Beets aren’t typically prized for their amazing taste (at least when compared to some other vegetables), but the root vegetable’s earthy flavor comes with numerous health benefits. From boosting energy levels for athletic performance to preventing cancer, the health benefits of beets range far and wide.
Thought to have originated in prehistoric North Africa, beets have been around forever, or nearly forever. In their early days, the red roots of the beet were not eaten as it was their greens that were prized. World’s Healthiest Foods reports that it was the Romans who first began cultivating beets for their roots and their popularity grew in the 16th century.
Using beets as more than a dinnertime vegetable happened in the 19th century when it was discovered that they were a concentrated source of sugar. Now, in many parts of the world, sugar beets are cultivated for their sweetness and then added to foods to provide a “natural” source of sugar. (Unfortunately, these sugar beets are nearly all genetically modified today).
Disregarding their use as a source of GM sugar, beets are a valuable root to have on your table. Just be certain you are eating organic, non-GMO varieties.
Health Benefits of Beets
The health benefits of beets can be largely credited to their pigments known as betalains. Both betacyanins and betaxanthins are betalains that give beets their intense color and benefits. They contain both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
- 1. Lower Blood Pressure, Boost Cardiovascular Health – A study published in 2008 in the journal Hypertension found that beets contain nitrate that can help reduce blood sugar. It does this by encouraging vascular dilation and is also the cause for beets being seen as a natural aphrodisiac.
- 2. Prevents Muscle Soreness and Boosts Energy – These same blood-benefits paired with the anti-inflammatory properties of beets make them a great choice for athletes. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found in 2009 that beet juice enhanced the tolerance of high-intensity exercise and enhanced muscle efficiency. Further, beets are also great for providing energy and boosting stamina. In one study, participants consumed a selection of baked beetroot (200 grams) before one run and the same amount of cranberries before a second run. The researchers discovered that beetroot outperformed cranberries in boosting peak performance by a wide margin.
- 3. Detox – If that isn’t enough, beets are also harness powerful detoxification properties. They work to aid cells in pairing toxins with small nutrient groups, facilitating their removal from the body in the urine.
- 4. Anti-Cancer Benefits – Further adding on to the health benefits of beets, the vegetable has been shown to slow the growth of cancerous tumors by up to 12.5% in some research. In a study comparing beet roots to the effectiveness of an anticancer drug, researchers found the vegetable compound’s beneficial anti-cancer effects to continue killing cancerous cells seven days after dosage, while the cancer drug stopped 3 days after.
Because the beneficial betalains are unstable when heated, it’s recommended that steaming is kept to less than 15 minutes and roasting is kept to under one hour when cooking beets. But to reap the most health benefits of beets, you could juice them raw or throw them in a zesty salad.