By Dr. Mercola
Beetroots, also known simply as beets or table beets in the US, are a sweet, surprisingly concentrated source of nutrition. The first clue they’re loaded with nutrition is their bright red color, which indicates the presence of powerful phytonutrients called betalains.
Betalains include reddish-purple betacyanin pigments and yellowish betaxanthin pigments. Many of the betalain pigments in beets have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying effects.
Newer research suggests that, in addition, compounds in beets may improve muscle performance, offering allure not only for athletes but also for maintaining muscle function as you age.
Naturally Occurring Nitrates in Beets May Boost Muscle Health
Beets are a good source of naturally occurring nitrates, which are converted into nitric oxide (NO) in your body. Nitric oxide is perhaps most well-known for its benefits to heart health. As noted by cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra:1
“Adequate NO production is the first step in a chain reaction that promotes healthy cardiovascular function, while insufficient NO triggers a cascade of destruction that eventually results in heart disease…
NO promotes healthy dilation of the veins and arteries so blood can move throughout your body. Plus, it prevents red blood cells from sticking together to create dangerous clots and blockages.”
Your heart, of course, is a muscle, so it makes sense that boosting NO production would also lead to improvements in other muscles in your body.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri have previously found dietary nitrates improve muscle performance in elite athletes, and they wanted to determine if such nitrates would also benefit patients with heart failure, whose weakened hearts make them prone to fatigue and shortness of breath with everyday activities.
Senior study author Dr. Linda R. Peterson, associate professor of Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine, told Medical News Today:2
"A lot of the activities of daily living are power-based - getting out of a chair, lifting groceries, or climbing stairs. And they have a major impact on quality of life… We want to help make people more powerful because power is such an important predictor of how well people do, whether they have heart failure, cancer, or other conditions."
Beet Juice May Increase Muscle Power By 13 Percent
For the latest study, participants with heart failure drank beet juice, either with the naturally occurring nitrates or with the nitrate content removed. Two hours after consuming the juice, those who consumed the nitrates-containing beverage had a 13 percent increase in power in muscles that extend the knee.3
Andrew R. Coggan, PhD, assistant professor of Radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine, told Medical News Today:4
"I have compared the beet-juice effect to Popeye eating his spinach. The magnitude of this improvement is comparable to that seen in heart failure patients who have done 2 to 3 months of resistance training."
Past research has also found that beet juice may boost your stamina, as those who drank beet juice prior to exercise were able to exercise for up to 16 percent longer.5
This benefit is also thought to be related to nitrates turning into nitric oxide, which may reduce the oxygen cost of low-intensity exercise as well as enhance tolerance to high-intensity exercise.
A separate study similarly revealed that consuming a concentrated beet juice supplement increases whole-body NO production as well as muscle speed and power in healthy men and women.6
Beet Juice May Lower Your Blood Pressure and Benefit Brain Health
Your blood pressure may also benefit from the nitrates in beet juice, with benefits occurring within in a matter of hours. One study found that drinking one glass of beet juice lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4 to 5 points.7
A separate study found consuming beet juice daily for four weeks lead to reductions in blood pressure, improvements in endothelial function, and reduced arterial stiffness. The researchers concluded:8
“This is the first evidence of durable BP [blood pressure] reduction with dietary nitrate supplementation in a relevant patient group. These findings suggest a role for dietary nitrate as an affordable, readily-available, and adjunctive treatment in the management of patients with hypertension.”
Aside from the blood pressure benefits, drinking beet juice may also be good for your brain. The nitrates, and resulting NO, help increase blood flow to the brain in elderly people. As you age, blood flow to certain areas of your brain decreases, which is associated with dementia and poor cognitive function.
When adults aged 70 and over ate a high-nitrate breakfast including beet juice, they had increased blood flow to their brain’s white matter, which is an area associated with dementia.9
Beets Are Antioxidant-Rich, Inflammation-Fighting Superstars
If you enjoy beets, there’s good reason to add them to your meals regularly. You can grate them raw over salads, marinate them with lemon juice, herbs, and olive oil as a side dish, or steam them, whichever you prefer.
Nutritionally, beets are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and essential minerals like potassium (essential for healthy nerve and muscle function) and manganese (which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas). Beets also contain the B-vitamin folate, which helps reduce the risk of birth defects.
The betalain pigments in beets support your body’s Phase 2 detoxification process, which is when broken down toxins are bound to other molecules so they can be excreted from your body. Traditionally, beets are valued for their support in detoxification and helping to purify your blood and your liver.
Research has even shown that beetroot extract reduced multi-organ tumor formations in various animal models when administered in drinking water, while beetroot extract is being studied for use in treating human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.10
Beets are also a unique source of betaine, a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress. It’s also known to help fight inflammation, protect internal organs, improve vascular risk factors, enhance performance, and likely help prevent numerous chronic diseases.11 As reported by the World’s Healthiest Foods:12
“[Betaine’s]… presence in our diet has been associated with lower levels of several inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha. As a group, the anti-inflammatory molecules found in beets may eventually be shown to provide cardiovascular benefits in large-scale human studies, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits for other body systems.”
Beets Are a High-Sugar Veggie
Although the benefits of beet juice appear well established, keep in mind that beets are a very high-sugar vegetable. In fact, beets have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, although they also contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
For this reason, I recommend adding beets (in whole, non-juiced form) to your diet a few times a week to benefit from their nutrition without overdosing on their high amounts of sugar. The sugar will be even more concentrated in beet juice, without any of the fiber to somewhat moderate its effects, so you have to be cautious when consuming beets in juiced form.
If you struggle with high blood pressure or heart failure, you may want to experiment with beet juice and see how it impacts you. If you notice improvements in your blood pressure or stamina after drinking the juice, it may be a good fit for you. If you have diabetes or are insulin resistant, carefully monitor how beet juice affects your overall health and factor that in to how often you choose to consume it. Typically, moderation is best.
Keep in mind that this article is referring to the red beets most people add to salads and side dishes; they are not the same variety as sugar beets, which are actually white, commonly genetically modified, and used in the production of sugar. Also, if you’re solely interested in the benefits of nitrates in beet juice, you might also try consuming other nitrate-rich (but lower-sugar) vegetables (or juicing them), such as celery, lettuce, parsley, and spinach.
Beet greens are also a good source and contain additional important nutrients like protein, phosphorus, zinc, fiber, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. Beet greens also supply significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. For reference, here are some examples of vegetables you can juice, along with the level of nitrates they contain.13
Vegetable (100 grams) Nitrates (milligrams, mg) Arugula 480 Cilantro 247 Butter leaf lettuce 200 Spring greens 188 Beet greens 177 Swiss chard 151 Beets 100
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