Beet Love!

Who loves Beets?!  I love beets!  Beets are packed with nutrients to help fight inflammation, reduce blood pressure and improve digestive health.  Beets contain high levels of antioxidants, fiber, folate and nitrates.  Beets can be served raw or cooked.  Both versions provide benefits.  What I love about beets is they are incredibly versatile.  The more I experience with using beets in cooking, the more I realize the possibilities of throwing them into the mix!  Beets can be deep red, white, yellow, or pink; All of which offer a variety of different plant compounds and nutrients.

Nutrition in Beets

As mentioned above, beets are packed with nutrition and can provide several health benefits.  Many of the benefits are associated with their high content of nitrate which turn into nitric oxide (more on that later), a molecule produced naturally by our bodies to help regulate blood pressure and support vasodilation to improve circulation.  In addition, beets are loaded with other important nutrients including:

  • Fiber: Helps regulate digestion, prevent constipation and keeps us full. It can also help to reduce risk of colon cancer, Inflammatory bowel diseases and diverticulitis.
  • Folate: important for normal tissue growth and cell function.  A crucial part of methylation and prevent Neural Tube Defects in pregnant women.
  • Manganese: serves as an important cofactor for bone development and cartilage
  • Potassium: Potassium is crucial to fluid and electrolyte balance.  Helps to regulate blood pressure and muscle contraction.
  • Iron: essential for the delivery of oxygen to the tissues and plays a role in mitochondrial energy production.  Iron is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormone and plays a role in immune function.
  • Vitamin C: essential for the production of collagen and carnitine. Collagen is a major component of connective tissue and carnitine is an amino acid that helps to metabolize fat.  Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant and plays a role in immune function.

Beets contain a very specific type of phytonutrient called betalains that not only contribute to their color, but also to good health.  Betanin is responsible for the deep red color in beets while vulgaxanthin is the compound that contributes the yellow and orange pigments in yellow beets.  Studies show that Betalains provide high levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and can help support detoxification.

Nitric Oxide

Inorganic nitrates turn into nitric oxide in your body.  This type of nitrates is not to be confused by the nitrates and nitrites added to food during processing to retain color (i.e bacon, ham and cured meats.).  Dietary nitrates from fruits and vegetables like beets, spinach, rhubarb, arugula, celery and other greens convert into Nitric Oxide leading to many health benefits.  As we age, we lose 85% of our ability to make Nitric Oxide, which makes it even more important to increase your intake through diet.  Beets are exceptionally high in nitrates, making it a great contender.    In fact, low levels of nitric oxide have been associated with:

  • Hypertension
  • Lack of Energy
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Immune Dysfunction

Nitric oxide is crucial for vasodilation, which basically helps inner muscles to relax, causing them to widen, increase circulation and enhance blood flow. In addition, nitric oxide also functions as a signaling molecule in your brain and immune system.  A study shows that dietary supplementation of nitrates reduces body weight and decreases the amount of visceral fat and circulating triglycerides in mice.  These findings conclude that in humans, a diet high in vegetables containing nitrates may help to prevent cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes.  So, the more plants you eat, the more you boost your bodies ability to increase nitric oxide.

Overall Benefits of Beets

Due to the high nutrition profile of beets, there are many health benefits from eating beets.  Most likely these benefits are attributed to the high amount of nitric oxide which contributes to heart health.

Lowers Blood Pressure and Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

As discussed above, the high levels of nitric oxide in beets can be a major factor in the benefits of lowering blood pressure.  High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high.  Over time, if left untreated it can cause health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.  It is recommended that those with high blood pressure aim for 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables, especially rich in nitrates, daily to help combat high blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide formation.

Studies show that the juices of beets can reduce blood pressure by up to 8mm Hg within a period of just 3 hours after ingestion.  “These findings suggest that dietary nitrate underlies the beneficial effects of a “natural” low-cost approach for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.”

The bottom line is the more veggies and fruits you consume, the better!  Choosing vegetables that are high in nitrates along with other fruits and veggies loaded with antioxidants will help to boost nitric oxide and in return help to relax and dilate the blood vessels.

Anti-inflammatory

Due to the high level of antioxidants, compounds that help to neutralize free radicals from harming the body by damaging cells, beets may help to protect against many types of diseases including heart disease, cancers and diabetes.  Betalains, the phytonutrients in beets have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce chronic inflammation.  In a human study, the anti-inflammatory properties of beets showed that eating both cooked and raw beet juice lowered levels of inflammatory markers in people with high blood pressure.  This further confirms the benefits of eating beets to help manage blood pressure.

