Beetroot Benefits: Beets are one of the world’s most popular root vegetables and one of the world’s healthiest foods. These gorgeous purple-red bulbs are packed with a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and compounds, making the beet a healthy addition to your diet no matter how you prepare it.
Beets contain nitric oxide, the powerhouse Molecule. Inorganic nitrate (NO3) is found in all plants, with leafy green vegetables like spinach, celery, and beets having the highest amounts. Nitric oxide plays an essential role in your overall physical health – it lets your blood transport nutrients and oxygen across your body efficiently by controlling your blood flow, plays a role in immune function, and plays a role in energy levels because of its involvement in mitochondrial function.
Nitrates are also a boon for heart health, having long been associated with lower resting blood pressure. Increasing your ingestion of nitrates can slow the cardiovascular aging process – an important marker for your overall heart health. When you eat (or drink) beets, bacteria on your tongue, along with other enzymes in your body, convert nitrate ion (NO3) to nitric oxide (NO), which your body can also produce from arginine (an amino acid). Your body also produces another amino acid called citrulline, converted by your body into arginine. This process, aided by your diet, provides about half of the nitric oxide in your body.
Beets and beets juice isn’t just a fantastic source of nitrates; they also offer a wealth of other essential minerals, including folate, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Beets Can also Enhance Athletic Performance. If increasing your nitrate intake can increase nutrient-packed blood flow and oxygen to your muscles, then your body’s performance and response should improve across when exercising or competing.
Preliminary research on nitrate ingestion – often using beets juice – demonstrated clear performance benefits, one that other studies supported. Presently, more research is still needed for a clearer picture, but for now, studies show encouraging results, particularly with young men of average fitness. However, studies so far for men who are already in peak fitness do not show any benefit.
The research consistently shows that by drinking beets juice for one week – or even just a few hours – before exercise, the body’s plasma nitrate concentration increases as the resting blood pressure decreases. Then, during exercise, oxygen consumption falls a little, and the overall performance of the exercise is judged to have improved markedly. Researchers believe these findings result from enhanced muscle performance, increased efficient mitochondrial ATP production, and more blood flow to the muscles.
Research has even demonstrated that nitrates might slow the terrible progress of dementia. In 2011, test subjects consumed a high nitrate diet with beets juice. As a result, MRI scans of their brains showed an apparent increase in blood flow to their frontal lobes, which deal with cognitive processes like thinking and behavior. Again, more research is needed, but preliminary results are encouraging.
Nitrates and Beets: Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
Consuming too many beets can cause something beeturia. An elegant way of saying that it turns your urine to a pinkish/reddish color. Which is completely harmless. And can look pretty cool if you pee in the snow. People with low blood pressure may want to skip or carefully regulate their beet juice consumption; nitrates do, after all, lower blood pressure. Also, if you are prone to kidney stones, you have to be careful because it’s high in oxalate. Oxalate forms the crystals in the urine that can eventually turn into stones….which can make a grown man cry.
Currently, there are no identified risks for adverse health consequences with an increased nitrate intake – one identified exception to this is those with heart disease on prescription medications like nitroglycerine that impact the body’s metabolism of nitric oxide.
With little research into the side effects of consuming many nitrate supplements, sensible precaution is advised. As with all significant changes to diet or lifestyle, it’s recommended that you speak with your doctor first.
Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine