Beta vulgaris, beetroot, table beets
Many of us probably remember as kids, mom telling us to eat our beets because they were good for our heart and blood. While mom may not have known exactly why, she was not far wrong about some of the health benefits of regularly eating beets. If beets are not a regular part of your diet, perhaps we can help convince you that this red vegetable is a truly wonderful and nutritious food that you may want to include on your weekly grocery list.
It is believed that the beet plant has been known since prehistoric times, where it grew wild in northern Africa and parts of Europe. However, it was the beet greens that were originally consumed and the beetroot part of the plant did not become popular until the 1500’s. The early Romans though, did cultivate beets and are known to have used both the greens and the beetroot as food.
It was used both as a food and as a medicine, with some ancient physicians believing that the beetroot could be used as a blood tonic as well as an aid to digestion.
Beetroots are a valuable source of sugar, and during the Napoleonic wars with Great Britain, many nations were in the position of not having access to sugar cane, a crop that was mainly controlled by the British. As a result, Napoleon required that beets be used for sugar production and their value increased greatly during this time.
Today, beets continue to be a source of sugar, although it is a variety of beet, the sugar beet, that has been developed especially for this. In recent years, sugar beets have accounted for about 20 percent of the world’s sugar production.
Beet Nutrition and Health Benefits
Beets are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and much research is being done to determine all of the health benefits that may be available from them. In addition to be an excellent source of folate/Vitamin B9 (34% DRI), Vitamin C (8.1% DRI) and Vitamin B6 (6.4% DRI), they are a very good source of several minerals. A serving of beetroots contain 27.5% of the DRI of manganese, 14.8% DRI of copper and almost 10% of the daily recommended intake of magnesium.
Many individuals do not get nearly enough magnesium or manganese in their diet which can cause many health problems over time. While only a small daily amount of manganese is required, a deficiency of this mineral may result in skeletal deformations, slow wound healing, and in addition, some believe further complications with diabetes, arthritis, and other joint pain.
Nitrates and compounds called betaines are also present in beets as well as other antioxidants and fiber. While many think of dietary fiber as a necessary part of food to assist with bowel regularity, not all fiber is created equal. Both beet and carrot fiber appear to have superior benefits according to research, which may play a far higher level of offering cardiovascular protection as well as cancer prevention, than other dietary fiber.
Beets For Heart Health
In addition to the cardio benefits gained by consuming beets because of its unique fiber, there is also a strong body of evidence that that nitrates in beets could be an important part of maintaining and treating heart health. Many nutrition experts point to studies which show that nitrates help to increase blood flow, and one recent study showed that long distance runners who consumed beetroot were able to increase their performance by 5%.
In addition, another study showed that regular consumption of beetroot juice helped to lower blood pressure. Participants in the study were given half a litre of beetroot juice and within 3 hours, significant reductions in blood pressure were observed.
Beets and Liver Health
Liver disease is becoming more prevalent in many parts of the world, especially those caused by alcoholism and diabetes. Could increased consumption of beets help to prevent or treat this disease?
Many who consume a western diet high in sucrose are also at high risk of developing fatty liver disease in addition to other obesity related illnesses. As discussed earlier, beets are high in betaine levels, which have been shown in scientific research to help combat fatty liver disease. As a “lipotrope,” betaine can prevent the buildup of fat in the liver in addition to reducing this buildup if it has already begun to form. In some studies, rats were completely cured of cirrhosis of the liver after being given betaine.
Beets – A Natural Viagra?
While many men who experience erectile dysfunction head to the doctor’s office for a prescription, new research indicates that eating foods high in nitrates may be a much better and safer option. Nitrates in foods can assist with circulation issues, and often, ED is associated with poor blood circulation. Being vasodilators, nitrates help to relax blood vessels which results in better blood flow. There is much research which indicates a diet high in nitrates will help with or prevent ED and instead of a visit to the doctor, men who have experienced ED may want to first try increasing dietary nitrate intake, and beets make an excellent choice.
Other Health Benefits Of Beets
If the above is not enough to convince you to regularly add beets to your diet, there is even more! The rich phytonutrients that these vegetables contain are being studied for their anti-inflammatory properties. Not only could they assist with the prevention or treatment of heart disease, but as an anti-inflammatory throughout the body.
There is also strong evidence that a higher consumption of beets may also help to prevent some cancers, especially colon cancer because of the properties of the fiber that they contain. In addition, there does appear to be a correlation with high beet consumption and a longer life span, however no direct link has been found at this time.
Ways To Add More Beets To Your Diet
While eating raw beets is an optimal way to get the dietary benefits, many are not willing to sit down and start chewing on raw beet chunks or slices. However, beets can be grated when raw and added to salads.
Most people prefer the texture and taste of cooked beets, either boiled or baked, however it’s been found that longer cooking times can reduce the amount of nutrients available. For this reason, it is often recommended that instead of boiling or baking beets whole, cut them into quarters and steam for about 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Cooking beets in this manner can greatly reduce the cooking time and thereby ensuring a more nutrient dense food.
Raw beet juice is another way to consume the benefits of this vegetable and offers a way to obtain the nutrients in a concentrated form, although losing out on the fiber.
In many countries that are associated with high beet consumption and long life spans, beets are often fermented for preservation, or a beverage called “Beet Kvass” is consumed. Fermentation of beets and other foods can have the effect of increasing the nutritive qualities of those foods and even causes new healthy compounds and vitamins to be formed which were not present in the original food.
No matter how you decide to consume them, adding beets to your diet ought to be a strong consideration for the many health benefits that will result from regular consumption.
Betaine in human nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr September 2004 vol. 80 no. 3 539-549
Manganese deficiency. Wikipedia
Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Diatetics.
Roles of dietary inorganic nitrate in cardiovascular health and disease. Cardiovascular Research: Volume 89, Issue 3