I encountered a recent publication about beets that was both intriguing and promises certain health benefits:

Some football teams are claiming that beetroot juice, or beet juice, improves athletic performance.  Recently, the Auburn University football team revealed its pregame ritual of taking beet juice concentrate before each game. David Poole, professor of exercise kinesiology and anatomy and physiology at Kansas State University, who has been studying the supplement for several years, stated that “Our research, published in the journal Physiology in 2013, has shown that the nitrate found in beetroot concentrate increases blood flow to skeletal muscles during exercise.”  This forms the basis for how this juice may benefit football players by preferentially increasing blood flow to the so-called “fast–twitch” muscle fibers — the ones used for explosive running.. In another unrelated study, beetroot juice improved performance by 2.8% (11 seconds) in a 4-km bicycle time trial and by 2.7% (45 seconds) in 16.1-km time trial. Thus the Auburn staff seems to be on to something! This even fits well with Auburn’s football success of late.

But the benefits of beets go beyond sports to the general population, as I explain below:

We all know that beets (or beetroots) are common vegetables that are believed to contain healthy dietary components. What you may not know, however, is, because of suspected additional benefits, they have been subject of much coverage in the media, being generally linked to better stamina, improved blood flood throughout the body, and lower blood pressure.

Most beets on sale are round and red, but yellow, white and mixed versions are available, and all share similar nutrients. They contain potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, B6 and C, folic acid, carbohydrates, nitrates, protein, and soluble fiber.

The high concentrations of the nitrates are converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth, and these latter chemicals can help open blood vessels in the body and increase blood flow and oxygen to deficient organs such as the brain.

Researchers have long known that beet juice may help lower blood pressure. A 2008 study examined the effects of ingesting 500ml (1 pint) of beetroot juice in healthy volunteers and found that blood pressure was significantly lowered after ingestion. This was later confirmed in 2010 by a team from England that suggested that nitrite is likely the special component that lowers blood pressure and may help to fight heart disease.  The researchers stated that.this finding may apply to people with very high blood pressure, who can end up being on multiple tablets, so a more natural approach could prove popular if the initial findings are confirmed.

Other Possible Health Benefits of Beets

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like beetroot with or without its leaves decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increases energy, and lowers overall mortality.

Dementia: Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that drinking juice from beetroot can improve oxygenation to the brain, potentially slowing the progression of dementia in older adults.

Diabetes: Beets contain a substance known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, helping diabetics by increasing the body’s insulin utilization. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also pointed toward likely decreases in peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), common in diabetics.

Digestion and regularity: Because of its high fiber content, beetroot helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

Inflammation: Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

      How to incorporate more beets into your diet

Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled or eaten raw. .

  • Make your own beetroot juice by peeling beetroot and blending with a combination of fresh orange, mint and pineapple or apples, lemon and ginger. Blend and strain. Beet soup (borscht) is also a tasty dish, which is commercially available and consumed cold without additional preparation.
  • Grate raw beets and add them to coleslaw or your favorite salad.
  • Top roasted beets with goat cheese for a perfect pairing.
  • Eat sliced or whole pickled beets directly or add them to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Slice raw beets and serve them with lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili powder.
  • Other methods are limited only by one’s imagination

       Potential health risks of consuming beets

If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. High levels of nitrite can be potentially harmful if consumed.

A high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate or nitrite drugs used for various heart conditions, and also drugs used for erectile dysfunction, i.e., sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.

Drinking beetroot juice may cause the urine or stool to turn red—harmless, but possibly anxiety provoking.

Finally, it is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. One should eat a varied diet, rather than concentrating solely on individual foods as the key to good health. Nevertheless, beets should be strongly considered at least in people with high blood pressure, especially if difficult to control with standard medications.




Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance, or it may result from human contamination. It is present in water, air, soil and foods. In foods, arsenic may be present in both organic and inorganic forms, the latter being the most toxic. The FDA has been monitoring the levels of arsenic in foods for decades, and in 2011, increased its testing. Tests included more than 1,300 samples, and with regard to rice, they found that among types of white rice, the briefly boiled version tended to have the highest levels of inorganic arsenic, with an average of 114 parts per billion (ppb). Instant rice had the lowest, averaging 59 ppb. Medium-grain rice from California tended to have lower levels of inorganic arsenic than rice originating from other parts of the U.S. or world. Although inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen, there are no federal limits for it in juice, rice, or most other foods. Moreover, many arsenic-containing rice products are marketed to children and infants as “health foods”, and children are far more susceptible to the dangerous effects of arsenic exposure. Research suggests that high levels of arsenic exposure during childhood are capable of harming a child’s developing brain, producing neurobehavioral problems as well as cancer and lung disease later in life. This means parents must be careful to avoid serving their children food with significant levels of arsenic. This is especially true for rice beverages that are used as a milk replacement, which means that children under the age of 5 should not receive any rice drinks as part of a daily diet. The most recent data (2014) show that rice cereal and rice pasta can have much more inorganic arsenic than previously found.. This means that one serving of either could put kids over the maximum amount of rice they should have in a week. Also rice cakes supply close to a child’s weekly limit in one serving..

Recently, Consumer Reports Magazine released their analysis of arsenic levels in rice products, and the results added more reason for concern. Popular rice products including white rice, brown rice, organic rice baby cereal, and rice breakfast cereals, were all found to contain arsenic. They concluded that “In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.” The study not only found a significant amount of arsenic in many rice products on the market, but also that arsenic levels in the blood directly increase with greater rice consumption. Several products tested had more arsenic in each serving than the 5 parts per billion (ppb) limit for adults set by the EPA as safe.

They concluded that it’s not necessary to completely eliminate rice from the diet. In light of current evidence, the EPA’s 5 ppb per day limit on arsenic is probably what we should shoot for. Many of the white rice products tested had fairly low levels of arsenic, and in the context of a few servings a week for an adult, it’s probably not an issue. As for very young children and infants, serving them rice products in general should be avoided. Pregnant women should be cautious about their rice intake, and minimize their exposure to arsenic to protect their developing fetus; finding another safe starch to replace rice during pregnancy would be wise.

So if you choose to purchase white rice, buy a brand made in California like Lundberg; their California White Basmati Rice has only 1.3 to 1.6 ppb arsenic per serving (1/4 cup uncooked), well below the safe limit. In addition, rinsing the rice before cooking and boiling it in a high water-to-rice ratio can help reduce the arsenic content significantly.

Brown rice, on the other hand, has significantly more arsenic than white rice and should be avoided or consumed rarely. Some of the brown rice brands tested contained at least 50% more than the safe limit per serving, and a few even had nearly double the safe limit. Note that some of the worst offenders for arsenic are made from brown rice: processed rice products like brown rice syrup, brown rice pasta, rice cakes and brown rice crisps. These processed products are commonly consumed by those following a “healthy” whole grain rich or gluten-free diet, but they clearly pose a significant risk of arsenic overexposure, especially if a person eats more than one serving per day. Obviously, brown rice is not a food that should be a dietary staple, or even eaten on a regular basis. Aside from having a higher arsenic content, it’s harder to digest. Despite a higher nutrient content of brown rice compared to white rice, the anti-nutrients present in brown rice reduce the bioavailability of many vitamins and minerals present. Moreover, brown rice also reduces dietary protein and fat digestibility compared to white rice. In short, brown rice is not a health food for a variety of reasons, and a higher arsenic content is simply another reason to avoid eating it.

Some scientific evidence suggests that the risks of arsenic can be even greater than previously suspected.  Recently researchers in the United Kingdom and India published a study providing the first evidence that frequently eating rice can alter basic structure of cells. The study measured damage to chromosomes within cells obtained from the urine of more than 400 adult study participants in an area of India with low arsenic in drinking water. Those who ate about 2½ to 3 cups of cooked rice per day containing more than 200 ppb of total arsenic possessed more genetically damaged cells than those eating rice with less arsenic. The study noted that more than 10 percent of the rice in China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh is estimated to have arsenic concentrations exceeding 200 ppb, while in the U.S., more than 50 percent of the rice is estimated to contain arsenic at those elevated levels. More research is needed to see whether the study’s results would apply to Americans, who eat less rice and generally have better nutrition.

