Beets (Beta vulgaris L.) are root vegetables from the Chenopodiaceae family that come in a variety of colors from yellow to red. During the recent years, they have become increasingly popular due to their numerous health benefits.
Beets are a good source of protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. They also provide vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folate (B9), cobalamin (B12), and vitamin C. In addition, beets contain essential minerals such as sodium, calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.1,2 Furthermore, it is rich in antioxidants that scavenge free radicals (toxins), support proper pH balance, help alkalize and cleanse the blood, boost liver function, and promote natural cleansing of the colon.
Beets, Nitrates, and Nitric Oxide
Beets have an exceptionally high concentration of nitrates. There is an ongoing debate regarding the consumption of nitrates and nitrites as some people suggest that large amounts of these compounds are associated with health problems, although research shows that health issues are usually linked to the nitrites typically found in cured or processed meat, food additives, cereal, and baked goods.3,4
According to several studies, diets that are rich in nitrates can have a positive influence on health.5,6 More specifically, the body converts the nitrates in beets into nitric oxide, a naturally occurring compound that travels to the walls of blood vessels where it sends signals that cause the vessels to gently expand. As the blood vessel walls widen, blood circulation improves. This process supports healthy blood pressure levels and subsequently lowers the risk of health issues related to poor circulatory function.6 Nitric oxide also demonstrates antioxidant activity that disrupts the formation of free radicals. This supports the health of cells throughout the body, including heart cells as well as smooth muscle cells that form the layers of the blood vessel wall.5,6Beets, Immunity, and Antioxidant Effects
Beets are also a good source of other beneficial compounds that include:1,7
- Phenolic acid
Fiber supports optimal digestion and bowel regularity. Betanin is the most abundant pigment in beets that give them their red color, but it helps boost overall health as well. Additional pigments such as the carotenoids, also have antioxidant and immune system-strengthening properties.7 Phenolic acid is another antioxidant compound that reinforces healthy inflammatory responses. One particular phenolic compound found in beets, called ferulic acid, helps promote blood vessel health.8,9
Beets and their Natural Pigments
The combination of natural pigments in beets such as betanin and carotenoids confer numerous benefits in addition to giving these root vegetables their deep red color. For instance, betanin scavenges harmful invaders, while enhancing the activity of enzymes and other naturally produced antioxidants in the body.10,11 This pigment also targets LDL (bad) cholesterol that can lead to cell damage.10 Research also shows that the antioxidant activity of betanin is about 3 to 4 times higher than that of a specific form of vitamin C called ascorbic acid.11 Overall, the wide array of health benefits that beets provide suggest that they may be important vegetables to add to the diet for long-term health.
- Kale, R., Sawate, A., Kshirsagar, R., Patil, B., & Mane, R. (2018). Studies on evaluation of physical and chemical composition of beetroot (Beta vulgaris L.). International journal of chemical studies, 6(2), 2977-2979.
- Ormsbee, M. J., Lox, J., & Arciero, P. J. (2013). Beetroot juice and exercise performance. Nutrition and Dietary Supplements, 5, 27-35.
- Andrew Milkowski A, et al. Nutritional epidemiology in the context of nitric oxide biology: a risk-benefit evaluation for dietary nitrite and nitrate. Nitric Oxide. 2010;22(2):110-9.
- Susanna C Larsson, et al. Processed meat consumption, dietary nitrosamines and stomach cancer risk in a cohort of Swedish women. Int J Cancer. 2006;119(4):915-9.
- Wink, D. A., Miranda, K. M., Espey, M. G., Pluta, R. M., Hewett, S. J., Colton, C., ... & Grisham, M. B. (2001). Mechanisms of the antioxidant effects of nitric oxide. Antioxidants and redox signaling, 3(2), 203-213.
- Hobbs, D. A., George, T. W., & Lovegrove, J. A. (2013). The effects of dietary nitrate on blood pressure and endothelial function: a review of human intervention studies. Nutrition research reviews, 26(2), 210-222.
- Rebecca, L. J., Sharmila, S., Das, M. P., & Seshiah, C. (2014). Extraction and purification of carotenoids from vegetables. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 6(4), 594-598.
- Kumar, N., & Pruthi, V. (2014). Potential applications of ferulic acid from natural sources. Biotechnology Reports, 4, 86-93.
- Nowacki, L., Vigneron, P., Rotellini, L., Cazzola, H., Merlier, F., Prost, E., ... & Vayssade, M. (2015). Betanin‐enriched red beetroot (Beta vulgaris L.) extract induces apoptosis and autophagic cell death in MCF‐7 cells. Phytotherapy research, 29(12), 1964-1973.
- Esatbeyoglu T, et al. Betanin--a food colorant with biological activity. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015;59(1):36-47.
- Cai Y, et al. Antioxidant activity of betalains from plants of the amaranthaceae. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2003;51:2288-2294.