Health Benefits of Beetroot and Beet Juice
What Is a Beetroot?
Beetroot is a very common and popular root vegetable, and is it is also a very versatile root vegetable as it can be cooked, pickled in vinegar or sliced raw into salads. It is also known as beet, table beet and garden beet and its botanical name is Beta vulgaris. This humble root vegetable has been used as a food source by humans since antiquity and the modern vegetable has evolved from the wild sea beet that once grew along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the European Atlantic coasts and the beaches of India. The Ancient Romans used to use it as a medicine as they believed that it soothed fevers and could help with constipation. The Romans were also the first to promote it as an aphrodisiac. It continued to be used as a remedy into medieval times and was thought to help treat digestive and blood conditions. During the 16th century it was prescribed for patients who were fatigued and very pale as it was regarded as a ‘blood builder’. Of course back then the doctors did not know that eating it would help their patients because the high iron content of beetroot is a treatment for anaemia and tiredness. We now know, of course, that this humble root vegetable is one of nature’s super foods and is packed full of goodness and nutrients.
Health Benefits of Beetroot
It is rich in potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, iron, biotin, betanin, folic acid and vitamins C, A and B6, and the leafy tops are also full of beta-carotene, calcium and iron. It is a vegetable that can be cooked in many different ways and there are lots of wonderful recipes out there that incorporate beetroot, but one of the very best ways of ensuring that you include it into your diet is by drinking beet juice. Eating it is also great if you are trying to lose weight as it is low in calories and rich in fibre. But how do all these wonderful nutrients benefit our health and what ailments can they help to treat?
Improving Exercise Performance
Studies have shown that drinking a daily glass of beetroot juice can help us to maintain our activity levels as we age, as a study undertaken by the University of Exeter’s Sport and Health Sciences Department showed that ingesting this vegetable juice can reduce the amount of oxygen that you need to perform even low-intensity exercise such as walking. It is believed that drinking this juice also can help those with heart and lung conditions to maintain their activity levels. Beet juice can also be a great aid to athletes, as it has been shown that drinking it before a competition or exercising can improve their stamina levels by up to 20%. It is believed by scientists that the nitrates found in beetroot can help to widen blood vessels, which allows more oxygen to flow freely into the muscles. The nitrates also bring down the amount of oxygen needed by our muscles when we are moving, which allows people to undertake strenuous physical exercise for longer periods.
Boosting the Immune System
It is packed full of antioxidants, such as vitamin A and vitamin B6, so drinking a daily glass of this vegetable juice is great for giving your immune system a boost.
Lowering Blood Pressure
A 2008 study in the medical journal Hypertension, which is the journal of the American Heart Association, showed that by drinking two cups of beetroot juice a day you could lower your blood pressure by as much as 10 points, for around 24 hours. Lowering blood pressure is important because it helps to bring down the risks of developing heart disease or having a stroke. It contains a chemical called nitric oxide which helps to relax blood vessels, obstructs blood clot formation and displays powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Helping Pregnant Women
It is an excellent source of folic acid, which we need in our diets because it is an essential aid to normal tissue growth. Folic acid is an especially important part of a pregnant woman’s diet because it helps in the development of a baby’s spinal cord in the first trimester of pregnancy and can guard against defects of the spinal cord such as spina bifida.
Reducing the Risk of Osteoporosis
It also contains high levels of the mineral silica. Silica is very important in the human body as it helps it to utilise calcium, which leads to sturdier bones and improves muscular-skeletal health
Helping to Slow Cancer Growth
The red pigment on beetroot is caused by a compound called betacyanin, which is a very powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are very important for human health because they can destroy the free radicals in your body which are implicated in developing cancers and degenerative diseases. Betacyanin improves human cell respiration and having high levels of betacyanin in your diet is thought to slow or even stop cancer cells growing. So drinking beetroot juice daily or regularly cooking with it is thought to go towards helping slow down tumour growth.
It is a great source of soluble fibre which is something that has been shown to have cholesterol lowering capabilities. It contains carotenoids and flavonoids which help prevent LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol from being oxidised and then deposited in the arteries which can potentially lead to heart disease.
A small study carried out at Wake Forest University in the USA discovered that drinking a daily glass of beetroot juice helps to prevent the onset of dementia in older adults. It was only a small study, but in the study 16 older adults were given diets that were either high or low in nitrates over a four day period. Beetroot contains a high level of nitrates, which are converted into nitrites in the body. Nitrites are thought to widen blood vessels and thus increase blood flow to certain areas of the brain, improving cognitive function as people age. Therefore the findings of the study suggested that a diet rich in nitrates can help to improve mental function and help to prevent dementia.
Balancing Blood Sugar
It is a virtually fat free food and is also very low in calories. It also has an extremely low glycaemic load which means that it converts into sugars very slowly and which therefore helps to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Beetroot has been regarded as an aphrodisiac since ancient times and its reputation as an aphrodisiac is derived from the fact that this root vegetable is rich in boron. Boron is a trace mineral the helps increase testosterone levels in the blood and also helps the body to metabolise and use oestrogen efficiently and both of these are hormones that are important in maintain sex drive in both men and women.
Improving Liver Function
It can help to support liver function because it has a bioactive agent called betaine in it. Betaine helps to stimulate liver function and also helps protect the bile ducts.
Does Eating Beetroot Have Any Side Effects?
So we have established that beetroot is a wonderful, natural super food that has many great health benefits if we include it in our diet, but are there any side effects from eating it or drinking the juice? Well one of the more dramatic, but harmless side effects of ingesting beetroot is called beeturia, which can cause your urine to cause a pinkish/red colour. Drinking beetroot juice is not advised if you suffer from kidney stones or have a history of kidney stones as it contains oxalate which can encourage kidney stone development. A fairly rare side effect of eating it is that a tight feeling may be experienced in the vocal chords, but mixing the the juice with other vegetable and fruit juices seems to stop this from happening. If you have never had beetroot juice before and you are taking prescribed medication it is always best to check with your medical practitioner that drinking it will not interfere in any way with your medication.
So to get all the wonderful health benefits of beetroot and beetroot juice all you have to do is visit your local supermarket. Beetroot is an inexpensive root vegetable that you can use in many different recipes and if you have a juicer you can quickly make some fresh juice. Organic beetroot and juice is best, as it means that you will not be ingesting so many harmful chemicals and buying organic helps to protect the planet. If you do not want to buy and cook fresh beetroot, you can always choose to buy supplements and beetroot juices, which you should find to be readily available in your local health food shop.
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Disclaimer: Please be aware that any information given in this article should in no way be used to replace advice given to you by your medical practitioner. Anybody suffering from a medical condition or is at all concerned should always consult their doctor before changing their diet or starting to take any form of dietary supplement. Also be aware that while eating beetroot or drinking beetroot is generally regarded as being good for you, there are no guarantees that your health will improve