People often describe beetroot as a superfood and have used it for centuries to treat fever, constipation, and skin complaints. Researchers are now investigating its effects on blood pressure. Is the plant useful for people with diabetes?
Beets are one of several varieties of Beta vulgaris, grown for their edible root and leaves. Other cultivated varieties include the sugar beet, which has white flesh, and a leafy vegetable called chard.
The vegetable is most often deep red. It is also possible to find golden, white, and striped versions of the vegetable.
People have cultivated beets since the beginning of recorded history and often used it for medicinal purposes as well as for food. The Romans also commonly used the vegetable as an aphrodisiac.
Studies have shown that beets demonstrate a range of powerful effects that can help reduce the impact of diabetes.
Lowering blood pressure
Research suggests that eating beets or drinking beet juice might benefit people with high blood pressure. High blood pressure is common among people with diabetes, particularly those with type 2 diabetes.
The presence of nitrates in beet juice is reportedly responsible for the pressure-reducing effect. These nitrates improve the ability of blood vessels to widen, promoting blood flow.
The study involved 64 patients, aged between 18 and 85 years, with high blood pressure. Half the participants were taking medications for their condition but could not achieve their target blood pressure. The other half had not yet received treatment.
After 4 weeks, the researchers found that the 34 patients who drank a cup of beet juice each day experienced a significant, 8/4-millimeters-of-mercury (mmHg) reduction in their blood pressure levels. Those who consumed a nitrate-free juice drink did not experience these reductions.
Patients who consumed beet juice also showed a 20-percent improvement in the elasticity of their blood vessels.
Dr. Shannon Amoils from the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, advised the following:
“The possibility of using a natural product, rather than another pill, to help lower blood pressure, is very appealing. The next step will be to see if this result can be repeated in a much larger group of people with high blood pressure and over a longer period of time.”
A 2013 review of evidence from 16 trials, involving a total of 254 participants, concluded that drinking beetroot juice helped cause a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure levels. Systolic blood pressure is the stage of the heartbeat in which the heart contracts and forces blood through the arteries.
However, in this Journal of Nutrition study, the authors state that the findings need to be tested in longer-term studies before any recommendations can be made.
Reducing nerve damage
Nerve damage is a symptom of diabetes.
The benefits might, however, be limited to injections of alpha-lipoic acid.
“It is unclear if the significant improvements seen with the oral administration of alpha-lipoic acid are clinically relevant,” the researchers write in the International Journal of Endocrinology.
Improving exercise performance
Research has also suggested that drinking beet juice might improve the ability of muscles to take up oxygen during physical activity and improve exercise tolerance.
Exercise helps reduce the risk and slow the progression of heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders. This particularly benefits people with diabetes, as they are at a high risk of these conditions.
They are rich in antioxidants, which clean up damaging molecules called free radicals that can harm blood vessels. They also have high levels of a phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrient, called betalain, which helps reduce inflammation.
In addition, beets are a plentiful source of folate, an important B-vitamin. Each one-cup serving provides 37 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI). They are a good source of manganese, providing 22 percent of the RDI of the mineral per cup.
Beets also contain no cholesterol and very small amounts of fat.
One cup of raw beet contains:
- 13 grams (g) of carbohydrates, consisting of 9.19 g of sugar and 3.8 g of dietary fiber
- 2.2 g of protein
Other vitamins and minerals contained in beets include:
Beets are also a great source of dietary nitrates, which are thought to be the main substance in beets that promotes blood vessel health.
High levels of dietary nitrate could reduce the effectiveness of organic nitrate and nitrite medications, which people take to treat angina.
This diet could also interrupt the action of PDE-5 inhibitor drugs, which help erectile dysfunction.
Nitrates in inadequately stored beet juice can convert to the potentially harmful substance nitrite, as it can expose the beet to certain types of bacteria.
Be sure to store beets correctly. Cut leaves around 2 inches from the root as soon as they arrive in the kitchen. Keep the bulbs in the fridge for up to 10 days. Store the leaves in a separate bag and eat them within 2 days.
A small percentage of people experience beeturia, in which their urine turns red after eating beets. Beeturia does not cause any known harmful effects.
Some of the nutrients in beets reduce with longer cooking times, as do their beneficial effects.
As a result, the most effective way to get the maximum benefits from beets is to eat them raw, either as juice or simply grated on a salad.
Beet juice can also be used as a base for fruit and vegetable juice cocktails or smoothies. Some popular juicing combinations, for one serving, include:
- two medium beets, three medium carrots, one apple
- one large beet, two apples, and one piece of ginger
- one large beet, half a pineapple, 4 ounces of coconut, and ice
- one large beet, 1 cup of strawberries, half a cup of blueberries, two apples, and ice
- one large beet, kale, three carrots, one stick of celery, and ice
Beets can also be steamed, boiled, roasted, or pickled. They form the foundation for many recipes, such as borscht, a type of soup popular in Eastern European countries.
Beetroot is also a delicious addition to risottos and a traditional accompaniment to mackerel.
Try avocado filled with cumin and pomegranate, beetroot, and shallot salsa for a starter or light snack, or reginette pasta with beetroot and sour cream sauce for a heavier main meal.
It is important to note, however, that a balanced diet containing a wide variety of nutritious foods is important for good health. A balanced diet is always preferable to one that focuses on a limited range of superfoods.