Beets which are commonly known as beetroots in many parts of the world have been eaten for thousands of years. They are an ancient food which originally grew around the coastlines of Africa, Asia and Europe. Although these days, we are more familiar with the red beet, it was originally the greens that were eaten. Beets have actually been cultivated to be eaten in their more familiar form since the Roman era.
By the early 19th century, beets grew in popularity because of their natural sweet flavor, It was commonly used as a sugar source and according to reports, Napoleon Bonaparte declared that beets should be used as the primary sugar source after the import of sugar cane was restricted.
Sugar beets are still commonly used as a raw material for producing sugar but there are plenty of good reasons to consume them in their whole form.
Beets Nutritional Value
Although beets contain more sugar than any other vegetable and they are also high in carbohydrates, they also possess plenty of healthy nutrients. Those on a diet however should probably eat them sparingly.
The reason that beets are so good for your health is their diverse nutritional content. Beets are an excellent source of minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, iron and copper as well as vitamins A and C. They also contain several beneficial flavonoids and carotenoids.
Beets are an especially good source of phytonutrients known as betalains. Two of these betalains called vulgaxanthin and betanin have been well studied and have demonstrated powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities as well as support for detoxification.
Betalains are present to some extent in other food such as chard or rhubarb stems but are present in uniquely high concentrations in fresh beet flesh and peel.
Health Benefits of Beets
Apart from the fact that beets taste absolutely delicious, there are plenty of other good reasons to add them to your diet. Let us take a look at some of the most significant benefits you can get from this tasty sweet vegetable.
1. Beets are Good for your Heart
Eating beets or drinking their juice can be very beneficial to your heart for several reasons.
First of all, bets can help reduce your blood pressure in a relatively short space of time. One study published in 2012 was conducted to measure the effects of beetroot juice on healthy adults. The researchers found that a single glass of beetroot juice reduced systolic blood pressure levels by between 4 and 5 points on average 6-hours after being drunk. (1)
This ability to lower a person’s blood pressure is probably linked to the nitrates which occur naturally in the vegetable. These nitrates get converted by the body into nitric oxide which helps dilate the blood vessels and improve the flow of blood.
Beets are also a good source of fiber which can help reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol which in turn reduces the risk of heart attack, heart disease or stroke.
2. Beets can Fight Inflammation
Studies have demonstrated that several of the different phytonutrients found in beets have anti-inflammatory actions. Betanin and vulgaxanthin work against inflammation because of the way they inhibit COX enzymes that are known to trigger inflammation.
Although inflammation is sometimes necessary, there are several diseases associated with unwanted, chronic inflammation including various heart diseases such as atherosclerosis.
Beets are also a fairly unique source of a nutrient called betaine which helps to protect the cells from environmental stress and is known to have significant anti-inflammatory effects. According to experts betaine in the diet is linked to reduced inflammation and protection against various serious disease.
3. Beets can Boost your Stamina
Several studies have demonstrated that drinking beet juice before you exercise can have a significant effect on your performance levels. In one study published in 2009, people who drank beet juice before they exercised were able to continue exercising as much as 16% longer.
This represents a major boost in stamina and is related to the way beets turn nitrates into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is believed to reduce oxygen cost when doing low intensity workouts and also enhancing tolerance during higher intensity exercises. (3)
4. Beets to Boost Strength
A very recent study done by researchers in St. Louis has found that beet juice not only boosts stamina but can also improve muscle strength. The study employed 9 heart failure patients suffering from typical symptoms like loss of strength, poor exercise performance or inability to exercise.
They were tested after consuming 140 milliliters of highly concentrated beetroot juice and all of them exhibited significant improvements. Researchers noted an immediate 13% increase in muscle capacity – a boost that would ordinarily only occur after months of training. Again, researchers believe that this muscle boost is provided by nitric oxide. (4)
5. Beets may help Fight Cancer
Beets get their familiar beautiful deep color from powerful phytonutrients but these compounds do much more than please the eye. They might also help to protect against cancer. Various animal studies have showed that beet extract administered with their drinking water was able to reduce tumor formations in multiple organs.
Studies are also underway to analyze the effects of beet extract in treating prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers. (5)
6. Beets help you Detoxify
We hear a lot about the need to detoxify the body. Detoxing on a regular basis can help keep your body’s major organs like the liver in the best working order, purify the blood and promote overall health. The betalains found in beets can help support the detoxification process.
They are especially helpful during phase 2 of a detox which is the time when toxins get broken down and bound with other molecules aiding their excretion from the body.
7. Beets Help your Eyes
Beets contain an antioxidant called beta-carotene which is also present in many other vegetables like carrots and famously aids vision and eye health. This compound can slow down macular degeneration which is often linked to the damaging effects of free radicals.
Free radicals destroy the cells and contribute to the overall aging process including eye health. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that can counteract the effects of free radicals and help protect the eyes from long term damage.
8. Beets are a Great Option during Pregnancy
If you are pregnant then you will be more than aware of the need to eat a good balanced diet in order to provide the necessary nutrients for yourself and your baby.
Beets are an especially good choice for women during pregnancy because they contain many of the B vitamins including folate which can help your fetus to develop properly. A deficiency in folate has been linked with certain neural birth defects.
Don’t Forget the Greens
It is not difficult to add beets to your diet. They are absolutely delicious whether you choose to juice them or add them to your salad dishes. There is also a famous Russian beetroot soup called borscht that is very easy to make at home.
Many people simply throw away the beet greens but they have plenty of nutritional value that should not be wasted.
Beet greens are a great source of minerals like zinc, potassium, manganese and copper. And as regards iron, beets actually contain more of it than spinach. They are also high in fiber, protein and vitamin B6.
Beet greens have their own very special health benefits including the ability to strengthen your bones, strengthen immunity and even protect against Alzheimer’s.