Love them or hate them, you’ll be amazed at the many health benefits of beets. Beets are probably familiar to you as the globe-shaped roots with a distinctive deep red color and sweet taste. However, did you know that not only do beets come in a range of colors and that their leaves are also deliciously nutritional?
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About the beet
Beets have been around for centuries but the first people to make use of the roots were the Romans. Over the years, beets became prized as a source of sugar (especially when sugar cane was in short supply), but of course, they’re also a popular ingredient in their own right. Beets are related to spinach and chard, sharing many of the same properties.
People often like to eat the root of the beet, perhaps discarding the green leaves which grow above it, but this is a big mistake. Beet greens are a fabulous source of vitamins and minerals and make a tasty alternative to spinach. The greens are rich in calcium, so they are a great choice for those who want to maintain healthy bones. Surprisingly, they contain more iron than spinach, so they’re a wonderful option if you’re anemic or feeling run down. Meanwhile, they’re a good source of dietary fiber, so they can help maintain your digestive health and bowel regularity.
It’s also worth noting that beet greens contain folic acid, an essential component of a woman’s diet during pregnancy. Folic acid promotes healthy fetal development, making an important contribution to the development of the spine. Further, the manganese in beet greens helps protect your bones and the function of your liver, kidneys, and pancreas. These super-charged greens also contain potassium that keeps your nerves and muscle function in good shape.
Some evidence even suggests that beet greens can also help fight osteoporosis and the development of Alzheimer’s.
Although there are plenty of reasons to recommend beet greens, beetroots also have a whole range of important ingredients to keep various parts of your body in tip-top condition.
Firstly, they contain glutamine, an amino acid which helps maintain the health of your digestive tract. In addition, because 100g of beets contains 3g of fiber, they are also great for your bowel. They can also detoxify impurities in your liver.
You can give your cardio-vascular system a superb boost from beets. They are packed with nitrates which help to reduce LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure—a recent study showed that one glass of beet juice lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4-5 points. This makes you less susceptible to a heart attack and possibly improves your chances of recovery if you have one.
Beets have also been shown to increase your stamina, so if you’re an athlete or have an active job then beets should be a regular part of your diet.
The natural antioxidants in beets even boost your white blood cell count. White blood cells tackle and eliminate abnormal cells, which is why scientists are researching the impact of beetroot on cancers such as pancreatic, breast and prostate cancer.
You might think that because beets are sweet and contain sugar, they are better avoided if you have diabetes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Beets release their sugar very slowly and steadily, meaning that they have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels. Consequently, they’re the perfect food if you need to manage your blood sugar levels carefully.
Different ways to enjoy beets
Beets are wonderfully versatile, so there are lots of ways to enjoy them.
Raw beet roots can be grated and added to salads or blitzed to make juice. Their sugary taste makes the perfect contrast to salty foods such as smoked fish or feta cheese, but they also work well with sweet items such as carrots or oranges.
Beets can be boiled, steamed or roasted. They can add a stunning color variation to a creamy risotto, liven up hummus, and mix with potato for unusual hash browns. And, of course, the classic borscht makes a warming soup for a winter’s evening.
You can pickle beets in vinegar, add them to other crunchy salad ingredients and vinegar for a spicy chutney, or even include them in cakes for an unforgettable magenta appearance.
Possible Health Benefits of Beet Juice
Researchers have discovered an array of compounds in beet juice that may lower blood pressure and have other health benefits. Beet juice is a source of nitrates.
Though nitrates in cured and processed meat have been associated with cancer, growing evidence suggests that foods naturally rich in nitrates are actually good for you. By converting to nitric oxide in the body, nitrates in vegetables, including beets, have been shown to dilate blood vessels, increase blood flow to tissue, reduce demand of muscles for oxygen and inhibit blood clots.
Beet juice is also rich in red-yellow pigments called betalains, which have potent antioxidant activity. They may, for example, help keep LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from turning into the more harmful oxidized form.
Here’s a sampling of recent findings about beet juice. Keep in mind, the studies were all small and the results are preliminary.
- Blood pressure. A research published in Hypertension in 2008 found that drinking beetroot juice reduced systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure by 10 and 8 points, respectively. respectively, after three hours—an effect attributed to the nitrates in beets. According to other studies, consuming beetroot juice for two weeks has both immediate and long-term impacts on blood pressure. The results sound impressive, but larger studies are needed, particularly in people with hypertension.
- Exercise. Beet juice may also enhance athletic performance. Young men who consumed beet juice used less oxygen when walking and running, in a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2010, which suggests they were exercising more efficiently. Last year, the same researchers discovered that males who drank beetroot juice could cycle for longer than those who drank a placebo beverage. Again, the effects were attributed to the nitrates in beets.
- Brain health. In a study in 2011 from Wake Forest University, older people who drank 16 ounces of beet juice a day for two days showed greater blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, an area involved in skills such as planning and problem solving. Beet juice won’t prevent or cure dementia, but perhaps future studies will determine whether beets can help improve mental function.
Bottom Line about Beet Juice Benefits
Watch out for overpriced beet juice products and over-hyped claims—that they prevent cancer, for example. You can make your own beet juice in a blender and mix it with other juices. If you don’t care for beet juice, another option is borscht (beet soup), served hot or cold, though cooking reduces some of the beneficial compounds.
Be aware that consuming a lot of beets can turn urine and stool a harmless red-purple color. Also, beets contain oxalates, so people who form oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid them.