I don’t know about you but I see advertisements all the time for “super beets” and beetroot juice as the “best” way to improve energy and health. Beetroot juice is the newest craze for good health and improved athletic performance. This trend started after a 2013 study found beetroot could potentially increase endurance and power in competitive events and also improve blood pressure. The 2013 study reported that runners who drank a little over two cups of beetroot juice before a timed trial ran almost three percent faster and more powerfully than those who did not drink beetroot juice. Translation: beetroot juice appears to give athletes a competitive edge. But a 2015 Penn State study directly measuring the effect of dietary nitrate on blood flow to muscles in amateur athletes did not confirm the same findings. It is important to keep in mind that both studies involved a small number of young men and assessed a very limited range of exercises and physical activity. However, although study sample size was small and contradictory, it still appears that beetroot juice may actually provide health benefits.
The Science Behind the Theory.
Beets are high in inorganic nitrate. When inorganic nitrate is eaten, the body converts it to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is involved in blood vessel dilation, which increases blood flow and lowers the amount of oxygen muscles need during exercise. This means muscles will use oxygen more efficiently, thus leading to the theory that an athlete will be able to run faster with less effort. We also know from studies that beets and their juice can help relax artery walls thus improving blood flow and reducing the workload of the heart. This is of particular benefit to anyone with heart disease or high blood pressure. In addition, there is some evidence that nitric oxide can improve blood glucose uptake by cells, thus lowering blood sugars and improving diabetes.
Should You Drink BeetRoot Juice?
It does appear that eating a diet rich in nitrates is beneficial for health. Production of nitric acid in our body decreases approximately 50% from age 20 to age 40. And most Americans eat a diet that is low in nitrates. This decreased nitrate intake has been tied to cardiovascular disease and decreased memory in some studies. There are also many competitive athletes who swear that beet root juice allows them to run quicker and with less effort.
The good news is that if you decide you want to try beetroot juice or include more beets in your daily diet, there are few harmful side effects (mentioned below). The recommended daily dose of nitrates at this time is 300 to 500 mg. For regular folks that translates into about one cup of beetroot juice daily to meet the minimum recommended dose. For athletes, a loading dose of six to eight ounces of beetroot juice three to four days before a competition is advised to allow for an adjustment period. Most competitive runners report drinking a 500 ml (2 ounces) concentrated dose of beetroot juice a few hours before competition provides them with improved performance and little digestive upset. Eating 3 to 4 beets a day with meals will also provide about the same dose of nitrates.
Some Cautions to Take Into Account
- Drinking or eating beets can turn your urine red. So don’t panic that you have blood in your urine and go to the emergency room. Stop eating beets first to see if it goes away.
- Drinking beetroot juice as recommended can lower blood pressure. If you are on medication for high blood pressure monitor it closely and speak with your doctor if experiencing low blood pressure symptoms.
- Beetroot juice and beets may increase digestive upset in some people, potentially increasing time spent in the bathroom. So begin taking beetroot juice slowly and work up to the recommended dose over the course of a few days.
- Not all beets contain the same amounts of nitrate. Nitrate levels will vary depending on the soil conditions where they are grown. Vegetables grown in New York have fewer nitrates than those grown in Los Angeles or areas with numerous thunderstorm activity (lighting changes nitrogen in the air into nitrous acid, which is “rained” down upon soil where bacteria converts it to nitrate that is then used by plants to make protein). Try to buy organic sources and reputable brands whenever possible for consistent doses.
- Bacteria in our mouths also help to convert foods we eat into nitrates. If you use mouthwash twice a day, you may be decreasing the amount of nitrates you actually get from foods.
But I Don’t Like Beets or Even Know How to Cook Them
If you just “hate” beets, don’t fret. You can mix beetroot juice with apple juice or lemon juice into a smoothie. And there are other foods that are even better sources of nitrates then beets. They include arugula, basil, beet greens, bok choy, celery, cilantro, kale, oak leaf lettuce, rhubarb, spinach, and swiss chard. A quick video about the benefits of nitrates is available at the following link: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/vegetables-rate-by-nitrate/
To find some information about cooking beets, check out DailyBeets.com: http://dailybeets.com/cooking-red-beets/