Whether you love or despise their flavor — and people tend to be firmly in one camp or the other — the health benefits of beets are truly outstanding.
These deeply colored root vegetables are packed full of nutrients, antioxidants, and plant compounds that are incredibly beneficial for human health. They are one of the best foods to eat for healthy blood pressure levels and may even help you live longer.
Here’s more about the amazing, yet humble, beet— and how to benefit from it, even if, like some people, you can’t stand the flavor.
Beets: Another Ancient Superfood?
Beets (Beta vulgaris) have been in cultivation for a very long time. Records of their existence date back to ancient civilizations like Babylon, Greece, and Rome. They were likely grown in areas of North Africa as many as 4000 years ago.
Interestingly, historians believe that the leaves and stalks of beets were utilized the most for culinary purposes at first. The roots were used more as the medicinal part of the plant. They had many properties but were particularly considered to be a potent aphrodisiac.
As time went on, beets migrated to more regions of the world.
They were eventually incorporated into Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine as both medicinal “herbs” and functional foods. Because of their deep red color, beets were thought to build the blood and used for liver cleansing and improved circulation.
Modern Beet Revelations
From the 16th to the 19th century, beets really began to spread around the world. They were used as food for both livestock and humans throughout Europe, eventually arriving at America with the colonists.
Unfortunately, knowledge of the specific health benefits of beets didn’t necessarily travel with the vegetables themselves. They were viewed mostly as a food and became a common crop for the poor.
In the middle of the 1700s, a German chemist discovered that beets contained sucrose, which was responsible for their sweetness. This set off a train of events that eventually led to the development of white sugar beets over the next one hundred years or so.
Sugar beets currently contribute to about 35% of sugar production (the other 65% is from sugar cane).
(Note: White sugar beets have been cultivated solely for sugar content and do not have the same properties as common beetroot. Most beet benefits are attributed to the classic red varieties.)
Today, beets have seen an increase in popularity, although they are a very polarizing vegetable. Some people love their sweet, earthy flavor, while others consider them inedible. (But you don’t have to taste them to benefit from them!)
The discovery of powerful plant compounds and nutrients in beets has also contributed to their newfound popularity— as you’re about to find out.
Top Health Benefits of Beets
Rich in Nutrients (and a Powerful Set of Compounds)
Beets contain varying amounts of nearly all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. They are particularly rich in certain essential nutrients like folate, manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
Folate is a B vitamin that doesn’t get highlighted enough. Your body needs it to produce red and white blood cells in bone marrow as well as DNA and RNA. It’s needed at all life stages but is especially important during growth periods like infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy.
Folate is also involved in heart health, and there may be a link between it and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Beets are an excellent source of this vital nutrient with 20% of the daily value (DV) in a 3.5 ounce serving.
Along with folate and many other nutrients, beets also contain highly beneficial compounds known as nitrates.
Once in your body, nitrates get converted into nitrites and then into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is one of the most critical molecules for blood vessel health and plays many other protective roles in your body. It’s also one of the main reasons beets should be considered a superfood.
Great for Healthy Blood Pressure
The number one reason beets have received attention in research studies is their ability to help lower blood pressure.
Most researchers believe this effect largely comes from the nitrates present in beets. These are converted to nitric oxide within your body as previously mentioned.
Once converted, nitric oxide has vasodilatory effects, which means it helps your blood vessels to widen or open, promoting blood flow. This, in turn, causes blood pressure to drop and improves circulation.
Several studies have confirmed that simply drinking beetroot juice can significantly lower blood pressure. It appears to have more of an effect on systolic blood pressure, although diastolic blood pressure levels can drop as well. Also, raw beets seem to have the most health benefits for blood pressure versus cooked beets.
To give you with an indication of just how powerful beets may prove to be, here’s a quote from a UK researcher: “This research has proven that a daily inorganic nitrate dose can be as effective as medical intervention in reducing blood pressure, and the best part is we can get it from beetroot…”
Natural Inflammation Fighters
Like many other fruits, vegetables, and herbs, beets naturally combat inflammation within your body. They do this mainly because of the presence of betalains, which are powerful pigment compounds that have numerous anti-inflammatory properties.
Calming chronic inflammation is key if you want to lead a healthy life. It’s increasingly linked to a number of life-altering diseases, including heart disease, cancer, liver disease, stroke, diabetes, and more.
Consuming beets and beet juice is one way to fight this type of inflammation. In fact, animal studies confirm that beets combat both chronic inflammation and the oxidative stress (from free radical damage) that often goes with it.
However, their anti-inflammatory power may go even further than that.
One study found that a beet concentrate supplement was able to reduce the pain, inflammation, and discomfort associated with osteoarthritis. This was just a pilot study, but it already shows the potential for beetroot extract to actively help treat existing inflammatory diseases.
It’s not difficult to see that there are major health benefits of beets for your heart. After all, the last two sections discussed how they combat two of the biggest risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and inflammation.
But there’s still more to the story…
As mentioned earlier, beets are particularly high in folate (also called vitamin B9). Folate is extremely important for heart health. It works with other B vitamins to break down homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage the inner walls of your arteries.
Because of this, good folate intake is associated with a lower risk for heart attack or stroke.
