Five Reasons Why You Should Eat Beetroot : Proven Health Benefits of Beetroot
Beetroot is a dark red vegetable with an acquired taste that has been linked with better stamina, improved blood flow and lower blood pressure.
The beetroot taste is described as sweet, earthy and tender to eat once cooked or pickled. It’s a root vegetable related to turnips, swedes and sugar beet. Whilst beetroot has a sweet taste, its leaves (which are also edible) taste bitter.
The red colour of beetroot can be extracted and used as a natural food colourant. It has the ‘E’ number E162.
If you’re considering beetroot as one of your 5-a-day, it contains potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, B6 and C, folic acid, carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and soluble fibre. Beetroot leaves are source of calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.
But what’s the truth about beetroot benefits?
Lowers blood pressure
Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London found that the nitrate in beetroots can help to lower blood pressure and fight heart disease.
Published in the online journal ‘Hypertension’, the study found that blood pressure was lowered within 24 hours in people who ingested nitrate tablets and people who drank beetroot juice.
Author of the study, Amrita Ahluwalia, Professor of Vascular Biology at Queen Mary’s William Harvey Research Institute, said: “We showed that beetroot and nitrate capsules are equally effective in lowering blood pressure, indicating that it is the nitrate content of beetroot juice that underlies its potential to reduce blood pressure.”
A 2015 follow up study reaffirmed these results and found that people who drank a daily 250ml glass of beetroot juice saw an average decrease in their blood pressure of 8/4 mmHg.
Could prevent dementia
A study from the US researchers suggested that drinking a glass of beetroot juice daily could help to increase blood flow to the brain and prevent cognitive diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The researchers looked at how nitrates affected 14 adults aged 70 and older over four days and found that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the adults had an increased blood flow to the ares of the brain most commonly associated with degeneration.
Blood flow studies have shown drinking beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain for a short while in older people. Maintaining good blood circulation to the brain is associated with a reduced risk of vascular dementia, one of the main causes of dementia.
Nitrates in the food we eat and drink can be converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth. We then swallow these nitrites in saliva, which when absorbed into our body help dilate (widen) arteries, increasing blood flow and supplying the oxygen needs demanded by body cells.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) says beetroot contains flavonoids called anthocyanins which are responsible for the deep pigments. Anthocyanins, the BDA says, can help with recovery from the stress of exercise during training and competition as well as helping to counter the effects of pollution on the body.
Boosts your libido
Like bananas, celery, and watermelon, beetroots are one of the many foods that are alleged to increase the libido and combat sexual problems such as tiredness in the bedroom.
Beetroots are thought to work similarly to Viagra by increasing the nitric oxide levels in the body, which then dilates the blood vessels and increases blood flow to the genitals.
Beetroots also contain high levels of boron, a chemical element which is thought to be directly related to maintaining sexual and reproductive help.
Prevents and treats constipation
Beets are high in fibre which can help to improve bowel function and keep waste materials moving through the intestines.
The betacyanin compound found in beetroots is also thought to be highly effective at fighting certain types of cancer – such as colon cancer – and can be used to boost colon health.
Helps you to hold your breath
Particularly useful for singers, musicians who play instruments like the trumpet or clarinet, cyclists, and mountain climbers, research found that taking a shot of concentrated beetroot juice could help subjects hold their breath for up to 11 per cent longer than usual.
In an experiment published in the Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology journal the researchers found that participants could hold their breath for almost half a minute longer if they were given a 70ml shot of the juice before going underwater.
Harald Engan, who led the study, said: “Apparently by enabling the body to reduce oxygen consumption, drinking concentrated beetroot juice has delivered significant extension of breath holding time.
Beetroot side effects
There are some interesting side effects of eating too much beetroot. It can turn urine pink, which can be mistaken for blood in the urine. It may also alter the colour of your poo – which can be used to give you an idea of how quickly food moves through your body.
Kidney stones are painful stones made sometimes from calcium oxalate. If you suffer from renal oxalate stones, make sure you drink plenty of fluid (not coffee) and cut down on dietary oxalates from green leafy vegetables (including beetroot leaves), rhubarb, chocolate, cashews and peanuts.
Population studies across countries show that a high intake of fruits and vegetables (at least 5-a-day) helps manage blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. This might be in part due to their nitrate content, but as the amounts of nitrate vary widely in these it’s more likely due to their vitamin, mineral and phytochemical content, too. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is best for health benefits.
Whether drinking ‘dried greens’ as part of a smoothie, or a beetroot ‘shot’ drink, it’s important to realise that substances in these processed vegetable products may be far higher than naturally occurring in the diet.
Nitrites – formed in our saliva by mouth bacteria working on nitrates – can interact with dietary protein in the stomach to potentially make substances called nitrosamines. The majority of nitrosamines are carcinogenic (cancer causing) in animals and this is likely to be similar in humans. Research has not been done to show whether taking nitrate-rich vegetable drinks long term is safe in terms of nitrosamine levels with a high nitrate diet.
The nitrosamine effect is similar to the risk from processed meats, where the nitrite content of bacon or sausages interacts with meat protein to form nitrosamines. Vitamin C rich foods may help reduce nitrosamine formation.
In summary, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides you with nitrates and other substances that help reduce blood pressure and lowers your risk of heart disease. Taking high dose nitrate drinks has been shown in research studies to have short-acting benefits on blood pressure and improved blood flow, but the safety of concentrated-nitrate foods and drinks taken regularly over a number of years has yet to be proven.