Beets have been eaten for centuries in the countries around the Mediterranean. Originally people ate the tops, it was only in Roman times that the beet root became a recognised food. These days, most people equate beets with sugar – the often genetically modified sugar beet is the most common form cultivated. This is a pity because beets, in their natural form, offer a host of health benefits. Whether you eat the tops or the roots, beets are a powerhouse of health boosting nutrients. In addition to being packed with vitamins and minerals, beets contain powerful phytonutrients, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds and are high in dietary fibre. Although they contain the most sugar of all vegetables, beets can safely be eaten in moderation. Try them in salads (especially the tops), juiced, or gently steamed as a delicious vegetable.
Here are 11 health benefits and nutritional facts about beets:
1. Beets Are Nutrient Rich
Beets are a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. One cup of raw beet will supply you with significant amounts of vitamins A, C, E, K and the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, B6, B12, pantothenic acid and folate. Beets also contain choline, betaine, omega-3, flavonoids, dietary fibre and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. As you can see from this long list, eating beets a few times a week is an excellent way to give your body the nutrients it needs to promote health and fight disease.
2. Reduce Blood Pressure
Beet juice has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure. Beets are rich in nitrates, which are converted in the body to nitric acid. Nitric acid relaxes and dilates blood vessels, helping to reduce blood pressure. They are also high in potassium which also acts as a vasodilator. This allows the blood to circulate more freely, improving the supply of oxygen and nutrients to muscles, organs and cells. One study showed that subjects who drank a glass of fresh beet juice experienced a 10mm Hg drop in blood pressure after three hours compared to subjects who drank water.
3. Improve Heart Health
Eating beets regularly can help to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. The high fibre content of beets (3.8g per cup) helps to reduce the LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and increase the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), improving overall heart health. In addition, beets contain betaine and folate, which together play a vital role in lowering homocysteine levels in the blood. Elevated homocysteine has been shown to be far more likely to cause chronic heart disease than cholesterol. Reducing homocysteine levels in the blood is now known to be essential in combating heart disease.
4. Reduce the Risk of Strokes
Eating beets increases your levels of potassium, a deficiency of which has been linked to increased risk of strokes. Potassium, along with the nitrates in beet, is a vasodilator, meaning that it helps to relax and dilate the blood vessels. This allows freer flow of blood to the brain, lowering blood pressure and reducing the chances of clots forming in the blood vessels, the cause of strokes. In addition, beets contain Vitamin C and flavonoids, which play an essential role in strengthening capillary walls, further reducing the risk of strokes.
5. Improve Brain Function
Beets can help to maintain brain health and functioning, reducing the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and memory loss. The nitrates, potassium and folates in beets help to improve blood flow by dilating the blood vessels, increasing the blood supply to the brain and slowing degeneration. As we age, our ability to convert nitrates into nitric acid declines, so eating beets with their high nitrate content helps to give the brain a boost. In one study, men and women who ate more nitrates were found to have increased blood flow to the area of the brain responsible for cognitive skills, than people who ate a low nitrate diet.
6. Reduce Overall Inflammation
Chronic inflammation, which plays a major role in metabolic syndrome, is recognized as a precursor of chronic diseases. According to the World Health Organization, these are the leading cause of deaths annually. Beets help to reduce inflammation in a number of ways. They are a good source of betaine, which helps to protect cells, proteins and enzymes from environmental stress which causes inflammation. In addition, beets contain vitamins C and E, selenium, omega-3 and betalains, all excellent antioxidants that help to protect the cells from the ravages of free radicals, reducing overall inflammation.
7. Detoxify and Improve Liver Health
Your liver plays a vital role in cleansing the blood from impurities and toxins. Approximately 3 pints of blood pass through the liver every minute, so an unhealthy liver can have major health implications for your body. Beets have traditionally been used to detoxify and cleanse the liver. Medical science is now confirming the benefits of eating beets to promote liver health. Beets contain betaine, an amino acid that helps to prevent and reduce the accumulation of fat in the liver, a major cause of liver malfunction. Beets also increase the body’s production of glutathione, required by the liver to neutralize toxins and detoxify the blood.
8. Protect Against Cancer
Beets contain powerful phytonutrients that can help to prevent and even slow certain cancers. The bright red color of beets is due to pigments called betacyanins, which researchers have found to be effective in preventing skin, lung, colon, pancreatic, breast and colon cancers. The betacyanins help to protect cells from mutations caused by nitrites and nitrates, commonly used to preserve foods, especially meats. It has also been shown to slow tumour development and growth in various animal tests. In addition, the powerful antioxidant compounds in beets help to protect cells from free radical damage that can lead to cancer.
9. Improve Bowel Functioning
One sure fire way to feel unhealthy is to suffer from constipation. Having a healthy bowel is a prerequisite to good health. Including beets in your diet can help to regularize your bowel function and eliminate constipation. Beets are high in dietary fibre, containing about 3.8g per cup (±15% of the Daily Value), in particular insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre acts like a broom, sweeping toxins and sugars through the intestines and colon. This helps to promote regularity and reduce the risk of constipation, hemorrhoids and IBS. The betaine in beets also assists in improving digestion, resulting in better absorption of nutrients.
10. Improve Eye Health
Regular consumption of beets can help maintain eye health. Beets contain a number of nutrients that assist in maintaining healthy eyes and may help prevent age related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts. Beets contain significant amounts of beta-carotene, from which the body is able to make vitamin A. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that is especially needed by the eyes. It helps to protect the eyes from free radical damage that can lead to deterioration over time, reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Beets also contain other powerful antioxidants that may help protect the tissue of the eyes.
11. Improve Stamina and Performance
More and more athletes are discovering the performance boosting properties of beets. Beets are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which are the energy fuel of the body, needed for all physical performance. Beets also contain nitrates that help improve blood flow by dilating the blood vessels, allowing more oxygen bearing blood to get to the muscles when they need it most. Researchers also found improved oxygen uptake in subjects who drank beet juice. One study showed that cyclists who drank beet juice could pedal 15% harder in a time trial compared to those who didn’t get beet juice.