broadly recommend it to all adults for health purposes. Resveratrol is also found in grapes, blueberries, and peanuts, so you can consume this beneficial compound without alcohol.
Garlic is a versatile food that is widely used in many kinds of recipes. But beyond its robust flavor profile, aged garlic also has some substantial health benefits, including helping to activate processes that increase nitric oxide in the body. A study of 100 healthy adults found that a raw garlic clove was able to increase nitric oxide by 224% within a few hours of being eaten. The effect lasted for at least a week, too, which is great news if you want the benefits without perpetual garlic breath.
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit are well-known as excellent sources of vitamin C. Based on in vitro studies, Vitamin C may also support nitric oxide in the body with its antioxidant properties and by increasing bioavailability of nitric oxide and enzymes that contribute to nitric oxide production. Animal research has also found similar results that vitamin C can also stimulate nitric oxide synthase (an enzyme), which can boost the body’s ability to make nitric oxide as it is needed. Additional research with humans is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
The USDA recommends 2 cups of fruit per day for a 2,000 calorie diet. In the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines, it’s noted that the average fruit intakes for all adults fall short of this. Citrus fruits contribute micronutrients and antioxidants in addition to the potential nitric oxide support.
Pomegranates contain flavonoids, antioxidants, folate, vitamin C, and electrolyte minerals, making them a superfood for cellular protection. The anti-oxidation activity of pomegranates helps the body efficiently make and use nitric oxide. In studies, pomegranate extract has been objectively found to support better oxygen and blood flow during intense exercise, having a measurable impact on energy. Another study using a supplement that included pomegranate polyphenols (along with other ingredients) was found to increase nitrates and nitrites for the purpose of making nitric oxide and optimizing athletic performance. A review further supported pomegranate’s role in both exercise performance and recovery due to antioxidant, oxygen, and blood flow impacts.
While most pomegranate research has been done in extracts or supplements, the whole food contains polyphenols, flavonoids, and beneficial nutrients to support healthy nitric oxide production. You can eat the whole food and even drink the juice, too.
Contrary to popular opinion, watermelon is more than just water. It provides potassium and lycopene, along with the amino acid citrulline, which can be converted into arginine and then nitric oxide in the body. In a study that looked at the effects of drinking watermelon juice for two weeks, citrulline, arginine, and nitrites were all increased, supporting nitric oxide production. Watermelon also helps the body make and use nitric oxide more efficiently.
And yes—the higher water content in the fruit also supports hydration, which is good for healthy cell communication, nutrient transport, and energy.
Beets have gained a reputation for being good for healthy blood and circulation mainly because of their concentration of natural nitrates. Beneficial effects can come from eating beets or drinking beetroot juice. Research has shown that the nitrates from beets can be converted into nitric oxide relatively quickly, with one beetroot supplement raising nitric oxide by 21% in less than an hour. The impact was documented to last for several hours. Another study investigated the effects of a beetroot juice supplement in adults of two age groups: 35 and younger vs. 55 and older. Both age groups had increased nitrates within 3 hours, but only the younger group had elevated levels 24 hours later. However, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study that had an average age of 60 years for participants compared beetroot nitrate supplementation to placebo and found that not only did beetroot increase nitrates, nitrites, and nitric oxide, the effects lasted for at least 24 hours and potentially longer. Researchers found that after two weeks without supplementation the nitrate changes were no longer evident, but this supports the potential for at least day-long benefits from nitrate and nitrite sources like beets.
Nuts and seeds are popular snacks, and they’re also a source of arginine. Regularly consuming a variety of foods that contain arginine, like different types of nuts and seeds, supports nitric oxide balance. Nuts and seeds also contain other beneficial nutrients like fiber and protein that also support healthy circulatory, metabolic, and vascular wellness.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume about 5 ounces of nuts and seeds per week for the average 2,000 calorie diet. While peanuts are not nuts, they provide resveratrol and some similar benefits. Choosing a variety of nuts and seeds, instead of always consuming the same one or two, provides the best intake for fiber, protein, and amino acids.
