From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. In recent years, the beetroot vegetable, otherwise known as Beta vulgaris rubra, has attracted much attention as a health-promoting, functional food.
While scientific interest in beetroot has only gained momentum in the past few decades, it’s been used as a means of natural medicine for thousands of years.
The beetroot taste is described as sweet, earthy and tender to eat. Grown in the ground, it’s related to turnips, swedes and sugar beet. When compared with beet benefits, drinking beetroot juice provides a more sudden boost of ascorbic acid, vitamin E, carotenes, phenolic acids and phytoestrogens to the body. This helps improve cardiac and immunity function.
Drinking beetroot juice also introduces a greater concentration of potassium than when eating the vegetable. Beetroot juice provides more nutritious value than consuming cooked beats because the heat reduces the nutrient content. Drinking beetroot juice is one of the best ways to detoxify the body — boosting the function of all bodily systems.
One important compound found in beetroot juice is nitrate. You may have heard about nitrates in the past and how they are harmful when consumed through products like deli meats, bacon or other low-quality packaged meats, but the type of nitrates found in whole foods like beets are actually very beneficial.
In the human body, inorganic nitrate converts to nitric oxide, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels. Beetroots take up nitrate from soil, just like many other leafy greens such as cabbage and lettuce.
A cup of raw beets has about:
- 58 calories
- zero grams fat
- zero cholesterol
- 106 milligrams sodium
- 13 grams carbohydrate
- 4 grams dietary fiber
- 9 grams sugar
- 2 grams protein
- 148 micrograms folate (37 percent DV)
- 6 milligrams vitamin C (11 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (5 percent DV)
- 0.01 micrograms thiamin (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams riboflavin (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams niacin (2 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams pantothenic acid (2 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligrams manganese (22 percent DV)
- 442 milligrams potassium (13 percent DV)
- 31 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
- 1 milligram iron (6 percent DV)
- 54 milligrams phosphorus (5 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams copper (5 percent DV)
- 106 milligrams sodium (4 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams zinc (3 percent DV)
- 21 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
1. Boosts Athletic Performance
Beetroot can increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and has also been found to reduce the amount of oxygen that muscles require in order to function optimally. This means that consuming beetroot will provide an increase in energy, performance and stamina.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that the consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults. (1) In the study, 11 healthy and athletic men and women were studied in a double-blind placebo controlled crossover trial evaluation.
Participants underwent two 5-kilometer treadmill time trials in random sequence, one 75 minutes after consuming baked beetroot and once 75 minutes after consuming cranberry relish as a eucaloric placebo. Based on paired tests, mean running velocity during the run tended to be faster after beetroot consumption. During the last 1.1 miles of the run, running velocity was 5 percent faster in the beetroot trial. No differences in exercise heart rate were observed between trials; however, rating of perceived exertion was lower with beetroot.
Another study published in 2014 by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that nitrate-rich beetroot juice enhanced the time trial performance of trained cyclists using devices that simulate altitude. (2)
The ingestion of beetroot served as a practical and effective enhancing agent for endurance exercise at high altitude. The nine competitive amateur male cyclists involved in the study were most influenced by 70 milliliters of beetroot three hours before a performance trial comprised of 15 minutes of steady exercise at 60 percent maximum work rate.
2. Powerful Antioxidant
Beetroot juice has been considered a promising therapeutic treatment in a range of clinical diseases associated with oxidative stress and inflammation. Its constituents, most notably the betalain pigments, display potent antioxidant, chemo-preventive and anti-inflammatory activity.
According to research, beetroot juice might serve as a useful strategy to strengthen internal antioxidant defenses, helping to protect cellular components from oxidative damage. When certain types of oxygen molecules are allowed to travel freely in the body, they cause what is known as free radical damage. Oxidative damage has been linked to health conditions like heart disease, cancer and dementia; this is why consuming high antioxidant foods regularly is so important.
