A single serving of beets can do more for your health than most foods in the produce isle. Not only can they boost your energy and lower your blood pressure, but eating beets in the long-term can help you fight cancer, reduce arthritic pain, boost your brain as well as help you lose weight.
With its sweet, earthy taste and ruby-red interior, beets are a favourite of foodies, but there’s far more than that to this powerfood.
Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.
The majority of beetroot’s benefits stem from the unusually high levels of nitrates it contains — gram for gram it possesses about 20 times more than most other vegetables.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Nitrates have suffered a bad reputation because of their use as a food additive. Animal experiments had linked their commercial use to cancer, however natural nitrates in beets lower blood pressure.
A 2010 study carried out by Queen Mary’s University in London found that drinking just one 250ml glass of beetroot juice a day dramatically lowered blood pressure for several hours.
It also found that the higher the blood pressure, the greater the drop observed.
A new study carried out by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, found that a 500ml glass of the juice led to a significant drop in blood pressure after six hours. If beetroot juice was consumed widely, researchers say we could see a ten per cent reduction in death from cardiovascular disease.
Nitrates lower blood pressure because bacteria in the mouth and gut convert it into the gas nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens the blood vessels, allowing blood to circulate more freely.
Brain and Energy Boost
Since beets are high in natural nitrates, they are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is known to expand the walls of blood vessels so you can enjoy more oxygen, more nutrients, and more energy.
A 2010 study found that adults who drank 500ml of the juice a day could exercise 16 percent longer than those given a drink supplement with nitrates removed.
‘Nitrates work in synergy with the other antioxidants that beetroot contains to reduce the oxygen needed by muscles,’ says Stephen Bailey, who worked on the study. ‘This enables them to work more efficiently and slows fatigue.’
Many other studies have shown nitric oxide to increase the efficiency of the mitochondria (your energy powerhouses). The results of these studies were impressive.
There are hundreds of different supplements on the market which claim to boost nitric oxide levels through specific formulations, but why purchase supplements when you can have the real thing?
- A single small serving (70 ml) of beetroot juice reduced resting blood pressure by 2%.
- A single small serving increased the length of time professional divers could hold their breath by 11%.
- Cyclists who drank a single larger serving (500 ml) of beetroot juice were able to ride up to 20% longer.
A 2011 study carried out by Wake Forest University in North Carolina found beetroot may also slow the progression of dementia.
It is thought this is because nitric oxide boosts blood flow to the brain. Beet’s high folic acid content — approximately 75 per cent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) in just two or three small beetroots — may also play a role as previous research has suggested the nutrient protects against Alzheimer’s.
Preliminary tests suggest that beet ingestion can be one of the useful means to prevent lung and skin cancer. Other studies have shown that beet juice inhibits the formation of cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines.
The combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecules in beets makes this food a highly-likely candidate for risk reduction of many cancer types. Lab studies on human tumor cells have confirmed this possibility for colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicular cancers. Eventually, we expect to see large-scale human studies that show the risk-reducing effect of dietary beet intake for many of these cancer types.
Betacyanin, the pigment that gives beet its rich hue, is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to possess anti-cancer properties.
In 2011, a study carried out by Howard University in Washington, USA, found that betacyanin slowed tumour growth by 12.5 per cent when exposed to prostate and breast cancer cells.
More research needs to be carried out to see if consuming beetroot would have a similar anti-cancer effect.
Nutritional therapist Dr Elisabeth Philipps recommends the vegetable for digestive troubles.
‘Beetroot is high in fibre and a 100g portion — about two or three small beetroot — contains ten per cent of your RDA, which helps regulate bowel movements,’ she says.
‘It also contains a substance called betaine which normalises stomach acid secretion.’
The compound increases acid levels in the stomach if you do not have enough and acts as an antacid if you are producing too much. ‘Beetroot supports the liver too,’ she adds.
‘Antioxidants vulgaxanthin, betalain and betanin promote the production of glutathione, a substance that helps the liver process toxins.’
Foods high in nicotinamide such as beets combat infections better than most antibiotics.
The inflammatory response is a natural function of the body which saves our lives when it responds to the acute stresses in our lives, like bacterial infection and injury. Due to the constant stress in our modern lives, however, this inflammation becomes chronic. It is as though our body is constantly in a battle. Inflammation has been linked to a number of symptoms and diseases including:
- Susceptibility to infections
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
The blood-red betalains in beets have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation.
One of the first known uses of beets was by the ancient Romans, who used them medicinally as an aphrodisiac. Many plants have been considered an aphrodisiac by some culture at some time, but in this case it may be more than just wishful thinking.
As noted above, beets can increase blood flow due to their nitrates. Increased blood flow to the genital areas is one of the mechanisms Viagra and other pharmaceuticals create their effects. Beets also contain high amounts of boron, which is directly related to the production of human sex hormones.
If long cooking times deter you from cooking beets, cut medium beets into quarters without removing the skin. Steam and serve as a great vegetable side dish or as a wonderful addition to your favorite salad.
Smoothies are also one of the best ways to receive all the benefits of the beets including the fiber and antioxidants.
Beet and Carrot Smoothie
1 small red beet (equivalent to 1/2 cup), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium-size carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 sweet apple, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Lady, coarsely chopped
1 ripe pear, such as red Bartlett or red D’Anjou, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1. Steam beets and carrots until tender, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Combine beets, carrot, apple, pear, juice, ginger, and 2 cups water in a blender; blend until smooth.
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.
Source: Prevent Disease