Why You Should Be Adding More Beets To Your Diet (5 Health Benefits of Beetroot)

5 Health Benefits of Beetroot

There is a growing interest in the health benefits of plant based diets where the foundation of one’s diet is just that, plants! This has led to more research into different fruits and vegetables presenting as “functional foods” for overall wellness. Whole foods are ideal for maintenance of good health as they provide a wide array of nutrients in one go. The focus of today’s post is going to be on the new superfood, red beetroot (Beta vulgaris rubra). 
Beetroot is a root vegetable that is grown in many countries worldwide and has attracted a lot of attention in the wellness world over the last couple years. However, the use of beetroot actually dates back to the Roman times! Beets are an high-antioxidant vegetable that contains a large amount of nutrients. 

What Makes Beets So Good For You?

Beets contain nitrates, pectin, betalains, various vitamins and minerals. Let's break these down individually. 
  • Nitrates - Beetroot is a great dietary source of nitrates which have important implications for cardiovascular health. It is the most concentrated edible source of nitrates in nature! Beets may contain as much as 2,500 mg of nitrate per kilogram. As a comparison, broccoli and cauliflower contain 1/10th this amount. About 80% of nitrate intake comes from vegetables, thus individuals who are plant based will have higher amounts.
  • Betalains - This is responsible for the deep red colour of beetroots. It helps the liver do its main function of detoxification and eliminate toxins
  • Pectin - A high fiber source. This allows the toxins that are being processed in the liver to be eliminated via the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Vitamins and Minerals - Beetroot contains high amounts of Folate, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Copper and Zinc
Now, let's get into the heart of this post! Why do we want more beetroot in our lives! 

The 5 Benefits Of Beetroot

1. Improves Athletic Performance 

Consumption of beetroot juice has been linked to improved physical performance during endurance training. 
This benefit is due to the nitrates found in beetroot. The body converts nitrates to nitrite and then to nitric oxide.  Nitric oxide is a small molecule that is made of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitric oxide is responsible for vasodilation which is a scientific term for widening and relaxation of blood vessels. Nitric oxide allows for better blood flow and optimal delivery of oxygen to muscles and other tissues in the body. 
During endurance exercise, oxygen is used up at a faster rate than muscles are able to produce and thus results in tiredness. Nitric oxide helps to increase blood flow through widening the blood vessels, which allows more oxygen to reach muscles and tissues. If muscles are able to get more oxygen then post-workout soreness will be reduced! 
Overall, beets increase muscle efficiency, allowing muscles to do the same work using less oxygen resulting in better athletic performance. Consuming beets creates a tolerance for higher-intensity workouts. As a result of vasodilation, blood pressure stays lower during high intensity exercise, putting less strain on the heart. 

2. Improves Cognitive Function

Cognitive function declines with age and is usually a result of reduced blood flow to the brain. This is implicated in diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  
Since we know that beetroot allows for production of nitric oxide in the body, it has the potential to improve blood flow to the brain. 

3. Decreases Oxidative Stress

Under normal conditions, all cells are thought to be in balance, so there is an equilibrium between antioxidants and prooxidants. Prooxidants like, Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are the molecules that can cause oxidative stress on the body and are regularly made in cellular metabolism. 
When there is excess exposure to ROS, through external sources like, UV radiation, excessive physical activity, pathogen exposure and xenobiotics or internal sources like, inflammation it can overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defences. This causes an imbalance to the equilibrium between antioxidants and prooxidants - resulting in oxidative stress. 
Oxidative stress plays a role in about 200 different medical conditions, one major one being cancer. So antioxidant foods are a great way to reduce this oxidative stress on the body. 
Beets are an exceptionally rich source of antioxidant compounds, the betalain pigments most notably. These have been shown to protect against oxidative stress and damage.  Regular consumption of about 300 mL of red beets can decrease oxidative stress in the body and thus prevent chronic degenerative diseases. 

4. Lowers Inflammation

Under normal circumstances, inflammation is a beneficial process which is protective against trauma, infections and other pathogens. In the short term, inflammation presents as redness, swelling and pain to help the body get rid of the offending agent. However, if inflammation persists in the long term it can have long term implications on health. Chronic inflammation is the root of disorders like obesity, liver disease, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. 
Betalains are very potent natural anti-inflammatory agents and can help to reduce chronic inflammation in the body, thus reduces the chance of developing the above mentioned diseases. 

5. Improves Endothelial Function

As mentioned earlier, beetroot is a great source of nitrates. Nitrates are converted to Nitric oxide in the body. One of the most important functions of nitric oxide is to maintain endothelial function. The endothelium is the lining of red blood vessels. When this endothelium is damaged it can result decreased cardiovascular function. Endothelial dysfunction has also been linked to hypertension and atherosclerosis. 
Thus, since beetroot is such a great source of nitrates, it can potentially lead to better endothelial function resulting in lowering blood pressure and overall improved cardiovascular function. 

Tips For Storage & Preparation 

Make sure to rinse under cool water gently when cleaning beets. This will prevent tearing of the skin which keeps the health-promoting pigments inside. 
  • Raw - Wash & Peel. Add it to salads or eat it raw! It can also be added to green juices or smoothies for that extra source of antioxidants. Beets can also be grated and added a top salads or main dishes.  Keep in mind that the red betalain pigment are not very heat stable so beets are best eaten raw or juiced. 
  • Boiled - If raw beetroot does not appeal to you, try steaming or baking. If you choose to cook beets, either bake or lightly steam them with low heat so as to maximize nutrient absorption. This can be added to a mixed vegetable medley! 
  • Juiced - Making beet juice is a great way to get beets into you! It provides some natural sweetness without having to add sugar. Wash 2-3 beetroots, peel and then add them to a blender. If you are drinking beetroot juice for an extra source of iron, add some freshly squeezed lemon for some extra Vitamin C. Vitamin C can help with iron absorption!

Side Effects Of Beets

Beets are an amazing vegetable, all around! However, there are some things to watch out for when including beets into the diet. Beetroot is relatively high in oxalates. Kidney stones are formed from oxalates and calcium. So, consistent consumption of beets can contribute to oxalate formation which can increase risk of kidney stones for those who have a personal or family history of them. 
Beetroot can also affect the colour of urine and feces due to the natural pigments in beets.  People may notice pink or purple urine and/or feces. These changes are only temporary and are NOT a cause of concern. 
You can experience the health benefits of beetroots by eating them raw, cooked or drinking it as beetroot juice. If you do not prefer the taste of beets, it can also come in supplement form. 
Beetroot is a powerful dietary source of many health promoting nutrients. It is considered to be a great antioxidant and a great anti-inflammatory agent! In humans it has been reported to lower blood pressure, lower inflammation, lower oxidative stress and preserve endothelial function. This all translates to better management of conditions like, hypertension, diabetes, reduces post-workout soreness and improves cognition! Keep adding those beets! 
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.