Detoxification

The body is well equipped to handle detoxification and has a natural system built in that helps keep us healthy by consistently clearing out toxins.  We detox through our kidneys, lungs, skin and intestines.  Our livers play a key role in detoxification by eliminating unwanted toxins and substances from the blood.

The components in beets help the liver to continue functioning properly by keeping our bodies free of toxins.  A study showed that when rats were given beetroot, it helped to reduce oxidative stress and reduced lipid peroxidation, a common marker of cellular damage that leads to chronic inflammation, was reduced by 38%!.

Enhance Performance in Athletes

Beets have been shown to have a powerful effect in boosting the performance of athletes.  These benefits are yet again most likely due to the powerful effects of nitrates and their ability to improve the efficiency of mitochondria.  Mitochondria are responsible for generating energy for the cells in our bodies.  The bottom line is that intake of dietary nitrates, such as beets, can extend the time it takes to reach exhaustion and increase the tolerance to high-intensity exercise.

A Word of Caution

FODMAPs

Although beets are generally well tolerated in most individuals, for some, it may be important to avoid consuming too many.  Beets are high in FODMAPS, in the form of fructans, which may cause digestive problems.  FODMAPS are fermented carbs found in foods that feed bacteria in our gut that may contribute to symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

Oxalates

Additionally, beets are high in oxalates, which may lead to kidney stones.  Individuals who are prone to kidney stones may want to err on the side of caution when consuming beets.  Although oxalates tend to be higher in the beet leaves, the beetroots still contain a decent amount of oxalate, so you may still want to be overly cautious and avoid eating beets.

Mouth Wash and PPI’s

Yes, you read that right, mouth wash.   Specific commensal bacteria are required to reduce natural nitrates to nitrites in order to be broken down to nitric oxide in the body.  A recent study has shown following elimination of oral bacteria by the use of a chlorhexidine based antiseptic mouthwash, the conversion of nitrate to nitrite is prevented and this is accompanied by a statistically significant increase in blood pressure.  In addition, overuse of antibiotics may also be a contributing factor of cardiovascular disease due to disruptions in nitrate reducing communities.

Furthermore, the salivary nitrites that are reduced to nitrates are then reduced to nitric oxide require stomach acid to enable this process to occur.  The use of PPI’s or proton pump inhibitors used in the treatment of GERD to reduce stomach acid, may pose a risk in the development of cardiovascular disease due to the decreased ability to boost Nitric Oxide in the body.

Cooking with Beets

There are several ways to prepare beets and use in recipes.  Below are my favorite methods:

Roasted Beets

This can be done in a few different ways.  Depending on the texture you desire or how you are using, you can either peel the beet before or leave the skins on.  If you remove the peel, the beet will be a little crispier.  This is desired if you want to use on a salad or even just a side.

Simple Roasted Beets

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch beets
  • 2 tsp avocado oil
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. If beets have greens, remove and set aside to be used for another purpose. Wash beets well removing any dirt.  Cut off the ends of the beets and peel.  Cut into small wedges.
  3. Place beets in a small bowl and add oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil
  5. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning once or twice with a spatula, until the beets are tender and lightly browned.

How to use:  On top of salads, mixed with other root veggies like turnips or rutabagas, salmon dishes, as a snack

Recipes to try:  Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad

No Peel Roasted Beet Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch beets
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Remove greens and set aside. Wash beets well.  Cut of only the top portion of the beet.
  3. Fill the bottom of an oven safe baking dish with water up to about 1”.
  4. Add beets, top down (where you removed the greens)
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour until tender with a fork.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, use hands to remove peel.  Should come off easily without having to use a peeler.

How to use:  in salads, purees, dressings, spreads

Recipes to try:   Beet-Horseradish Spread

No Bake Beets

Ingredients:

  • 1 small beet or more
  1. Cut off ends. Peel beet.
  2. Shred beets with a hand grater and place in a bowl

How to use:  in smoothies, dressings

Recipes to try:  Thyme Dijon Beet Dressing

What about the Beet Greens?

DO NOT throw away!  These greens boast amazing health benefits!  They provide incredible nutrients including folate, potassium, nitrates, iron, vitamin B6, Vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber!  Be sure to wash well and allow to dry.  Some of my favorite ways to include beet greens are below:

  • Sauté the greens with cannellini or garbanzo beans, olive oil, onion and garlic for a delicious greens and beans!
  • Chop and mix together with other greens for your favorite salads
  • Blend together with olive oil, nuts and parmesan or nutritional yeast for a different take on traditional pesto!
  • Use as lettuce wraps with shredded chicken and veggies
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  • Diabetes Program
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