At the time of writing, ‘beetroot’ is the third suggestion that comes up on Google when you type ‘health benefits of’. This tells us that the world at large is interested in the nutritional properties of this particular fruit, which in turn suggests that there may be more to it than meets the eye.
Beets are a somewhat ‘obscure’ fruit and you might not find that you come across them regularly in your normal routine. The question is whether you should start seeking them out… Just what health benefits do they offer?
Why Beetroot Is a Superfood
By all definitions, beetroot is a ‘super food’ owing to its impressive number of nutrients. In case you’ve never seen one before, a beetroot is a dark red vegetable that could be considered an ‘acquired taste’ in that it won’t appeal to everyone.
Recently it has had a lot of media coverage (hence its popularity on Google), which seems to centre around the idea that it can improve stamina, blood flow and blood pressure.
Beetroot is healthiest when you also eat the green leaves which are high in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. The beetroots themselves meanwhile are a great source of fibre, as well as manganese, nitrates, amino acids, folic acid and potassium.
Health Benefits of Beetroot
The fibre in beetroot in particular gets a lot of attention due not only to its blood-pressure-lowering effects, but also to research suggesting that it has considerable antioxidant action (meaning that it prevents oxidative damage to cells, thereby preventing some of the ill effects of ageing as well as cancer) (1).
The blood pressure benefits of beetroot also appear to go beyond the soluble fibre content. A 2010 study (2) found that the nitrate content could also contribute to the lowering of blood pressure and could possibly help to prevent heart disease. In another study (resource unavailable), it was found that simply drinking a glass of beetroot juice could significantly lower blood pressure within 24 hours as compared with a placebo.
Beets are also very high in the amino acid glutamine (they’re one of the highest sources in fact) which plays an important role in the intestinal tract as well as in muscle health and strength.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid within skeletal muscle and is crucial for protein synthesis and metabolism. For these reasons, many bodybuilders supplement with glutamine in order encourage muscle recovery and stimulate muscle growth post workout.
Beetroot juice may also be beneficial for the brain by increasing blood flow and thereby potentially reducing the likelihood of developing dementia. Nitrates in beetroot are converted to ‘nitrites’ in the mouth by bacteria and then go on to help open up the blood vessels, making beetroot an effective vasodilator similar to garlic. This vasodilation might also make beetroot effective at aiding the delivery of nutrients to the muscles, thereby further aiding in the recovery and growth of muscles post workout. Beetroots also contain anthocyanins which are a type of flavonoids responsible for helping recovery from stressful exertion.
Finally, the vasodilatory effects of beetroot also appear to make it powerful food for boosting athletic endurance. In a 2011 study (3), it was found that beetroot juice could be used to acutely boost performance for runners competing in a 5K run. As a health source of carbohydrates, it can also boost energy levels.
For all these reasons, beetroot is widely considered a superfood. Those with high blood pressure would be advised to add it to their diets where possible, while runners and bodybuilders might also consider seeking it out. Everyone can meanwhile benefit from the antioxidant effects.
That said, it’s important to keep this all in perspective and not to rush out and eat great quantities of beetroot. Almost every fruit and vegetable, as well as every source of protein, provides wide-ranging and unique health benefits. The key to eating well is to maintain a balanced diet and to keep everything in proportion. Too much beetroot can be too much of a good thing, as aside from turning your pee red, could also increase your risk of kidney stones and add a lot of calories to your diet. Even superfoods must be enjoyed in moderation!