Extending observations to other food sources, The FDA found elevated levels of arsenic in beer after testing 65 samples, all of which the agency says included some form of rice as an ingredient. The results showed that 10 of them contained inorganic arsenic levels that ranged from 15 ppb to 26 ppb, significantly more than the federal drinking-water limit of 10 ppb for total arsenic. Based on its full data, the FDA is presently conducting a risk assessment as the next step in a process to help manage possible risks associated with the consumption of rice and rice products.

What you can do about rice

Diversify your food consumption to include grains other than rice, and when consuming the latter, avoid brown rice in favor of the white variety, preferably produced in California. And when you do cook rice, rinse it first, and use a ratio of at least 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice (draining the excess water afterward).  For those who are trying to avoid gluten (usually a mistake, as noted in my post of July 7, 2014), switching to rice as an alternative is a poor choice.


Certain juices can also be a source of arsenic. The FDA in July 2013 proposed an “action level” of 10 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in apple juice, stating that the 10 ppb guidance to industry “will help keep out of the food supply even the occasional lot of apple juice” containing arsenic above that level. But is this enough? Not according to researchers at Consumers Union, who urged the agency to set a lower level in order to create an incentive for the marketplace to reduce levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice and thereby reduce risk even further—not simply maintain the status quo.

But the fact that most of the apple-juice samples the FDA tested already had inorganic arsenic levels below 10 ppb is one reason Consumer Reports’ safety experts concluded that the agency’s proposed guidance doesn’t sufficiently protect public health. In written comments submitted to the FDA, they urged the agency to set a tougher level, recommending a limit of 3 ppb of total arsenic for apple juice, but certainly no higher than 4.4 ppb. They pointed out that, in calculating the risks of arsenic exposure from apple juice, the FDA appears to have significantly underestimated how much juice children drink. A survey of parents conducted in 2011 found that more than 25 percent of children under age 6 consumed more than 8 ounces of apple juice, which was the highest daily consumption estimate used by the FDA, and 12 percent drank 16 ounces or more.

But, unfortunately, apple juice is not the only culprit, Consumer’s Union also urged the FDA to set action levels for other juices, such as pear and grape, where tests have found inorganic arsenic levels much higher than 10 ppb.

What you can do about juice

Limit children’s consumption of apple and grape juice. Children up to age 6 should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day. Moderation should also apply to adults, but at least large quantities should be avoided until more research data become available.



Nutmeg is a common spice used in the cuisines of many countries, including India, Indonesia, Holland, Italy, Japan and others. Although this spice had been used medicinally for many years, it has no known health benefits today. While it may be a nice addition to your eggnog, ingesting too much of it may lead to very unpleasant consequences—especially psychological. Some animal studies have suggested that myristicin, the chemical in the seed from which the spice originates, may be metabolized into MMDA, a hallucinogenic stimulant; and it may also have similar effects to monoamine oxidase inhibitors that form the basis for many of our antidepressant medications, but I don’t prescribe nutmeg for depression!

Toxicologists point out that too much nutmeg (two or more tablespoons) can cause a person to have an out-of-body experience, with the most common symptoms being palpitations, nausea, vomiting, generalized pain, agitation, hallucinations, and delirium. Fatalities, while possible, are rare. In some reports, nutmeg intoxication took several hours before maximum effect was reached. Effects and after-effects lasted up to several days. Although toxicity from nutmeg is rare, abuse of the spice is more common among adolescents. A review of the California Poison Control System database indicates 119 instances of exposure between 1997 and 2008 (86 intentional cases; 33 unintentional cases). The review did not mention how one unintentionally consumes too much nutmeg nor the quantities ingested, but, at the risk of being a “party pooper”, for this holiday season, I suggest you keep in mind that just a sprinkle of the spice is enough.