On Nutrition: Benefits of beets

Barbara Intermill

A reader from New Jersey reminded me of my promise to address the benefits and drawbacks of red beet powder in a future article. Thanks for the reminder! Here are some interesting facts about the bright-crimson-colored vegetables.

What we call beets are actually the root of the plant Beta vulgaris L. The leafy greens that grow up from beetroots are also edible and highly nutritious.

Beets are truly good for you. In fact, their wide variety of nutrients and other bioactive substances (chemicals that help promote good health) have caused them to achieve superfood status by some advocates. Here’s why:

Beets are a natural source of inorganic nitrate, a substance the body converts to nitric oxide. According to a 2019 article in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, nitric oxide is “a potent vasodilator,” which means it helps blood flow more freely through blood vessels. This action is important for healthy blood pressure as well as the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the body.

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This finding has also been of interest to athletes, who often consume beets to enhance athletic performance. According to a fact sheet on the topic by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, beet products “might improve performance and endurance to some degree” in some athletes, especially those who exercise mostly for recreation.

Beets get their bright red color from pigments that the food industry then uses to add red color to food products. The pigments have also been found to be potent antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body. Some are especially promising in their effects.

A 2020 article on the topic in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that compounds called betalains in red beets “have anti-cancer properties. Furthermore, beets are high in fiber, which is good for the health of the digestive system and cancer prevention.”

Are beet powder and beet juice good substitutes for beets?

Both are made from beetroot, but the amount of beneficial ingredients can vary considerably among products.

“Some dietary supplements contain beetroot powder in varying amounts, but studies have not assessed whether these are viable alternatives to beetroot juice or beetroot-juice concentrate,” says the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.

The office also reports that no safety concerns have been identified with the consumption of beetroot juice in moderate amounts (about 2 cups a day) for several weeks. Be aware, although it’s not a safety concern, that the red pigments in beets can make urine look pink or red.

Best way to get all the benefits of beets, in my mind? Roast them in a hot oven along with other veggies.

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