Most people get folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) from enriched grain products. If you have a grain-free diet or avoid processed foods, your body might be in need of a good source of folate (aka beets).
And if you need another reason to eat beets for your heart— a small 2017 study found that beet juice may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in those with high blood pressure.
May Boost Athletic Performance
Beets have become particularly popular in a somewhat surprising area: athletics.
As it turns out, the nitrates in beets aren’t just good for blood pressure and heart health. They also improve the efficiency of mitochondria, which are the main energy-generators for your cells. And by improving circulation, nitrates (once converted into nitric oxide) help improve the amount of oxygen getting to your muscles.
This combination means there are significant health benefits of beets for both athletic endurance and competing at peak performance.
As an example, one study found that beetroot juice extended the time it took athletes to become exhausted. It also improved cardiorespiratory (heart + lungs) performance and endurance.
Another study found that beet juice enhanced cycling performance, making a good case for it as a new “sports drink”!
Support Memory and Cognitive Function
Beets are a very brain-supportive food. Once again, this is largely attributed to the rich presence of nitrates in the roots, although their nutrient density doesn’t hurt, either.
In essence, nitrates get converted into nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases circulation. This is very good for your heart (as you know) but also means improved blood flow to your brain.
Research has found that reduced blood flow to the brain often precedes cognitive decline. It may even contribute to the development of neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This gives beets and nitric oxide incredible potential to help protect your brain as you age.
In other studies, beetroot juice was found to specifically impact the frontal lobe of the brain. This is the part associated with working memory, decision making, and other higher level thought processes.
The researchers concluded that beet juice had the potential to enhance neuroplasticity, which is the ability of your brain to change and adapt throughout life.
May Boost Eye Health
There are potential health benefits of beets for protecting your vision, mainly due to the presence of carotenoids.
Carotenoids are powerful compounds that act as pigments in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Some of the most familiar are beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene.
Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, a powerful nutrient in its own right that is essential for healthy eyesight. Other carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, help to protect your retina and lens from light damage and UV rays, which can potentially cause macular degeneration.
Beets contain various carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lutein. In this case, however, you would benefit more from eating the leaves and stems of the plant because they are much richer in carotenoids that the roots.
Also of note, nitric oxide has a role to play in eye health as well. An underproduction of this compound can lead to various eye diseases, since it’s involved in eye pressure, blood flow, and more. It’s therefore possible that beetroot may boost eye health in those who are short on nitric oxide.
Antioxidant Properties that Contribute to Longevity
There’s another very important set of compounds in beets we haven’t discussed yet: antioxidants.
As evidenced by their bright color, beets have a high concentration of health-boosting antioxidants. In fact, some of the compounds we’ve already discussed— like betalains and beta-carotene— act as powerful antioxidants within the human body.
Along with nitric oxide, these antioxidants contribute to many of the benefits already discussed: lower inflammation, better heart health, improved cognitive function, etc.
Eating antioxidant-rich foods like beets also has a bigger, cumulative benefit in the form of longevity.
When it comes to health, longevity is not simply living longer. It’s also living better and feeling full of vitality no matter what your age is. Many factors contribute to cultivating longevity, but antioxidants are a key factor when it comes to physical health.
Chronic inflammation, chronic disease, a failing heart, declining brain function. These all take you further away from longevity, but all can be combated— at least in part— by filling your body with plant-based antioxidants.
The bottom line is that eating more antioxidant-filled foods (like beets) will help you to feel healthier and live longer.
Best Way to Eat Beets for Maximum Health Benefits
Studies are pretty clear that raw beets and beet juice provide the maximum benefits. That’s not to say cooked beets have no value, just that raw is the superior choice.
By eating beets raw, nearly all of the valuable plant compounds, nutrients, and antioxidants are kept intact. Juicing them concentrates the nutrient content even more, although you will miss out on the large amount of fiber found in whole beets.
That being said, there are two major problems that may get in your way of getting beet benefits.
Problem #1— A good portion of the population despises the flavor of beets and won’t eat them no matter how healthy they are.
Problem #2— Most people can’t eat enough beets for maximum benefit. For example, the ability of beets to lower blood pressure is powerful but short-lived. They really need to be consumed daily to truly impact heart health. And unless you really love beets, you probably won’t be drinking beet juice everyday.
Fortunately, there is a solution if you fall into either of these two categories.
The Best Way to “Eat” Beets Without Really Eating Them
If you don’t like the flavor of beets or simply can’t eat enough of them in your diet, look into Peak Organic Fermented Beets powder. This incredibly unique supplement combines nitrate-rich fermented beet powder with mango powder, another natural substance that improves blood flow.
The fermentation process gives the beet powder twice as many nitrates as regular beet powder, making it as close to eating raw beets as possible. It’s excellent as a standalone supplement or to complement fresh beet consumption (on days when you just can’t get them into your diet).
With the addition of mango powder, most people find that the flavor blends well into smoothies, juice, etc. However, if you are truly sensitive to the flavor of beets, the powder can be put into vegetable capsules and swallowed.
Learn more about Peak Organic Fermented Beets here. And don’t underestimate the health-boosting power of this brilliantly colored vegetable!