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.