Discover How Beets May Improve Athletic Performance And Help You Lose Weight
- The benefits of beets include their ability to lower blood pressure, fight inflammation, support brain health, aid in digestion, and improve athletic performance.
- Beets may also help you lose weight because they contain protein and fiber while having relatively few calories.
- To achieve these health benefits, you can drink beet juice or eat beets with a salad.
- This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
Beets aren't necessarily a staple in many peoples' diets, but they probably should be. These unique root vegetables may offer a wide array of health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to improving athletic performance. They also contain a variety of nutrients and compounds that you won't find in many other foods.
Whether you're adding beets to a salad or drinking beet juice, these vegetables are easy to incorporate into your diet. Here are six benefits of consuming beets.
1. Beets may lower blood pressure
Beets contain nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that relaxes and widens blood vessels, which can lower blood pressure, says Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and professor at the Fielding School of Public Health.
A small 2015 study found that drinking 250 mL of beetroot juice daily over four weeks was enough to lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension. Beets can also lower blood pressure in older, overweight individuals, according to a small 2014 study.
2. Beets can fight inflammation
The dark red color of beets is caused by betalain, a phytonutrient produced by plants that has antioxidant properties. Hunnes says that betalain has anti-inflammatory properties because it can suppress the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme which is associated with inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can cause damage to healthy tissue and increase your risk of long-term health problems like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. "Chronic inflammation is a little like rusting on iron," says Hunnes. "If you don't remove the rust and keep exposing it to elements, it will continue to degrade."
In a small 2016 study, researchers found that systemic inflammation was improved for those with high blood pressure after two weeks of supplementation with either cooked beets or raw beet juice. Raw beet juice was even more effective at combating inflammation than the cooked beets.
3. Beets may help with weight loss
When you're trying to lose weight, it can be very beneficial to eat foods that are filling so that you feel full and don't overeat.
"Beets are rich in water content and fiber. This can help keep you fuller longer and better hydrated, which can also help with [feeling full]," says Hunnes.
Hunnes also says beets are relatively low in calories and contain a decent amount of protein for a root vegetable, which makes it a healthy choice for someone trying to lose weight. For example, one cup of beets contains:
- 3.81 grams of dietary fiber
- 2.19 grams of protein
- 58.5 calories
4. Beets can help you poop
The high fiber and water content of beets also help with digestion, says Hunnes. Fiber helps you to have normal bowel movements by bulking up your stool, making it less likely for you to be constipated.
A 2012 meta-analysis of five different studies confirmed that fiber can increase stool frequency. Fiber can also help prevent digestive conditions such as colon cancer, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and diverticulitis.
5. Beets may support brain health
Since beets can lower blood pressure, they can also lower the risk of stroke and other brain problems.
"Any time there is high blood pressure, the risk of stroke and other cognitive declines increases. So, lowering blood pressure helps and also increases the ease and amount of blood that gets to the brain," says Hunnes.
The nitrates in beets may also play a role in brain health. A 2011 study of older adults found that nitrates increased blood flow to important regions of the brain, such as the frontal lobe, which is associated with attention and working memory.
6. Beets may improve athletic performance
The nitrates found in beets may also improve athletic performance, due to the effect that they have on mitochondria, the part of the cell that produces energy. Hunnes says nitrates improve the efficiency of cellular mitochondria.
"Since mitochondria are needed to produce energy in your cells, anything that can make them function more efficiently will help with athletic performance," says Hunnes.
A small 2016 study found that betalain-rich concentrate of beets can improve performance in competitive runners. Those who consumed the beet concentrate had a lower rate of perceived exertion than those who had a placebo. They also had a lower increase in lactate dehydrogenase, which is a marker of muscle damage. Another small 2019 study found that nitrates from beetroot juice reduced muscle fatigue.
You do not have to have a steady diet of beets to reap these benefits. Even having beets once before a workout can help you, Hunnes says. Nitrates peak in the blood about two to three hours after being consumed, so it's best to consume the beets two to three hours before exercising. She recommends having 300 milligrams of the active compounds, which would be about 1.5 cups of beet juice.
Risks of beets
As with any food, the overconsumption of beets can lead to some health problems. Risks of overconsumption include:
- Increased risk of kidney stones: Since beets are high in the compound oxalate, eating too many can contribute to kidney stone formation.
- Beeturia: With beeturia, urine may turn pink or red. Additionally, stool may become discolored. Though strange, this is harmless and will go away once you reduce or discontinue your intake of beets.
- Can worsen gout: If you suffer from gout, you may want to avoid beets. The oxalate in beets can cause a rise in uric acid, which can worsen gout.
If you aren't sure if beets are safe to eat for you, or you aren't sure how much is safe for you personally to consume, consult your primary doctor for advice.
The bottom line
Beets pack a mighty punch when it comes to nutrients, and they can help combat inflammation and prevent some chronic diseases. By incorporating beets into a colorful, healthy diet, you can reap many health benefits.