They’re all the rage now – beets are the new cauliflower. But we say, indulge wholeheartedly in both. You can never really get enough of healthy foods.
Beets are prettier on the inside than out; the rich, pink sapphire color of this tuber is appealing, but its health benefits are even more so.
The humble beet (Beta vulgaris) is packed with nutrients. One serving is only approximately 37 calories, with 3% DV of complex (good) carbs, 7% dietary fiber, and 49 mg omega 6 EFAs. Its dominant vitamin is folate (17% DV), and mineral, manganese (14%). Beets’ eye-catching hue come from phytonutrients known as betalains (specifically, betanin and vulgaxanthin). These are carotenoids that also have health benefits. According to one review, several studies have shown that betalains possess significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
Another review explains that consuming beets can boost nitric oxide production because of the high amount of nitrates they contain. They write that consuming beets “has emerged as a potential strategy to prevent and manage pathologies associated with diminished NO bioavailability, notably hypertension and endothelial function.”
According to one source, “Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. The detox support provided by betalains includes support of some especially important Phase 2 detox steps involving glutathione. Although you can see these betalain pigments in other foods (like the stems of chard or rhubarb), the concentration of betalains in the peel and flesh of beets gives you an unexpectedly great opportunity for these health benefits.”
Betaine is a natural occurring derivative of the amino acid glycine and is a signature component of the common sugar beet. The main physiological role of betaine is to protect cells from dehydration by acting as an osmolyte that increases water retention, and as a methyl donor in many biochemical pathways.
Beets: Fortifying Fitness
Beets and its constituents such as betaine, can benefit fitness routines in particular ways. For example, while 1.25g betaine supplementation twice per day for 15 days did not improve vertical jump power, bench press power and number of repetitions, betaine did improve the number of repetitions during squat exercise after one week of supplementation with a similar trend after week 2. In another study, one week of 1.25g betaine supplementation twice per day has been found to increase sprint performance by 3.5% over placebo in a cycling sprint performance test. Similarly, 14 days of twice daily 1.25g betaine has been shown to enhance bench press force and power production, but showed no effect in dynamic squat exercise performances.
If you are active and into fitness or play sports, consuming beets may enhance your goals. Beets are high in nitrates, which are known to improve mitochondrial efficiency; mitochondria are the energy production facilities in the cells. Beets were put to the test in several studies. One small study of seven young adult men who consumed beet root juice or placebo for six days, completed low-intensity and high-intensity step exercise tests to determine oxygen uptake. The beet juice group showed reduced ATP cost of muscle force production – meaning that energy was extended and they got a better workout.
One trial used the nitrate-rich beetroot juice to test endurance time in 12 elite runners who exercised on a treadmill for 15 days. The researchers found that the beetroot juice supplements “produced substantial improvements in the time to exhaustion in elite runners; however, it didn’t produce meaningful improvements in running economy, VO2Max (maximal oxygen consumption) or mechanical parameters.”
Another study of 11 physically fit men and women found that consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beet root improves running performance.
Interestingly, beetroot juice has positive brain and energy influence on older adults when exercise is incorporated into their lifestyle, as exercise itself has neuroplasticity benefits. In one study on 25 older participants showed that those who exercised and consumed beetroot juice “had brain networks that more closely resembled those of younger adults, showing the potential enhanced neuroplasticity” of this combination.
Inflammation & Blood Pressure
Working out hard is great for physique, but it can accelerate inflammation. But never fear – beets have been shown to help promote healthy inflammatory response. In one review, the authors describe, “Beetroot is also being considered as a promising therapeutic treatment in a range of clinical pathologies associated with oxidative stress and inflammation. Its constituents, most notably the betalain pigments, display potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemo-preventive activity in vitro and in vivo.”
Inflammation, by the way, also affects many other health areas. In the area of blood pressure, one team looked at the differences of effects of raw beet juice and cooked beet consumption for two weeks each on blood pressure in 24 adults with hypertension. The researchers found that after consuming raw beet juice, markers of inflammation – C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor alpha -- were lower, as was flow-mediated dilation (a measurement of blood pressure) compared to consuming cooked beets.
In one study, bread made with beets was used to investigate beet’s effects on microvascular vasodilation (capillaries’ ability to expand and contract). The study gave 23 healthy men 200 g of bread containing 100 g beet or white bread. Those who ate the beet-bread showed a statistically significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure and better vasodilation. (For some beetroot bread recipes, click here, here, and here.)
BB acutely increased endothelium-independent vasodilation and decreased DBP. Therefore, enriching bread with beetroot may be a suitable vehicle to increase intakes of cardioprotective beetroot in the diet and may provide new therapeutic perspectives in the management of hypertension.
Another study of healthy volunteers showed that only three hours after consuming a high amount of nitrates via beet juice (500 mL), blood pressure was substantially reduced, as the nitrate was converted in the body to nitrite.
Researchers in another study randomly assigned 68 individuals with elevated blood pressure in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to receive daily dietary supplementation for 4 weeks with either dietary nitrate (250 mL daily, as beetroot juice) or a placebo. Daily supplementation with dietary nitrate was associated with reduction in BP. Additionally, Endothelial function improved by 20% and arterial stiffness was reduced after dietary nitrate consumption with no change after placebo.
Inflammation also has a role in joint structure and function. Betalain-rich beet concentrate was used in study in individuals with joint discomfort and reduced joint function, hallmarked by inflammation. In the study, 20 individuals took the beet supplement and 20 consumed the placebo. Those in the beet group showed a 27% improvement in pain score and 26% improvement in WOMAC score (an arthritis measurement).
Inflammation, along with its mate oxidative stress, are also heavily involved in the development of obesity. One study focused on the role of the betalain pigments in beet juice and beet chips on oxidative metabolism and programmed cell death (apoptosis) in obese women, and found that beets in both forms had a positive affect through high antioxidant activity and inflammation management.
Beet powders are plentiful and beet chips to snack on are also showing up on your local supermarket shelves. There’s even beet ketchup and beet chips (and you can make these at home). Although there are great benefits to consuming beets, they tend to be high in natural sugar and also color excrement and urine red from its oxalic acid.
That said, beets are showing up in whole foods powders and for good reason. You just can’t “beet” the health benefits!