The beet goes on: understanding the benefits of this root vegetable
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People have been eating beetroot for its health properties since the Middle Ages. In modern times, however, it’s the liquid version that’s making waves. Scientific studies on beetroot juice claim the elixir can lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, and improve exercise performance. As a result, the ruby red beverage has become a favorite among athletes, but does it deliver what it promises?
Also known as the red beet, table beet or garden beet, beetroots are quite unlike their cousin the sugar beet, which is rarely eaten whole. Beetroots’ unique benefits are mainly thanks to an abundance of dietary nitrate; when converted to nitric oxide in the body, it helps relax blood vessels, increase blood flow, and promote oxygen uptake by muscle. Beetroots also contain betalains (which give beets their red color), flavonoids, and phenolic compounds, which act as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents. Several studies show regular intake of beetroot juice lowers blood pressure in both normotensive and hypertensive adults.
Can beetroot boost performance?
In a 2015 study, 14 healthy males drank a shot of beetroot juice for 15 days. Researchers measured blood pressure, oxygen uptake, and cardiac output during rest and intense exercise and compared it to those who drank a placebo. Those taking beetroot juice had lower blood pressure and more dilated blood vessels, and were able to work longer. While other research has also linked beetroot juice with increased cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes and improved performance, some studies have shown no effect on performance at all. Scientists think age, diet, physiology, training status, type of exercise, as well as dose and duration of dose may all play a role in beetroot juice efficacy.
Most promising may be how beetroot juice affects people with heart disease and the elderly. One study found a daily dose of beetroot juice (about 2 1/2 ounces) significantly improved endurance and blood pressure in elderly patients with heart failure. Nitrates’ ability to increase blood flow has implications for preserving brain health too. Older adults consuming beetroot juice prior to moderate exercise were found to have “younger” brains than those who did not drink any beetroot juice.
How much is enough?
In studies, beetroot juice intake ranged from 2 to 3 ounces to as much as 2 cups daily. Timing also makes a difference, as juice was generally consumed at least 11/2 hours before physical activity. While there is no real downside to drinking beetroot juice, except for turning your urine and stool a reddish color, it is important to check with your physician before making any changes to your diet, particularly since it can interact with some medications. And, remember, it’s not just the juice that has effects, adding more beets in the form of vegetables can also help.
Diane Welland, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter