When it comes to making simple additions to your diet that yield big health benefits, beets just can’t be, well, beat. They’re delicious and easy to cook with, and they have a lot of benefits for your physical and mental health.
It’s no wonder that dietitians and nutritionists call beets a superfood. They’re packed with vitamins and nutrients like dietary nitrates, betalains, and lutein that help to improve high blood pressure, support heart health, assist eye health, and a whole lot more. What’s better than a colorful dinner plate?
Beets: History, Nutrition, and Varieties
The classic beet, or beetroot, is a root vegetable that’s grown and used throughout the world, including North America, northern and eastern Europe, and parts of Asia. Raw beets are made mostly of water — around 88 percent! — with the remaining composition containing nutrients like folate, calcium, nitric oxide, and oxalates.
It’s not surprising, then, that beets have a long history of medical and healthcare uses. They were first harvested in the Middle East; ancient civilizations, including the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, were the first to eat them; and they’ve been used for treating digestion and blood-related illnesses since the Middle Ages in Europe.
Better still, they have more variety, applications, and health benefits than you might think. Each of the classic purple, yellow, and green beets has its own versatile uses and flavors, from purple beets’ sweet tastes in borscht to the earthy and nutty flavors of roasted yellow beets. Their roots and leaves are edible, and can be boiled, steamed, roasted, or even eaten raw.
What are the health benefits of adding beets to your diet?
Here are just a few of the health benefits you’ll enjoy when you add raw or cooked beets to your superfood smoothies, soups, salads, and more.
Improved Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels
Menopause affects all of us differently, but one thing is for sure: it changes your body. You might, for example, experience a change in how your body absorbs salt, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure, causing headaches, heart palpitations, and anxiety.
If left untreated, this can trigger more serious illness, which is why beets are so beneficial. Studies suggest that beets are effective at lowering systolic blood pressure due to their high concentration of dietary nitrates. Nitrates help to expand blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
Those same dietary nitrates help to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels. Additionally, a beet’s betalains — a type of pigment found in high-order fungi and other foods — has been shown to reduce inflammation as well.
Taken together, this decreases your risk of health issues related to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Patients with inflammation of the joints also report a reduction in discomfort after integrating beets into their diet.
If you’re struggling with constipation or other digestive complications, beets can help regulate your gut health because of their dietary fiber.
Fiber boosts digestion and aids in managing — and possibly preventing — constipation and diverticulitis. It’s also been shown to reduce long-term health complications related to the digestive system, such as colon cancer.
Decreased Risk of Heart Disease
Because beets are so useful for lowering blood pressure, they’re great support for minimizing the risk of heart disease, as well. The nitrates in beets help to dilate the blood vessels, which allows for improved blood flow.
Enhanced Physical Strength
Sometimes, our strength decreases as we age. Whether you want to keep doing the exercises you love most, like jogging, or you just want to feel more stable as you’re moving through life, beets might just be the vegetable for you.
Beets are known for boosting athletic performance, both in how well we perform and for how long. In the body, the mitochondria generate the energy we use during performance — from playing with our grandkids to getting up the stairs. Beets have been shown to boost the capacity and efficiency of the mitochondria, meaning we can feel stronger for longer.
Beetroot juice has been shown to potentially improve energy levels, too, and cardiorespiratory performance, which is the function of our heart, lungs, and muscles during use. Some athletes even see cardiorespiratory efficiency during exercise after consuming beet juice, something that can help all of us as we move through our daily lives.
Supporting Brain Function
Scary as it may be, the fact is that as we grow older, our risk of memory loss and cognitive conditions increases. It’s why physical exercise and protecting our brain health are so important.
It’s also why a cup of beets could be the key to supporting memory and learning. How? By dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the brain.
The dietary nitrates responsible for reducing inflammation and balancing blood sugar levels (and a host of other things) make that happen, and it’s been proved particularly important for the frontal lobe, the section of the brain known for working memory and decision-making.
Lowered Cancer Risks
Colon cancer isn’t the only chronic condition that beets can help protect against. This is due to their high level of antioxidants and the way they work to calm the body. The plant pigment that gives many beets their recognizable red beet coloring is believed to protect against carcinogens that may cause other types of cancer, as well.
If you’re looking for foods that boost energy without weighing you down, beets are the veggie for you. They’re high in vitamins and nutrients, but low in calories, which makes them a great option for anyone losing weight or reducing their carb intake.
Long-Term Eye Care
Beets have even been shown to support eye health, which is especially important for those of us at high risk of macular degeneration. Macular degeneration causes the macula or part of the retina to thin, and it’s the leading cause of vision loss.
The beet green, which can be eaten raw when young and boiled or steamed as it matures, has an antioxidant known as lutein. Lutein has anti-inflammatory properties that may help to reduce the risk of age-related eye conditions. It also includes plant-produced phytochemicals that improve the health of the eyes and the strength and wellness of the nerve tissues surrounding them.
A Final Word
It should be noted that there are potential side effects to consider when eating beets. Among these are an increased risk of kidney stones, so be sure to check with your physician before making any changes to your diet.