5 Bountiful Benefits of Beets

Health & Wellness, Nutrition

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Easily making the Top 50 Foods in “Heal Your Heart“, beets are a nutrition powerhouse, abundant in heart-protective antioxidants and mood-boosting compounds.   The latest research provides solid evidence to support intake of beets and/or beet juice on a regular if not daily basis to optimize heart and brain health.  Here are 5 impressive health benefits of beets:

  1. Lowers Blood Pressure:  Beets are a rich source of inorganic nitrates that when digested are ultimately converted into nitric oxide resulting in blood vessel expansion and blood pressure lowering.  In fact, one recent study found that drinking 8 ounces of beetroot juice each day for 1 month resulted in similar reductions in blood pressure (~10/5 systolic/diastolic) as typically observed following initiation of a starting dose of a blood pressure medication.
  2. Improves Insulin Sensitivity: Even though beets are a rich source of natural sugars, when non-diabetic obese men and women ingested 16 ounces of beet juice mixed with glucose, they experienced a lower surge in blood glucose levels over the next several hours than when consuming the beet juice mixed with mouthwash (designed to inhibit nitrate conversion). These results suggest that dietary nitrates improve insulin sensitivity and that beet consumption may help non-diabetic obese men and women keep their postprandial glucose levels under better control when incorporated in their meals.
  3. Improves Brain Function: A high nitrate diet that included beetroot juice in men and women older than age 75 years found increased blood flow in the frontal cortex, the region of the brain involved in higher learning processes  (also known as executive function) that help us to focus on the task at hand (and multitask as required) in order to manage our time efficiently.
  4. Improves Exercise Performance: Beetroot juice (8-16 ounces) taken within 60 to 90 minutes prior to aerobic activity may improve athletic endurance and performance  due to increased nitric oxide availability for exercising muscles.
  5. Improves Mood & May Reduce Depression: Beets are a rich source of betaine, an amino acid derivative that boosts production of the chemical SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) leading to activation of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.   As little as 4 ounces of beet juice may improve your mood!Words of caution regarding beets are the following: 1) they can change the color of urine and stool to red and should be avoided 1-3 days prior to colonoscopy; 2) they are high in oxalates that upon binding to calcium may form kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, discuss with your physician whether it is safe for you to consume beets and/or beet juice; 3) they are high in sugar and may cause considerable glucose spikes when juiced (due to fiber removal).  If you have diabetes, discuss with your physician and/or dietitian the amount of beets or beet juice that is safe for you to consume.

    Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health and author of the bestselling book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

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