Beets – An amazing booster of health


Beets – An amazing booster of health

We know eating our greens are good for us but don’t forget your reds. The rich color red, as in beets and beetroot juice, signal a powerhouse of antioxidant and phytochemical properties just waiting for you to partake of.  This is why if eating beets or drinking beetroot juice is not a regular part of your diet, you might want to reconsider.  This root vegetable native to the Mediterranean region possesses a unique nutritional blend of health benefits. 

Beets, also called beetroot, are related to sugar beets but are nutritionally different.  Sugar beets are white in color, are used for extracting sugar for sweetening foods, and are primarily genetically modified.  Beets are red in color, are not genetically modified and have the highest sugar content of all vegetables yet contain only half the carbohydrates as starchier vegetables. 

The nutritional profile of one cup of raw beets looks like this:

·      Calories – 58

·      Fat – 0.2 grams

·      Saturated Fat – 0 grams

·      Fiber – 3.8 grams

·      Protein – 2.2 grams

·      Carbohydrate – 13 grams

·      Sugar (natural) – 9 grams

·      Folate or folic acid – 148 mcg

·      Potassium – 442 mg

·      Manganese – 0.4 mg

One other component found in beets and what is driving the drinking of beetroot juice is its high nitrate content.  All vegetables contain nitrate, particularly celery, spinach and cabbage.  But beets have an abundance of it.  The dietary nitrate contained in beets is chemically converted from nitrate to active nitrite by good bacteria on the surface of the tongue.  This nitrite is then swallowed where it is reduced to nitric oxide in the stomach or is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, reentering the circulation as nitrite.  These bodily chemical conversions provide a number of health advantages we benefit from such as the following:

1.     Lowering blood pressure

A 2015 randomized, phase 2 study suggest a possible role for dietary nitrate as an affordable, readily-available treatment in managing individuals with hypertension.  For 4 weeks test subjects were given dietary nitrate of 250 ml of beetroot juice demonstrating it provided sustained blood pressure lowering and improved functioning of the blood vessels.  A daily regimen of dietary nitrate, such as beetroot juice, could be a strategy to lower blood pressure or to be used in conjunction with blood pressure medication.  Beets high potassium content also play a role in lowering blood pressure by balancing out the negative effects of salt. 

2.     Reduces dementia

Beetroot juices’ high nitrate content appears to improve oxygenation to the brain helping slow the progression of dementia, according to researchers at Wake Forest University.  As we age, blood flow to certain regions of the brain decreases leading to a reduction in cognition.  The high nitrate concentration of beetroot juice can help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain helping reduce dementia.

3.    Improves exercise and athletic performance 

Sports enthusiasts are turning to dietary nitrate as a means of enhancing athletic performance.  Beetroot juice is a popular ergogenic supplement appearing to be a viable means of fulfilling this need.  The dietary nitrate content of beetroot juice has been shown to improve muscle oxygenation and efficiency during exercise which might improve performance.  There is still more research needed as the efficacy of nitrate could depend on certain factors - age of the athlete, their diet, health and fitness status, the intensity, duration, and type of exercise along with what dose of dietary nitrate was used and the duration of the supplement regimen. 

4.    Decreases constipation

Beets high fiber content at 3.8 mg in one cup helps to improve regularity of the digestive tract reducing constipation.

5.    Reduces risk of neural tube defects in newborns

Beets are a good source of folic acid, a B vitamin necessary for proper development of a baby’s brain and spinal cord when a woman is pregnant.  This reduces the chance of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida. 

6.    Peripheral artery disease

A 2011 study showed beetroot juices’ nitrite concentration had an impact on exercise tolerance in individuals with peripheral artery disease.  Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of cardiovascular disease where there’s an inadequate supply of blood and oxygen to the lower extremities.  PAD causes intermittent claudication or cramping pain in the leg brought on by exercise but improves with rest.  Test subjects were given 500 ml of beetroot juice which dramatically reduced diastolic blood pressure at rest and during the cardiorespiratory exercise.  This resulted in the test subjects being able to tolerant walking by almost 20% longer after drinking beetroot juice compared to those who received a placebo.

Final thoughts on beets

Start making beets and beetroot juice a regular part of your diet.  Be aware however, when adding beets or beetroot juice it may cause urine and stools to turn red.  This is due to a compound found in beets called betacyanins.  Betacyanin can cause beeturia as they don’t always break down in the digestive system of some people. 

Consuming beets or beetroot juice is just one component of an overall healthy diet leading to the improvement or possible prevention of health conditions.  Always remember variety is the spice of life – it takes all kinds of different foods to best achieve the health gains we all seek.