Beets seem to bring up a strong dichotomous reaction when mentioned to people; it seems that most people either love them or hate them. There is a reason for this, beets contain an organic compound called geosmin that is produced by microbes in the soil that gives off the smell of dirt. Humans are especially sensitive to this compound which is why it causes a “hate it or love it” reaction in humans. So if you’re one of those with a ‘hate it’ reaction, perhaps understanding how this superfood benefits the body and perhaps learning a new way to prepare them that differs from the boiled beets your mom made you eat will give you a fresh perspective on this bright superfood.
Beets contain almost every vitamin and mineral needed by the human body. For this reason, beets are deemed to be a “functional food”. “Functional foods” are those foods that have a potentially positive effect on your health beyond the basic nutritional benefits. These foods not only promote optimal health, they also help reduce the risk of disease. Beetroots contain a large quantity of Folate, Vitamin C, B6, Magnesium, Copper, Potassium, Phosphorus, Manganese and Iron and are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients that benefit the body in ways that not many other vegetables are able to do. The most studied phytonutrients in beets are called betalains and these include two compounds called betanin and vulgaxanthin which have been shown to be anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and have strong antioxidant capacity. Beets also contain dietary nitrate. Dietary nitrate has some powerful implications in managing your heart health. Beets also have many bioactive compounds that help to quell inflammation. Chronic inflammation underlies most of our chronic disease states such as heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, diabetes, gout, allergies, asthma and many other chronic conditions. Beetroots have been researched for their health benefits on high blood pressure, heart disease, brain health,eye health, athletic performance, digestion, cancer fighting abilities, weight loss, liver support and overall immunity.
Beets And Gout, Health Benefits
- Blood Pressure : One of the leading risk factors for heart attacks, heart failure and stroke is high blood pressure. Beets have been shown to significantly lower systolic blood pressure (the top number which is when your heart contracts) by up to 4-10 mmHg in just a few hours after ingestion. The reason for this drop is due to the high levels of dietary nitrates in beet roots. The dietary nitrate is converted in the body to Nitric Oxide which relaxes and dilates the blood vessels, opening them up so that your blood can flow more easily and deliver nutrients to your body and causing blood pressure to drop. The effect is very temporary; the levels in the blood last for about 6 hours after you eat beets. So one beet meal every week is not going to lower blood pressure for the long term, but regular consumption can help lower the damage to your cardiovascular system
- Heart Disease: Beets contain a lot of folate as well as a nutrient called betaine. These two supernutrients help lower levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid and high levels in the blood are linked to heart disease. Foods like red meat increase your levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine levels are also linked to low levels of vitamins B6, B12, and folate, as well as renal disease. Folate and betaine in beets help to lower these high levels of homocysteine naturally.
- Digestion and Weight Loss: Improving your digestion means you improve your nutrition. Without good digestive system function, you cannot absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. Beets are a good source of fiber which helps to improve digestion and counteract constipation so you stay regular. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut and helps prevent digestive disorders. High fiber intake is linked to a reduced risk of many chronic diseases such as colon cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also helps you to lose weight.
- Brain Health: Beets can boost your brainpower. Just as it helps with blood pressure by relaxing and dilating your blood vessels, the nitric oxide created when you eat beets helps to increase the circulation of blood to your brain; especially to the frontal lobe of the brain which is that area of the brain that is linked to decision making, focus, working memory and executive function. Beets have also been studied for their positive effects on reaction time. Research has also indicated that the betanin in beets (which is what gives beets that bright red color) interacts with the clusters of amino acids called amyloid beta in the brain. One of the most noted features of Alzheimer’s disease is the build up of these clusters of amyloid beta in the brain which come together in large formations of beta-amyloid plaques. What happens in Alzheimer’s is that these big clumps and clusters disrupt the neuron signaling in the brain and also trigger a large inflammatory response. The way in which the betanin reacts with these clusters of amyloid-beta plaque shows promise in the research for preventing the damaging effects to the brain.
- Cancer: Beets are loaded with antioxidants. The beautiful red pigments in beets have been studied for its effects on protecting against the development of cancer cells and has been shown to reduce the growth of tumor cells in animals. More research is needed in this area, but the fact that beets have such high antioxidant capacity as well as the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of beets points to their potential role in cancer research .
- Liver Health: Your liver is an important organ and many of us take it for granted. It is the organ responsible for cleaning your blood and really detoxifying it so that you stay healthy. Betaine (an amino acid) found in beets helps prevent and reduce the buildup of fat in our liver and may reduce cholesterol.
- Athletic Endurance: Thinking about training for that 10K? Want to improve your Burst/HIIT training? The nitrates in beets helps boost endurance in athletic performance by improving the efficiency of the mitochondria; those energy powerhouses inside your cells. Beets have been shown to improve the athletic performance and oxygen use in cyclists. Although you need a pretty significant dose (about 3-5 beets) to get the boost, that boost will peak at about 2 -3 hours after you eat (or drink) your beetroots or juice. You may notice a bit of crimson when you urinate if you take in this many beets or drink a significant amount of beetroot juice (see not below on “Things to Know”). If you do decide to try beetroot juice as your pre-workout boost, try to drink it about 2 -3 hours prior to your workout for the best effect on your performance.
Fun & Interesting Facts about Beets
Beets have an interesting story throughout history. Many cultures consider them to be an aphrodisiac; even the ancient Romans believed that the juice of beets helped to produce feelings of amoror. The Greek goddess Aphrodite ate beets because she believed they enhanced her appeal. If you think of the scientific reasons behind these intuitive conclusions throughout history it all makes sense. Because beets are a natural source of both tryptophan and betaine they increase feelings of well-being and relaxation with increased blood flow throughout the body. Beets also contain a high amount of boron. Born is a trace mineral that helps to increase sex hormones in the body.
Things to Know
- Beeturia: Some people experience something called beeturia when they eat beets. This causes your urine to appear pinkish. It’s not necessarily a harmful side effect, however it may indicate some issues with your iron metabolism and you should mention it to your healthcare provider.
- Cooking: Those important betalains are not very heat stable and they decrease with long cooking times. Eat your beets raw or juiced. If you do cook them, steam for no more than 15 minutes and keep roasting time under an hour to preserve the important betalains.
Raw beets can be grated and added to your salad, coleslaw, hummus and eaten a multitude of different ways. Enjoy them fresh juiced if you have a juicer (watch the store bought beet juice as it may contain added sugars- read the label). This superfood brings you just about every vitamin and mineral that your body needs as well as tons of phytonutrient and antioxidants that help quell inflammation and detoxify your body. Click here for a few different beet recipes to enjoy.
By: Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach