Beyond being a super tasty and beautiful addition to your plate, beets are a nutritional powerhouse that have tremendous healing powers – some might really surprise you!
Health Benefits of Beets
When you are working on making your diet healthier (go you!), one of the most important and powerful ways to go about that is to choose the most nutrient dense foods to fill your plate. That way you get the most bang per bite. 😋
But what is nutrient density?
Also known as nutritiousness, nutrient density means that a food contains lots of nutrients per calorie. Nutrients are essential substances that nourish our bodies, help us heal, and promote good health and healthy longevity, such as proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and bio-active compounds. Beets and beet greens are a very nutrient dense (aka nutritious) food, containing substantial amounts of B vitamins (esp folate) and Vitamin C, choline, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron and copper.
Inflammation in the body is caused by trauma, from injury, infection, toxins, and/or oxidative stress. And oftentimes, what happens with inflammation is that the immune system is unable to clear it after the initial injury, leading to chronic inflammation, which can lead to a series of chronic illness such as diabetes and arthritis.
Betaine has been shown to lower inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, and beets are a rich source of betaine. Betaine is a very important nutrient made from choline, and choline is a key in regulating inflammation in the cardiovascular system, since adequate choline helps prevent the undesirable build-up of homocysteine. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with inflammation and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Digestion and Immune Boosting
Again because of their Betaine-stimulating effect, beets help boost both our digestive function and our immune system. Betaine increases the production of stomach acid, and having enough of this crucial digestive juice is essential for the proper breakdown and absorption of all the nutrients in the foods we eat, from proteins and fats to vitamins and minerals.
This proper breakdown of our foods also means that we don’t end up with large particles leaking out into the bloodstream and triggering immune reactions, so this lightens the load on our immune systems. And, having sufficient stomach acid is our first line of immune defense against all sorts of nasty bugs, killing off most of them before they have a chance to enter the rest of our body and wreak havoc.
An added bonus to having sufficient stomach acid is that when the contents leaving the stomach are properly acidic, they help to trigger the release of other digestive enzymes such as pancreatin and bile, which further optimize digestive function and nutrient absorption, and help to improve blood sugar regulation as well.
And beets are high in Vitamin C, which is another immune booster.
The powerful phytonutrients that give red beets their rich color may help to ward off certain types of cancer. This color comes from antioxidant compounds called betalains, which studies demonstrate are cancer-protective. Betalains have been shown to inhibit carcinogen formation and increase production of immune cells and enzymes that help limit cancer growth.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve heard me talk about how important it is to support our bodies in detoxifying, because of the large number of toxins that we are unfortunately exposed to every day in our modern world. (Curious? Check out my article “Do YOU Need to Detox?“)
Happily, beets can help with this, in a couple of important ways.
First, those antioxidant betalains again. In addition to warding off cancer, betalains aid in detoxification by breaking down toxins so they can be excreted from our bodies. (And perhaps, because of the likely link between toxins and cancers, these two benefits are intertwined!)
Second, beets help with detoxification by stimulating the production of bile in the liver. Bile is used primarily for the digestion of fats and the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, but bile is also used by the body as a detoxifying agent. As bile circulates through our digestive system, it picks up toxins as it goes, sticking them to itself like velcro and deactivating them, so they are inert (harmless) and can eventually be carried out of our bodies in our stool.
Because our bodies are smart and thrifty, they will recycle bile an average of 17 times before finally excreting it (taking those attached toxins with it). Sometimes, though, while those toxins are riding around and around with the bile, they detach and are then free to circulate on their own and do damage to us again. However, when we are making plenty of fresh, new bile (such as when we consume beets), the old toxin-laden bile will get tossed out much sooner, clearing the attached toxins with it, speeding up the process of detoxification and limiting our exposure to harmful toxins.
For lots more great information on how detoxification works and how to enhance your body’s natural detox processes with foods, beverages and activities, check out my popular e-course, Dr. Emily’s 10-Day Detox!
Once again, we visit the beautiful betalains. These were discovered in 2001 and are a type of antioxidant found most abundantly in red beets. Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that are produced as a reaction to environmental and other pressures.
Even at relatively low daily doses, betalains have been clinically demonstrated to be enough to reverse the effects of free radical damage and oxidative stress.
Beets are high in naturally occurring nitrates (this is a good thing!) which are converted by our bodies into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is involved in many cell processes, including the widening of the blood vessels, or vasodilation. Wider blood vessels help increase the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to our tissues and organs, increasing energy, speeding healing, and improving overall function.
Reduce Blood Pressure
As part of NO’s vasodilating effect, it improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Many studies have shown conclusively that various types of beet products, from raw and cooked beets, to beetroot juice, powder and capsules, to fermented beet kvass, all have a significant ability to lower blood pressure in those with hypertension.
- A meta-analysis of 16 studies found that supplementation with beet extract was associated with a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23596162/
- A meta-analysis of 22 studies confirms previous findings of the hypotensive properties of beet extract and declares it “a safe and cost-effective nutritional approach for managing hypertension and preventing undesirable cardiovascular outcomes.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5683004/
- Regular ingestion of beetroot extract improves systolic and diastolic blood pressure and large-vessel endothelial function in healthy older adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6722817/
The downside to beets
In the Yin and Yang of life, there are always pros and cons, to everything. The same is true of beets. With beets, the downside is sugar, mostly in the form of sucrose, which is a combo of glucose and fructose, neither of which are good for us in anything more than tiny amounts. Just one cup of cooked beets contains 13 grams of carbs, which is the equivalent of over 3 teaspoons of white sugar.
There’s a few ways to get around this problem, though, and still enjoy the many health benefits of beets.
You can take a concentrated beet powder supplement (always choose organic!), and that will get you a concentrated dose of health-boosting beet power with just 4 grams of carbs per teaspoon of powder. I like MicroIngredients Organic Beetroot Powder for its affordability.
Taking a beet supplement in capsule form is an even better way to go, as this will get you all the benefits without stimulating insulin as much as eating beets or taking beet powder will, since tasting the sweet flavor on your tongue is part of what signals insulin production. And keeping insulin stimulation low is a key to achieving and maintaining optimal health and longevity. For beet capsules, I like Beet Flow, as it contains beet root and beet greens, for increased detoxification and other health-boosting effects.
As one of my readers, you can order Beet Flow by going to NaturalReference.com, setting yourself up an account, then clicking on the green button that says, “Show Products Where Health Coach is Required”
Enter my practitioner code DrEmily in the pop-up box, and you’ll be all set to order.
Fermented beet products are another great option, since the fermentation process eats up a lot of the sugars – and it also makes the beets even better for you, boosting the nitric oxide content by as much as 5 times in the process! Fermented beet powder capsules are an easy way to go – check out this one from Dr. Mercola.
Putting beets into your homemade Fire Cider recipe, and then consuming some of that every day, will increase your daily beet intake and get you lots of other great benefits, too.
And check out my recipe for the tasty fermented beverage Beet Kvass, which is an excellent way to get some delicious, nutritious and super-duper-vitality-booster fermented beets into your bod.
Which form are you going to try first? And which benefit of beets are you most excited to experience?
Disclosure: I receive a small commission for qualifying purchases made using some of the links in this article.