Research shows leafy greens can improve oral health

Article published 4 March 2024

Subscribe to CPSA news

Which vegetables count as ‘leafy greens’? 

‘Leafy greens’ is short-hand for most edible plant leaves. They include things like spinach, rocket, lettuce and cabbage. Whilst there are far too many to list (nearly 1,000 known plants with edible leaves grow around the world), chances are if people put it into a salad, it counts. Aside from the high concentration of vitamins and minerals found in leafy greens, they are also notable for containing a chemical called ‘nitrate’. 

What are the benefits of leafy greens? 

Research published in 2020 found that eating nitrate-rich vegetables improved the oral microbiome of participants (in other words, the good bacteria in our mouths). These beneficial bacteria were in turn shown to fight some of the causes of gum disease and tooth decay.  

More recently, research has found that eating a diet rich in nitrate could also improve oral health and hygiene by protecting our mouths from some of the negative side effects of acidic foods and drinks, and of dehydration. The research compared the oral health of competitive athletes (who are at higher risk of gum disease due to their diet, stress and exertion). It found that those athletes who had drunk beetroot juice (another nitrate-rich vegetable) had a healthier oral microbiome even after drinking acidic energy drinks, suggesting that the beetroot juice protected their teeth from the effects of the acidity. 

Whilst mouthwash is an effective way of combatting gum disease and tooth decay, the researchers argue that it can also get rid of the good bacteria in our mouths, leaving us more vulnerable to other negative impacts. 

Unfortunately, older people are at greater risk of gum disease and other oral health issues, but leafy greens could provide some extra protection. 

Growing leafy greens 

Local greengrocers and supermarkets will probably have a wide selection of leafy greens, but many of them are also easy to grow at home. 

Spinach, rocket and watercress are all fast-growing plants that can be harvested year-round and make great additions to salads and sandwiches. Though spinach and rocket will do best planted directly in the ground, they can be grown in pots and even indoors, provided they get enough light. Watercress is happy in a pot as long as the soil never dries out. 

All three of them can be planted in autumn, so now is the time to get started. 

Other Articles

For more information please email our media contact at

Stay up to date with CPSA news and media releases

Our regular email newsletter provides valuable insights and information on topics such as pension entitlements, healthcare, government policies, and more.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.