New research by King's College in London suggests that tossing your salad lettuce in olive oil and adding a sprinkling of nuts and avocado boosts heart health and lowers your blood pressure. The addition of unsaturated fat in olive oil makes salad leaves particularly healthy. How does it work?

The chemistry of cooking

The reasoning behind the finding put me in mind of the late celebrity TV chef, Philip Harben. Harben went beyond demonstrating his recipes and explained to his television audience why it was that they worked. He explained the chemistry of cooking.

When foods are eaten together a chemical reaction occurs in stomach. William Hay, the inventor of food combining in the 1920s, understood this and used it as the basis of his diet program.

The addition of unsaturated fat in olive oil causes salad leaves to make compounds called nitro fatty acids which react in the stomach with an enzyme to lower our high blood pressure.

There are two essential ingredients for the chemical reaction to occur. They are:

# 1 Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are found in ::

  • olive oil;
  • nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashew, hazelnuts, macadamia and pecans;
  • avocados; and
  • oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, fresh tuna, herring, pilchards, swordfish and sardines.

# 2.Compounds called nitrites and nitrates

Nitrites are found in high levels in many salad vegetables including:

  • lettuce;
  • spinach;
  • celery;
  • carrots; and
  • beetroot.

Beetroot juice

A study into the beneficial effects of drinking beetroot juice also concluded that it was the nitro fatty acids reacting in the stomach with an enzyme that helped to reduce hypertension.

Mediterranean diet

The King's College study could help explain why the so-called Mediterranean diet is good for the heart, despite followers eating large amounts of olive oil and other fats. It also helps to explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, or nuts can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks.

Balanced diet and hypertension

Most dietary advice for those of us with hypertension focuses on having a healthy balanced diet containing a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The basis of this advice is that it ensures we get all the vitamins and minerals our bodies need together with adequate amounts of dietary fiber necessary to keep or bodies functioning properly.

The King's College study and the study into beetroot juice, among other research, as well as the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH Diet) not only confirm that having a healthy balanced diet is essential to lower high blood pressure, but like Philp Harben all those years ago, it is explaining the chemistry of why it reduces our hypertension.