Apr 21 , 2021
Written by: Alexandra Spring
Beetroot is a hearty yet refreshing vegetable that you can enjoy roasted, in soups such as borscht, as part of a salad or in a burger. However, it does more than just add colour and flavour to dishes. Beetroot has several important health benefits, thanks to its nitrogen compounds, antioxidants and fibre content.
Improve Your Exercise Performance
Struggling at the gym or when playing sports? Beetroot juice may help to improve your athletic performance. A study involving 12 healthy men tested the benefits of beetroot juice in resistance training, with a workout consisting of back squats and bench presses. Beetroot juice helped them to complete an average of 13.8 more back squat repetitions than the placebo, with no change to bench press performance. Beetroot juice works for exercise performance by dilating the blood vessels, which increases blood flow, as well as improving the efficiency of cellular energy production.
Speed Post-Workout Recovery
If you exercise in the morning, nothing puts the brakes on your busy day ahead more than a slow recovery that leaves you feeling tired all day. Fortunately, beetroot may be of help here. When 12 volunteers were given either beetroot extract or a placebo, the extract significantly sped up the return to a normal heart rate variability (HRV) and blood pressure. Some measurements of HRV did not change as much during exercise, possibly another indicator of improved energy efficiency. Additionally, beetroot’s antioxidant content and ability to improve circulation could assist in recovery by speeding the clearance of metabolic waste products.
Control High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for serious health issues such as stroke, because over time the excess pressure damages our blood vessels. In a review of studies, beetroot juice was found to reduce systolic (maximum) blood pressure by an average of 3.55mmHg, and diastolic (minimum) blood pressure by 1.32mmHg. Trials longer than 14 days demonstrated an average reduction of 5.11mmHg in systolic blood pressure, an effect linked to a significant drop in stroke risk. This was also better than supplementing with NO3 alone, which is a blood pressure-lowering nitrogen molecule responsible for much of beetroot’s benefits. In many cases, whole, natural foods and medicinal herbs are more effective than one molecule isolated from them, so this is not surprising. Another heart-healthy substance in beetroots is the homocysteine-reducing compound betaine. Homocysteine is a step in amino acid metabolism, and chronically elevated levels can damage the blood vessels and harm mental health.
Reduce the Severity of Colds
With stressful times, such as exam study periods, we often catch colds or the flu as our immune response is dampened by stress hormones and more nutrients are used up. In a trial of 76 students, everyone was assigned to either drink beetroot juice for seven days during their exam period, or to add nothing to their usual diet. During and after their final exams, cold and flu symptoms were significantly lower among the group drinking beetroot juice. Students with asthma had more severe cold symptoms without beetroot and enjoyed the strongest benefits from drinking it. If you have, or once had, asthma, you know that respiratory infections such as colds make the illness you already have much worse.
Like beetroot’s ability to reduce blood pressure and improve circulation, its immune-enhancing properties were mostly down to increased nitric oxide (NO). In the lungs, NO helps to defend against infection, and higher levels of exhaled NO were linked with greater improvements. This means that beetroot juice could help to spare you from a nasty cold ruining an exam week, period of heavy workload, or other energy-demanding situations such as a wedding.
A Source of Fibre
Beetroot is also a great source of fibre, that isn’t bland or too starchy. Fibre is essential for preventing constipation, an issue which is not only uncomfortable, but increases the risk of colon cancer too. A review of clinical studies has demonstrated that supplemental fibre boosts bowel frequency, with a tendency towards reducing the prevalence of excessively hard, dry stools. Fibre also helps to feed friendly species of gut bacteria, made friendly by their abilities to tame inflammation and keep the immune system in balance.
In conclusion, the humble beetroot has wonderful effects on our cardiovascular and immune health when enjoyed regularly – whether you are an athlete, have asthma, or want to get heart-healthy. What is your favourite way to use beetroot? Share with us your traditional or modern recipes below.