by Ben Fuchs
I’ve been hearing a lot of commercials about beets lately, the latest darling of the nutritional supplement industry. Supplements using beets, particularly beet juice and beet powder, look to exploit recent research findings focused on the nutrient-dense tap root’s ability to enhance athletic performance, strength and endurance.
The secret to the beet boost for athletes and workout warriors is in its nitrogen content, specifically in the form of nitrates and nitrites. Despite the conventional wisdom that these chemicals are best avoided, as it turns out the misunderstood molecules have been a valued medicinal asset for doctors and health care professionals for over a hundred years. They’re sources of nitrogen and, when transformed into the gas hormone nitric oxide (NO), they become a potent hormone-like biochemical that plays various important roles in keeping the body healthy. NO is especially important for heart health. It lowers blood pressure, supports the flow of fluid through the circulatory system, improves male sexual performance, fights cancer, destroys tumors and is anti-inflammatory. In addition to being a source of nitric oxide, nitrates may play an important role in eye health, particularly for patients dealing with glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness that affects 3 million Americans. A 1998 article published in the journal Vision concluded that the use of therapeutic nitrates in glaucoma patients may offer a protective effect. More recently, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that American adults who ate the most nitrates were 21 percent less likely than those who ate the least nitrates to develop open-angle glaucoma by the time they were in their 60s and 70s.
But it’s not just nitrogen that makes the beet such a nutritionally significant vegetable. The red root is a source of many other important salubrious substances including betalins, the natural pigment that’s responsible for the vegetable’s rosy hue. Betalins, whose name is derived from the beets Latin name beta vulgaris, act as a type of molecular cleaning crew, speeding up the removal of toxins and dead cells. Betalins can help fight cancer and are, according to a September 2005 article in the journal Phytotherapy Research, particularly important for liver health.
The beet’s nutritional value doesn’t stop there. They’re rich in antioxidants, electrolytes like potassium and magnesium. They’re packed with B-vitamins, especially folic acid. They’ve got Vitamin C, and they’re loaded with fiber. They’re also important sources of carotenoids, particularly lycopene, which can protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun.
You don’t have to ingest beets to enjoy their skin health benefits. You can apply their juice topically. Blend some up in a VitaMix with some juice or apple cider vinegar and you can make your own beet based skin care masks and toners. The alpha hydroxy acids from the vinegar and citrus will smooth and soften the skin, helping drive the beet’s vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients past the surface to the lower levels. This enhances their protective and detoxifying effects, helping prevent wrinkles, dark spots and other signs of age inducing sun damage.
Did You Know?
- You can use beets to test your digestive system. Stools should have a red hue 12-24 hours after eating the vegetable. If the rosy color doesn’t appear within a day or so you may be dealing with delayed transit time (constipation) and food stagnation.
- Beet juice makes a great hair dye. Cut up 1-2 beets into quarters, add water and mix in a food processor or blender. Use cheesecloth to filter out the juice and whip it into 2-4 cups of of melted coconut oil. Let cool and apply to hair as a mask. Let sit for 1-2 hours and rinse and wash hair as usual.
Even though they contain sugar, beets make a great diet friendly dessert. A cup only has 75 calories and can be used to sweeten pies, juices, or as a tasty low-cal sweet to finish off a meal.
- The surface of fresh, organic beets contains beneficial microorganisms. When you prepare them, rinse off the dirt, but don’t scrape off the skin and you’ll get the benefits of the good bacteria. If you juice your beets and add some bacterial starter culture (available on the internet), you can make your own probiotic rich beet beverage (it’s called “kvass”).
- The Romans used beets as a natural aphrodisiac, and for good reason. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the sweet root is a source of boron, an important mineral involved in the production of libido boosting testosterone.