Beetroot, also known as beet, has been gaining in popularity as a new super food due to recent studies claiming that beets and beetroot juice can improve athletic performance, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.
It is a nutrient dense vegetable that has quite a few health benefits attached to it. Vitamins A, B and C; antioxidants beta-carotene and beta-cyanine; folic acid, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, iron, and fiber are all present in the beetroot.
The pigments in beetroot are known as betalains and there are two color types: betacyanins, which are vibrant red/violet in color, and betaxanthins, which are yellow in color. Both forms of betalains contain nitrogen and they work as both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Beetroot is also jammed packed full of nitrate - this is what will be converted into nitric oxide and that is where we begin.
Nitrate in beetroot actually improves performance. There have been quite a few studies done investigating the effects of beetroot on performance and endurance. Most of these studies have involved the use of cyclists. One study using trained cyclists had them consume 500mL of beetroot juice, which equated to 6.2 mmols of nitrate 2.5 hours before exercise.3 They then proceeded to do two time trials - a 4km and a 16km ride. In the 4km time trials there was a 2.8% improvement and on the 16 km time trial there was a 2.7% improvement in time.
What is interesting is that the cyclists exhibited a 7-11% improvement in power output with no increase in oxygen cost of exercise. Simply stated, they all exhibited increased economy. Plasma nitrite levels increased before exercise with the beetroot juice, also. It should also be noted that resting systolic blood pressure also dropped, while having no effect on the diastolic blood pressure.
This study shows that drinking the juice of a beetroot can help improve performance, but what if you ate the beetroot instead of drinking it? In another study researchers looked at five recreationally fit men and six women in their 20s. The study had the subjects eating either 200 grams of baked beetroot or a placebo (cranberry relish) before completing a 5-kilometer treadmill time trial test. The researchers wanted to know if eating 200 grams of beetroot (about 2 medium-sized beetroots) before exercise would have any significant improvement on running times. The answer was yes, and they found that the running velocity increased by 3%.
Beetroot Health Benefits:Helps with inflammation. Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
An excellent source of iron and folate, both of which are needed by pregnant women.
Improves heart health and blood pressure. A 2008 study published in Hypertension examined the effects of ingesting 500 milliliters of beetroot juice in healthy volunteers and found that blood pressure was significantly lowered after ingestion.
Helps with diabetes. Beets contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which may help lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.
Contains betaine, which studies have shown has significant anti-cancer properties and is effective in inhibiting the formation of cancer-causing cells in the body and can also protect against colon and stomach cancer.
Helps with digestion and regularity. Because of its high fiber content, beetroot helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
Helps with dementia. Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that drinking juice from beetroot can improve oxygenation to the brain, slowing the progression of dementia in older adults.
Helps detoxify the liver.
Contains tryptophan, which relaxes the mind and creates a sense of well-being, similar to chocolate.
There are many ways to enjoy beets (beetroot):
· Grate them raw over salads
· Add them to your fresh vegetable juice
· Lightly steam them
· Marinate them with lemon juice, herbs, and olive oil
· Make a soup
Try this simple recipe of a traditional Ukrainian beet soup called borscht.
· 6 cups chicken stock, beef stock, or vegetable stock for vegetarians
· 3 medium beets, washed well
· 3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
· 3 medium carrots, thinly sliced or shredded
· 1 small red onion, finely chopped
· 3 cloves garlic, minced
· 1/2 head red cabbage, cored and shredded
· 1 large tomato, diced
· 1 cup tomato sauce
· salt and pepper to taste
· 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
· sour cream for topping (optional)
· meat of your choice (chicken, beef, turkey, …) - optional for vegetarians
1. Place beets in a large pot and fill with just enough water to cover them. Cover pot and boil until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove beets from pot to a plate or cutting board and set aside to cool.
2. Add broth, meat, carrots, and potatoes to beet water and boil covered for about 20 minutes, and then add onions, garlic, cabbage, and diced tomatoes.
3. Peel and slice the cooked beets and add to pot. Cook until the beets lose their color, about 30 minutes. Add tomato sauce, dill, salt, and pepper then reduce to simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Serve hot.
Many recipes for borscht add beans. Ukrainians serve it with sour cream, but that could be optional.