Beets have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years- and eaten as far back as prehistoric times. Both beet greens and the beet root itself provide important health benefits. Beets can be eaten raw or cooked, pickled or roasted, and make a delicious and colourful addition to any meal. Here are 4 reasons to eat your beets and beet greens too!
1. Detoxification Support
Beets have been used anecdotally in liver and blood cleanses and until the last couple decades, we didn’t know how. Science has shown that beets contain phytonutrients called betalains, which support the liver’s Phase 2 detoxification process. This means that beets promote the liver’s ability to bind up toxins with molecules that encourage their excretion from our bodies. If this part of the detoxification pathway is not working optimally, build up of toxins can occur and symptoms like skin breakouts, irritability, and fatigue can result. Ahem, similar to how you may feel from a hangover.
2. Heart Health
Drinking beet root juice can lower blood pressure which is a contributing factor to heart disease- the leading cause of death in Canadians. A recent study in the Nutrition Journal found that consumption of beet root juice could lower systolic blood pressure by 4-5 points when added to a normal diet. Beets are high in nitrates, which when consumed are converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps to relax and dilate our blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. In addition beets contain high levels of betaine, a compound that lowers homocysteine and C-reactive protein levels- markers of heart disease and chronic inflammation.
3. Athletic Performance and Stamina
Similarly to how beet juice lowers blood pressure, it can also be used to improve stamina and overall athletic ability. The improvement of blood flow induced by beets allows for more nutrients and oxygen to get to the tissues, increasing VO2 max, and enhancing tolerance to high intensity exercise. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, athletes who drank beet juice prior to exercise were able to exercise up to 16 percent longer. In addition, it helps in muscle recovery and is not considered a banned substance by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).
Not only can the bright purpley-red colour of beet root juice stain our clothes, the phytonutrients in the root AND the greens may help to ward off cancer. A recent study showed that beet juice may be used in conjunction with certain chemotherapeutics to improve survival rates in human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. More research is needed, but adding beets to our diet can be a simple and healthy way to promote overall health and cancer prevention.