Beets are a favourite of mine! I absolutely love their vibrant fuchsia hue. They’re loaded with natural nitrates, and they’re delicious steamed or roasted. They have amazing benefits for heart health, our immune system, and even athletic performance!
An interesting fact about beets is that they have high levels of dietary nitrate . Natural nitrates in our diet are highly valuable for our health! Our body converts dietary nitrate to biologically active nitrite through bacteria in our mouth and stomach, and finally to nitric oxide (NO) in our small intestine. When oxygen availability is low in the body, nitrite can actually be converted into nitric oxide.
What is Nitric oxide? It is a VASODILATOR. This means that it causes our blood vessels to relax and widen- this boosts blood flow to our muscles, and increases how much oxygen can get to our cells. Our cells LOVE oxygen- they use it to convert energy from the food that we eat into forms that our body can use to keep it going. This is called cellular respiration: this is a pathway that breaks down glucose and produces ATP (energy). You might remember this from Biology class!
Nitric oxide is also a key player in our immune system. Our immune cells produce nitric oxide, which help defend us against bacteria and pathogens.
Nitrates and Athletes
Nitrate supplementation may actually improve athletic performance! Among the many roles nitric oxide has in the body, it can help our bodies use oxygen during exercise more effectively. Some studies have reported that consumption of nitrate from beetroot juice can help the body use oxygen more efficiently, and may have the potential to help athletes perform longer before reaching exhaustion.
If you’re interested in reading more, take a look at this study: Jones A. M. (2014). Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S35–S45. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0149-y
Can't beat beets!
Beetroot has even more benefits- it is one of the unique vegetables that have a group of pigments called betalains , which are vibrant hues of red-violet or yellow-orange. These have been shown to have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive activity in animal models. More research needs to be done in humans, but this is a promising discovery! Beets also contain both betaine and the B-vitamin folate. Together, this duo lowers the levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which, if unchecked, can increase the risk of damage to our arteries and contribute to heart disease.
So… EAT THOSE BEETS.
What better way than in a beautifully colourful, refreshing summer salad!
Vibrant Beet Dressing
¾ cup chopped steamed or roasted beet
⅛ cup tahini
⅛ cup water
1 small clove garlic
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt, pepper, cayenne to taste
Blend together, and you have your dressing! Top on salads, spread on sandwiches or wraps, or use as a dip for veggies.