Beetroot, also known simply as the beet, has been gaining in popularity as a new super food due to recent studies claiming that beets and beetroot juice can improve athletic performance, lower blood pressure and increase blood flow. New products incorporating this highly nutritious food are sprouting up everywhere, especially in juices and drinks.
Beetroot, or table beets, although from the same family as sugar beets (beta vulgaris), are genetically and nutritionally different. Sugar beets are white in color and commonly used for sugar extraction and sweetening manufactured foods. Sugar cannot be obtained from beetroot, which are most commonly found in red and gold varieties.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of beetroot
One cup of raw beets contains 58 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrate (including 9 grams of sugar and 4 grams of fiber) and 2 grams of protein. It provides 1% of daily vitamin A needs, 2% of calcium, 11% of vitamin C and 6% of iron.
Beetroot is a rich source of folate and manganese and also contains thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and selenium.
Beets are high in dietary nitrate, which is believed to be the reason why many of the potential health benefits of beetroot are being studied.
Possible health benefits of consuming beetroot
Beetroot has been gaining in popularity as a new super food.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like beetroot decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
Heart health and blood pressure: A 2008 study published in Hypertension examined the effects of ingesting 500mls of beetroot juice in healthy volunteers and found that blood pressure was significantly lowered after ingestion. Researchers hypothesized this was likely due to the high nitrate levels contained in beet juice and that the high nitrate vegetables could prove to be a low cost and effective way to treat cardiovascular conditions and blood pressure.
Another study conducted in 2010 found similar results that drinking beetroot juice lowered blood pressure considerably on a dose-dependent basis.
Dementia: Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that drinking juice from beetroot can improve oxygenation to the brain, slowing the progression of dementia in older adults. According to Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest's Translational Science Center, blood flow to certain areas of the brain decrease with age and leads to a decline in cognition and possible dementia. Consuming beetroot juice as part of a high nitrate diet can improve the blood flow and oxygenation to these areas that are lacking.
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. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy and/or autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.5
Digestion and regularity: Because of its high fiber content, beetroot helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
Inflammation: Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.4
Exercise and athletic performance: Beetroot juice supplementation has been shown to improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, suggesting that increased dietary nitrate intake has the potential to enhance exercise tolerance during long-term endurance exercise. Quality of life for those with cardiovascular, respiratory, or metabolic diseases, who find the activities of daily living physically difficult because of lack of oxygenation, could be improved.
Beetroot juice improved performance by 2.8% (11 seconds) in a 4-km bicycle time trial and by 2.7% (45 seconds) in 16.1-km time trial.
How to incorporate more beetroot into your diet
Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled or eaten raw.
Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
- Make your own beetroot juice by peeling beetroot and blending with a combination of fresh orange, mint and pineapple or apples, lemon and ginger. Blend and strain.
- Grate raw beets and add them to coleslaw or your favorite salad.
- Top roasted beets with goat cheese for a perfect pairing.
- Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
- Slice raw beets and serve them with lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili powder.
Potential health risks of consuming beetroot
If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. High levels of nitrite can be potentially harmful if consumed.
A high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate (nitroglycerine) or nitrite drugs used for angina, sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.2
Drinking beetroot juice may cause red urine or stool.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist