You might be surprised to know that beets are a super food. They contain essential vitamins, minerals and plant compounds and they even have medicinal properties. Let’s take a look at what makes beets so awesome!
Vitamins, minerals and nutrients
While beets are low in calories, they contain lots of vitamins and minerals as well as nitrates and pigments. Here is a breakdown of the nutrients found in 3.5 ounces of cooked beets.
|Vitamin C||6% of daily RDI|
|Folate||20% of daily RDI|
|Vitamin B6||3% of daily RDI|
|Magnesium||6% of daily RDI|
|Potassium||9% of daily RDI|
|Phosphorous||4% of daily RDI|
|Manganese||16% of daily RDI|
|Iron||4% of daily RDI|
Helps lower blood pressure
Some studies show that beets can help lower blood pressure by as much as 4-10 points. The effect seems to target the systolic blood pressure (when your heart contracts) and it appears raw beets are better than cooked. Since high blood pressure is one of the leading factors of heart disease these findings are significant.
Beets help lower blood pressure due to their high concentration of nitrates. When we consume nitrates, our bodies convert them to nitric oxide, a molecule that dilates blood vessels, causing blood pressure to lower. The effect lasts for about six hours after eating beets.
Improving athletic performance
As we just learned beets have nitrates, these nitrates also may enhance athletic performance by improving the efficiency of mitochondria; the mitochondria produce energy for our cells. Two studies, including both men and women, showed that when they consumed beet juice daily for six days, they saw in increase of 15-25% in the time to exhaustion during intense exercise. In another smaller study, cyclists were given 17 ounces of beet juice at the 2.5 and 10 mile distances. They saw an improvement of 2.8% over the 2.5 miles and 2.7% over the 10 miles. For athletes this effect peaks in about 2-3 hours, so to take advantage of the nitrate levels, you’ll need to time consumption with training or competition.
As I’ve talked about in “what you need to know about inflammation to prevent heart disease“, inflammation is bad for our bodies and causes many diseases, like obesity, heart disease, liver disease and cancer. To help fight inflammation, beets contain betalains, that potentially possess anti-inflammatory properties. A study showed people with osteoarthritis who were given betalain capsules made with beetroot, reduced pain and discomfort. While these early studies are promising, more studies are needed to fully determine whether beets might be used to reduce inflammation.
May support brain health
As we get older, some people experience cognitive decline due to a reduction of blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain. The nitrates in beets might improve dilation of blood vessels which increases blood flow to the brain. In particular, beets have improved blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, which is our higher-level thinking area, where decision making and working memory take place. In a study of type 2 diabetics, they found reaction time to computer-based tests was improved by 4%. While promising, these findings are also early, more testing and studies need to be completed before we can know how much beets could improve brain health.
Beets may help with weight loss
Because beets are low in calories and high in water content, they help to fill you up and keep you hydrated. Beets also contain protein and fiber; the fiber contributes to feelings fullness which makes you less likely to consume more calories. Combined these are important when trying to loose weight.
How to enjoy beets in your meals
Beets have a variety of uses, they can be juiced, roasted, steamed or even pickled. When shopping for beets, look for ones that are heavy for their size and still have unwilted green leafy tops. When preparing them, it is best not to boil them as they will lose their nitrates into the water.
- Beet leaves – can be cooked like spinach
- Beet juice – fresh is better since it doesn’t have added sugar
- Beet dip – just blend with greek yogurt for a healthy dip
- Beet salad – grate them over a salad for color and flavor