Beets are among nature’s superfoods, for a number of reasons. For example, they’re a low-calorie source of healthful fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other good things. Among those “other good things” are natural compounds called dietary nitrates. Fairly recently, scientists discovered that dietary nitrates—once suspected of being potentially harmful—are actually extremely good for us. That’s because they supply the raw material our bodies need to make a key signaling molecule. This molecule, Nitric Oxide (NO), tells blood vessels to relax, which lowers blood pressure.
But do beets lower blood pressure? The simple answer is ‘yes’. But of course, like most things in life, the real answer is not quite that simple. There’s no question, for example, that drinking fresh, raw beet juice—about 8.5 ounces per day—has been linked to reductions in blood pressure among middle-aged adults who suffered from mild high blood pressure (hypertension).
Beets: Root Vegetables that Address the Root of a Potential Health Problem
Even better, drinking beet juice does not affect blood pressure among people with normal blood pressure. So there’s no risk of driving one’s pressure too low. Beet juice consumption has also been linked with improvements in the function of the delicate tissue lining blood vessels; the endothelium. That’s crucial, because most heart disease begins in the endothelium, often developing into atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries”.
Many factors play a role in the eventual development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Everything from too little exercise and too much sitting, to consuming a pro-inflammatory diet and gaining excess weight, may play a role in the demise of blood vessel health. But the health of the blood vessels themselves is fundamental to this process. Lined with a special, delicate tissue called the endothelium, healthy blood vessels are pliable, flexible, and capable of contracting and expanding to accommodate the body’s changing needs for blood supply.
A normal, healthy person who is not under distress typically has normal blood pressure. Pressure rises in response to certain chemical signals from the brain and other organs. When a threat is perceived, for example, the brain signals muscle cells lining the arteries to contract. This speeds blood flow, and raises blood pressure. In this way the body prepares you for fight or flight, for instance. Once the threat is gone, the body uses Nitric Oxide (NO) to signal these tiny muscle cells to relax. As they relax, blood pressure drops back to normal.
Multiple Beneficial Effects
Thus, consuming plenty of dietary nitrates allows the body to maintain a constant supply of pressure-lowering NO. But that’s not all. Emerging research shows that consuming dietary nitrate, from sources like beetroot, affects the behavior of blood platelets. It makes them less likely to clump together and form potentially dangerous blood clots. Such clots are often implicated in instances of heart attack or stroke.
And, finally, research has shown that beetroot supplementation helps boost the amount of oxygen available to skeletal muscle during exercise. This effect accounts for the finding that healthy athletes may experience performance gains after consuming beetroot. Little wonder, then, that scientists wrote in the journal, Nutrients: “[Inorganic nitrate] has received considerable attention in recent years and is quickly gaining traction as a health and performance enhancing nutritional supplement.”
But cooked beets are a slightly different story. Cooking alters the body’s ability to extract dietary nitrates from beets. Experts call this reduced bioavailability. Thus, to get the full blood-pressure-lowering effects of consuming beets, it’s important to consume them in their raw state.
Of course, not everyone has the time, determination, or special equipment needed to extract fresh juice from raw beets every day. That’s why we recommend our healthful Berkeley Life Beetroot Powder for busy people who are interested in getting the benefits of raw beets without all the fuss.