by Erin Stokes, ND
Beetroot has a long history of use, and was first cultivated by the Romans. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite was said to eat beets to retain her beauty. It’s no wonder when you look at the gorgeous crimson color, due to the naturally occurring pigment betacyanin. The doctrine of signatures also points to the blood nourishing properties of beets indicated by its deep red color.
Today, beetroot has become known as a “superfood.” Why?
Beets are a natural source of dietary nitrates, which the body converts to nitrite, and then to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide aids in optimal blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the muscles. In fact, recent research has shown that eating beets or drinking beet juice can help support optimal athletic performance.* Recently there has also been increased interest in the ability of naturally occurring nitrates to support healthy blood pressure levels.* An interesting study in the UK looked at the effect of the ingestion of “beetroot bread.” Since consumption of beetroot is very low, and the consumption of bread is high in this country, this was thought to be a novel way to introduce beetroot into the diet. This randomized controlled trial involved 23 healthy men who either received 200 g bread containing 100 g beetroot or 200 g control white bread. The beetroot bread (BB) group demonstrated endothelium-independent vasodilation and lower diastolic blood pressure.* Another study on beets showed that three hours after ingestion of beetroot juice, blood pressure was substantially reduced.* This reduction was directly correlated with peak increases in plasma nitrite concentration.
It is widely known that a diet high in fruits and vegetables helps maintain healthy blood pressure, and is also associated with a reduced risk of adverse cardiovascular events. Vegetables high in nitrates, particularly beetroot, help explain one protective mechanism of action via the activation of nitric oxide.