Eating beets can significantly lower blood pressure within an hour, and keep it down all day, according to a UK study. It seems that beets could be a gentler alternative to blood pressure medications, and a natural way to beat the hypertension that causes the majority of cardiovascular disease. Beets could well be the way forward in a world where it is predicted that 29% of all adults will suffer from hypertension by the year 2025.
What does the study show?
A study undertaken by St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, the London School of Medicine, and the Peninsula Medical School, showed that drinking beet juice led to a reduction in blood pressure within an hour for a group of healthy volunteers with normal blood pressure.
The reduction in blood pressure was seen to be greater three to four hours after drinking the juice, and blood pressure did not return to its initial levels within twenty four hours.
How do beets reduce blood pressure?
The key beneficial ingredient in beets seems to be nitrates, which can also be found in a number of green leafy vegetables. However, beets have an extraordinary capacity to absorb and store very high levels of nitrate when compared with other vegetables.
Nitrates in beets are converted into nitrite by bacteria on the tongue, and nitrite-containing saliva enters the stomach, where it is converted into nitric oxide; a chemical which is naturally produced by our blood vessels to make them relax and regulate blood pressure.
Alongside nitrates, beets are also rich in betanene, the potent antioxidant that gives the root vegetable its deep color. It is thought that betanene can reduce blood pressure in the same way as polyphenols, antioxidants that are found in green leafy vegetables.
What are the other benefits of beets?
As well as nitrates and betanene, beets contain high levels of iron, folic acid, and boron, which are all beneficial to health. In addition to reducing blood pressure, here are four of the other potential health benefits of beets:
- Preventing blood clots. Because of the high level of nitrates, beets can work like aspirin to prevent blood clots that can lead to heart attacks or strokes, and to protect the lining of the blood vessels.
- Reducing cancer risk. Beets contain betacyanin, which has cancer fighting properties and has been seen to stimulate the body to increase cancer fighting cells in the colon in animals suffering from colon cancer. It is also thought to reduce the risk of stomach cancer and stomach ulcers.
- Reducing inflammation. Eating beets can neutralize inflammatory chemicals like C reactive protein, homocysteine and interleukin 6.
- Lowering cholesterol. Regular beet consumption can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides by around 30%.
Are there any side effects from eating beets?
Compared with pharmaceutical blood pressure medications that can lead to dizziness, weakness, body aches, muscle cramps, arrhythmias, heart attacks, and strokes, the potential side effects of eating beets are minimal.
Beets may slightly color your urine or stool, making them a pink colorr, but that is totally harmless. People with gall or kidney stones should avoid eating too many leafy beet greens, as these contain oxalates, but the beets themselves should be fine.
How should I eat beets?
The study used about 16 ounces of beetroot juice, which is equivalent to eating five medium sized beets. However, it is thought that drinking just eight ounces of beet juice a day could be enough to reap the benefits.
Unfortunately, the earthy smell, oddly sweet taste, and unusual texture of beets mean that some people won’t enjoy the idea of eating a couple of them every day, or drinking eight ounces of beet juice. For these people there are prepared juices, mixed with apple juice to balance the taste, available at many health food stores. It’s also possible to buy beet supplements.
Editors note: One of the best ways to prepare beets is to bake them in the oven just like you would a sweet potato. Roasted beets are great with butter or your favorite homemade dressing. Add beets to salads and soups. And don’t forget the old favorites, pickled beets and Harvard beets.
If you are not sensitive to oxalates (also found in spinach and chard), add beet greens and their stems to your salads. They are loaded with nutrition, just like the red roots. Beet roots and their tops will liven up homemade fresh vegetable juice too.