Like watermelon, celery is often written off as a vegetable that has little nutritional value besides water. But celery contains nitrates as well as bioflavonoids like apigenin and about 104 mg of potassium per single medium-sized stalk. It also contains smaller amounts of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and lutein.
The USDA considers celery to be in the category of “other vegetables,” and recommends that adults consume about 4 servings per week. Other foods in this category include asparagus, avocado, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, and more.
Like spinach and kale, cress is a vegetable that packs a nutritional punch. It is part of the Brassica family along with sprouts, collards, and broccoli. Cress contains antioxidants, polyphenols, B vitamins, vitamin C, carotenoids, and the precursors that elevate nitric oxide in the body.
You can eat cress greens in several ways, but raw or lightly steamed are best to retain the most nutritional value. It can be added to salads with other leafy greens, put on sandwiches, served as a side dish, added to avocado toast as a topping, or even added to homemade pesto.
Chervil (also known as French parsley) can be used as a seasoning but can also be added to salads as a microgreen. Like other leafy greens, chervil contains nitrates that help with nitric oxide production. Its flavor profile is reminiscent of parsley with a hint of licorice, and it pairs well with poultry, vegetable, or seafood dishes. You can pair chervil with other vegetable dishes or rotate it with other options for a healthy variety of nitrate-rich foods.
Bok choy is a variety of Chinese cabbage. Along with arugula, spinach, beetroot, chard, and a handful of others, it is one of the most concentrated sources of dietary nitrates. Regularly eating bok choy contributes to healthy nitric oxide balance and it has other nutritional benefits. One cup of bok choy contains 73 mg of calcium, 31 mg of vitamin C, 46 mcg of folate (10% of the RDA), and 1,800 mcg of beta-carotene.
Cabbage is a Brassica vegetable that is packed with nutritional value—and is one of the most affordable vegetables, available at most grocery stores throughout the year. Cabbage provides a significant source of healthy dietary nitrates along with vitamin K, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. It retains the most nutritional value when eaten raw or lightly steamed. It can be prepared and used in several types of recipes, from slaw to salad to soup and more, making it easy to work into a regular dietary rotation.
While cauliflower is having its moment of being transformed into everything from rice to pizza crust, it should also get attention for having a potent ability to generate nitric oxide in the body. Cauliflower is also a good source of fiber and sulforaphanes, the compounds that support the liver’s ability to make antioxidants and to successfully complete phase 2 detoxification (the part where the toxic substances are inactivated and eliminated).
A single cup of cauliflower provides 320 mg of potassium, 51 mg of vitamin C, and 61 mcg of folate. As a versatile veggie, it’s easy to work into your diet in many ways: add it to a salad, make a cauliflower slaw, roast it, or eat it with guacamole.
Carrots are a great source of flavonoids and beta-carotene. While they have lower nitrate concentrations than some other vegetables, root vegetables generally are a good source for the nitric oxide precursor.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend 5½ cups per week of red and orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash. It’s best to eat them raw or lightly steamed as a side dish since cooking at high temperatures can decrease nitric oxide levels.
Nitric oxide is a compound that supports homeostasis throughout the body, notably with healthy circulation, vascular wellness, and cellular energy. Signs of low nitric oxide can also be caused by many other factors, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following:
Nitric oxide is a vital molecule in the body that supports healthy cells, oxygen delivery, and circulatory system wellness. It impacts virtually every tissue in the body! You can support healthy nitric oxide levels by eating a wide variety of foods as part of a balanced diet. You can easily bolster your nitric oxide production by choosing foods from the list above. Always check with your doctor before making any major dietary changes, and remember, medical views on red wine and alcohol for overall health aren’t fully in agreement. Work with a healthcare professional to identify the best foods to optimize your nitric oxide balance and overall health.