According to a scientific review conducted in 2015, the most abundant betalain found in beetroot, betanin, was the most effective inhibitor of oxidative stress. (3) Betanin’s high antioxidant activity appeared to stem from its exceptional electron contributing capacity and ability to defuse highly reactive radicals targeting cell membranes. This suggests that beetroot juice, or beetroot juice supplements, protect against oxidative damage to DNA, lipid and protein structures.
3. Lowers Blood Pressure
Because beetroots are rich in natural chemicals called nitrates, through a chain reaction, your body changes nitrates into nitric oxide, which helps with blood flow and blood pressure. A 2012 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a low dose of beetroot demonstrated significant hypotensive effects. (4)
The results of this study suggest that beetroot consumption remarkably lowered systolic blood pressure (when heart muscles contract) and diastolic blood pressure (when heart muscles relax) over a period of 24 hours when compared with a water control group.
Another 2012 study published in Nutrition Journal involved 15 men and 15 women who received 500 grams of beetroot and apple juice or a placebo juice. As a result of the evaluation, it was clear that beetroot and apple juice lowered systolic blood pressure, as indicated with measurements six hours after juice consumption. (5) This was especially true for men, who showed a more significant reduction in blood pressure levels.
Overall, researchers concluded that beetroot juice is one of the best foods to lower blood pressure levels naturally when consumed as part of a normal diet in healthy adults.
4. Aids Detoxification
Beetroot juice serves as a natural blood cleaner. It’s able to help the body detox and cleanse the blood of heavy metals, toxins and waste due to its compounds called glutathiones, which are essential for detoxification within the liver and other digestive organs. Additionally, the fiber content in beetroot juice helps to sweep the digestive tract of waste and toxins while restoring healthy and regular bowel movements.
It’s the betalains in beetroot that help to form glutathione — enabling the body to neutralize toxins and make them water-soluble, meaning they can be exerted through urine and flushed out of the body.
Beetroot juice is also a powerful tool for cleansing and supporting liver function. It’s important to keep the liver at optimal function because it filters our blood and is responsible for the largest percentage of detoxification in the body. It works tirelessly to detoxify our blood, produce the bile needed to digest fat, break down hormones and store essential vitamins, minerals and iron.
With impaired liver function, juicing vegetables has the added benefit of making the vegetables easier to digest and more readily available for absorption. Drinking beetroot juice for a liver cleanse also helps to reduce acid levels in the body, helping to create a more friendly pH balance.
5. Supports Cognitive Health
Drinking beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain in older people, which may be able to serve as a natural remedy for Alzheimer’s and fight the progression of dementia and other cognitive conditions. The nitrates in beetroot juice are converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth; these nitrites help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to places lacking in oxygen.
As we age, there are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused, meaning there is not enough blood flowing through those areas. This is what may lead to cognitive conditions like dementia.
A study done by Wake Forest researchers at the Translational Science Center evaluated how dietary nitrates affected 14 adults age 70 and older over a period of four days. The MRIs done at the end of the four-day testing period showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes. (6) This is the area of the brain that is commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive issues.
Similarly, a 2016 study performed by Wake Forest University researchers explored the effects of drinking beetroot juice before a workout. The study observed 26 men and women, 55 years of age and older who did not exercise, had high blood pressure and took two or less medications for high blood pressure.
Three times a week for six weeks, they drank a beetroot juice supplement one hour before a moderately intense 50-minute walk on a treadmill. Half the participants received a supplement containing 560 mg of nitrate; the others received a placebo with very little nitrate.
Researchers found that the beetroot group “had brain networks that more closely resembled those of younger adults, showing the potential enhanced neuroplasticity conferred by combining exercise and beetroot juice consumption.” (7)
6. Fights Diabetes
Beets contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. A 2008 study published in Nutrition Reviews found that alpha-lipoic acid can be extremely beneficial for patients with diabetic neuropathy. (8)
According to researchers, alpha-lipoic acid “terminates free radicals, chelates transition metal ions, increases cytosolic glutathione and vitamin C levels, and prevents toxicities associated with their loss.” This means that beetroot juice is able to reduce the oxidative stress that has the power to destroy healthy cells in the body.
