Possible Health Benefits of Beet Juice
Researchers have discovered an array of compounds in beet juice that may lower blood pressure and have other health benefits. Beet juice is a source of nitrates.
Though nitrates in cured and processed meat have been associated with cancer, growing evidence suggests that foods naturally rich in nitrates are actually good for you. By converting to nitric oxide in the body, nitrates in vegetables, including beets, have been shown to dilate blood vessels, increase blood flow to tissue, reduce demand of muscles for oxygen and inhibit blood clots.
Beet juice is also rich in red-yellow pigments called betalains, which have potent antioxidant activity. They may, for example, help keep LDL ("bad") cholesterol from turning into the more harmful oxidized form.
Here's a sampling of recent findings about beet juice. Keep in mind, the studies were all small and the results are preliminary.
- Blood pressure. In a study in Hypertension in 2008, healthy volunteers who drank beet juice showed a drop in systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure of 10 and 8 points, respectively, after three hours—an effect attributed to the nitrates in beets. Other research has found that drinking beet juice for two weeks has both immediate and longer-term effects on blood pressure. The results sound impressive, but larger studies are needed, particularly in people with hypertension.
- Exercise. Beet juice may also enhance athletic performance. Young men who consumed beet juice used less oxygen when walking and running, in a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2010, which suggests they were exercising more efficiently. Another study last year by the same researchers found that men who consumed beet juice were able to bicycle longer, compared to those drinking a placebo beverage. Again, the effects were attributed to the nitrates in beets.
- Brain health. In a study in 2011 from Wake Forest University, older people who drank 16 ounces of beet juice a day for two days showed greater blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, an area involved in skills such as planning and problem solving. Beet juice won't prevent or cure dementia, but perhaps future studies will determine whether beets can help improve mental function.
Bottom Line about Beet Juice Benefits
Watch out for overpriced beet juice products and over-hyped claims—that they prevent cancer, for example. You can make your own beet juice in a blender and mix it with other juices. If you don't care for beet juice, another option is borscht (beet soup), served hot or cold, though cooking reduces some of the beneficial compounds.
Be aware that consuming a lot of beets can turn urine and stool a harmless red-purple color. Also, beets contain oxalates, so people who form oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid them.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (June 2011)