I am fascinated with medicinal foods: Foods that offer particularly potent healing properties. In many cases, certain foods and herbs work better than pharmaceutical drugs to reverse and prevent disease and without the nasty side effects. Certain foods can even lower blood pressure and boost athletic performance!
Beets are one such food. If the humble beet itself isn’t enough, it comes attached to dark, leafy greens that also pack a powerful nutrient punch!
Studies have shown that beetroot juice can lower your blood pressure by 14 points (!!) after a week (source) and by 4-5 points after a few hours. And when the study participants exercised, elevated blood pressure was reduced by 7 mm/Hg on average.
Poor diets, lack of exercise and other bad habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure cases. (source) If your blood pressure (BP) is 140/90 or over (or now with the new guidelines, 130/80), you have high blood pressure. You’ll probably be asked to monitor it at home for a bit and lower your salt intake (an archaic recommendation that is not valid).
You can, in the majority of cases, lower your blood pressure naturally by changing your diet, addressing stress, exercising, and getting more sleep. Does that sound like a tall order? Improving your lifestyle habits will help you avoid the laundry list of side effects caused by blood pressure meds such as erection problems, weakness, fatigue, depression, sleep problems, skin rash, constipation, dizziness, headache, dry mouth, fluid retention, and dry mouth (just to name a few).
I write about how to lower BP in this post, but the powerhouse beet can help you in your quest to achieve that perfect 110/70.
Why does beet juice lower BP? Nitric oxide.
Beets are super rich in nitrites that are converted by the bacteria in your mouth into nitrates. Elsewhere in the body (the gut mostly) it’s converted to nitric oxide (NO) which supports endothelial function and protects your mitochondria (the cellular energy generator). NO is a potent vasodilator, meaning it relaxes and widens the diameter of your blood vessels so that a greater volume of blood can flow through. You probably know that narrow and/or stiff arteries increase blood pressure because the heart has to work harder to pump blood through constricted vessels.
Don’t confuse the inorganic nitrites and resulting nitrates from beets with the nitrates found in cured and processed meats like bacon and cold cuts. This type of nitrate is carcinogenic. Always buy high quality uncured bacon and nitrate-free cured meats.
Beets Lower Blood Pressure
Back to the beet. In the studies I’ve researched (including one mentioned above), the participants drank anywhere from 2.4 ounces to 8 ounces of beet juice, and their BP dropped from 8 to 14 points within the first week, which is a greater drop than is achieved by BP meds.
The nitric oxide formed from nitrates in beets relaxes the smooth muscles in your blood vessels so that your arteries stay properly dilated. Nitric oxide also has an anti-platelet effect that helps prevent blood from thickening and clotting. (source)
You’ll need to drink the juice (which seems to work better than eating the beetroot) daily. Start with 2 ounces and work up to 8 ounces. You can mix it with celery juice to cut the sweetness if needed (I find beet juice way too sweet), and you’ll get the added benefits from celery, which is also high in BP lowering nitrate. Cabbage, spinach, lettuce, turnips, and radishes are also good sources of NO.
CAUTION: Beet juice is pretty high in sugar, so if you’re diabetic, you’ll need to discuss with your doctor if beet juice is OK for you. Diabetics may be better off consuming the whole beet so you get the fiber to avoid the quick sugar hit.
You could also ferment your beets, which will give you all the health-boosting benefits of raw beets without the concerns of high sugar content, as the beneficial bacteria created during fermentation consume most of the naturally occurring sugars. And you’ll get some probiotics too. However, I can’t find much on the quantity of beets you’d need to eat vs juice to get the same benefit.
Also if you’re taking nitroglycerin, other nitrate preparations, or Viagra type drugs used for erectile dysfunction, use caution. The combination of inorganic nitrates with these medications may cause a significant drop in blood pressure. And if you already have low BP, daily beet juice probably isn’t a great idea for you.
Beets Improve Stamina & Exercise Endurance
The NO formed when you eat beets and drink beet juice increases blood flow to the heart, organs, and muscles. For this reason beets improve stamina AND enhance the health of your blood vessels. (source)
Studies have shown that beet juice improves cardiorespiratory exercise endurance and could help you exercise for up to 16 percent longer. (source) This is especially useful for endurance athletes. The nitric oxide improves maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max), (source) so it could also be useful for the elderly or those with cardiovascular, respiratory or metabolic diseases.
Other Beet Benefits
I also often recommend beets for liver detox and to combat anemia. Beets are anti-inflammatory and contain betaine, which helps the liver cells eliminate toxins. Beets also contain fibers and pectin to help bind up and eliminate toxins in the bowel.
Beets, the deep red varieties specifically, do contain iron, though not as much as leafy greens. And plant sources of iron contain non-heme iron, which is not absorbed as well as heme iron found in animal protein. Consuming beets and drinking beet juice helps in regeneration of red blood cells and is a good choice for treating or combatting anemia in vegetarians, but I recommend red meat and leafy greens for omnivorous anemics.
How to Eat Beets
Are you on the beet bandwagon yet? I used to think beets tasted like dirt, but I’ve really come around on them. This salad was my big converter. It’s a mix of beets, carrot, green apple, and coconut. Even kids love it, and it’s a fantastic liver cleansing salad.
For high BP and to increase exercise stamina, beet juice is your best bet. Gradually work up to 8 oz per day, and mix with celery juice if needed, as mentioned above. Monitor your BP at home (take it at the same times daily) to determine how much works for you.
Roasting beets are is a delicious to way to enjoy them. Simply chop, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt, and roast for about 45 minutes at 400. My final favorite way to enjoy beets is to roast them and toss with olive oil, freshly grated ginger, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and a splash of tamari. Serve plain with goat cheese or over arugula. Truly divine.
Be aware that eating beets will turn your poop bright red, so don’t panic. You’re not hemorrhaging.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.