Beetroot juice is also high in fiber, so it keeps toxins and wastes moving through the digestive system properly. When the pancreas does not produce proper amounts of insulin, or if cells cannot properly process insulin, this results in diabetes. High-fiber foods, like beetroot, help to slow down glucose absorption — giving the body time to process the insulin.
7. High Source of Folate
Folate consumption is important because it helps the body make new cells, specifically by playing a role in copying and synthesizing DNA. A folate deficiency will cause anemia (poorly formed red blood cells), a weakened immune function and poor digestion.
Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, people with liver disease, people who are medications for diabetes, alcoholics and people on kidney dialysis are most at risk of a folate deficiency. High folic acid foods, like beetroot, lentils, spinach and chickpeas, help to ensure a healthy pregnancy, fight to prevent cancer and support cardiovascular health.
History and Interesting Facts
Beets are a part of the plant family called Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae. Nutrition-rich Swiss chard varieties and other root vegetables are also part of this family, explaining why they share beet’s earthy but sweet taste. Beetroot leaves were historically consumed before the roots ever were, even though today many people prefer to consume the sweet roots and discard the more bitter, but very beneficial greens.
Beet greens are thought to be first consumed in Africa, thousands of years ago. The popularity of the root vegetables then spread to the Asian and European regions, with the Ancient Roman populations being some of the first people to harvest beets and eat their brightly colored roots.
From the 16th to the 19th century, beets became more widespread and they were used in various ways; for example, their bright juices were used as food dyes and their sugars quickly became noticed as a source of concentrated sweetness. By the 19th century, beets were being used as a means for extracting and refining sugar.
This continued to be a popular method for making cane sugar throughout Europe, eventually spreading to the United States, where today beets are still used in this way. Thankfully, the nutritious benefits of beets and beetroot juice are gaining notice and more studies are being conducted to prove their amazing capabilities. Today the largest producers of beets are the United States, Russia and European nations such as France, Poland and Germany.
How to Make Beetroot Juice
Beetroot juice is one of the best foods for athletes, as adding it into your regular diet is an excellent way to increase energy and performance; plus, it improves cardiovascular, digestive and cognitive health. If you are participating in an athletic event, I recommend eating or juicing beetroot about two and a half hours beforehand. If you are adding beetroot juice into your regular diet, drink it in between meals or along with any meal for a nutritional punch.
Raw beetroot is firm, crunchy and mildly sweet tasting. Beetroot makes an excellent addition to juices because when eaten raw, you are not losing any of its important benefits. Beetroot can be an acquired taste, so add other vegetables to your beetroot juice. Celery, cucumber and apple are good choices; you can also add lemon or ginger to sweeten the taste of raw beetroot juice.
When preparing the beets, choose smaller ones from your local grocery store. The smaller beets are typically sweeter. Make sure to wash them thoroughly and if the skin is rough, peel away the first layer before adding it to a blender or juicer.
- 1 beet
- 6 celery stalks
- 1 green apple
- 1/2 cucumber
- Add all ingredients to vegetable juicer. Gently mix juice and consume immediately.
If you are looking for a sweeter flavor, try my Sweet Beet Juice.
Risks and Side Effects
You may have noticed in the past that your urine actually turns somewhat pink or red after consuming beets; this isn’t anything to worry about because it’s completely normal, as about 15 percent of the population reacts to compounds in beets this way.
Beetroot contains oxalates, which prevents calcium from being absorbed by the body, thereby allowing it to build up as stones in the kidney. If you get kidney stones because of too much calcium, you may be advised to cut down on oxalates in your diet.
Some research has shown that this effect could potentially indicate a problem with absorbing iron, so if you have concerns about either being too high or too low in iron and experience this effect after consuming beets, you may want to speak you’re your doctor about having an iron test completed if you have been feeling sluggish, fatigued and showing signs of iron deficiency.
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