By: Shravani PT
Beets are turnip-like vegetables and chances are you’ve seen it at a local pizza shop or eaten it in a salad recently. Your parents might have even force-fed it to you when you were a kid. Some people even use it as a dietary supplement in the form of beetroot powder.
However, did you ever stop to think about why beetroot powder is so popular or about its health benefits? Why were you forced to eat beets as a kid and why is beetroot so good for you? Well, it turns out that beets are a superfood. Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals—you name it and beets have it! It is full of nitrates and that is why beetroot powder—a neutral-tasting version of beetroot—is a popular dietary supplement.
The Talmud, a spiritual text written in the 4th century, mentions that beetroot may help people live longer. While there is no scientific evidence of beetroot curing diseases, it has been used as a home remedy since the Middle Ages. People have been using beets for their nutritious value ever since (x).
What is Beetroot?
The root—taproot to be specific—of a beet plant is called beetroot. Just like the other related species, people grow these plants for their edible roots and leaves. People have also used beetroot as a food coloring agent and specific types of beets have been used to color wines as well (x). Here are some other different types of beets:
- Common garden beet
- Swiss chard
- Sugar beet
We see that people have boiled, mashed and sliced beets as a food source for centuries. But when did people start using beetroot as a dietary supplement?
The history of dietary beetroot dates back thousands of years. The Assyrian texts mentioned beetroots in the Hanging Gardens. However, the very existence of the Hanging Gardens is questionable, so we can’t definitely confirm whether beetroots were there or not. Even if we choose to ignore this evidence from Babylon, we can be certain that people cultivated them in ancient Egypt, courtesy of archeological proof discovered at Saqqara Pyramids, Thebes. In fact, research states that ancient Greeks offered beetroots to the sun god Apollo, even though they may not have used the roots for themselves. Romans, on the other hand, used beets to address fever, digestive issues and other common health conditions and symptoms.
But beets, the way we know it, evolved in 17th century Europe. In 1747, Andreas Sigismund Marggraf of Berlin discovered a way to make sucrose out of beets. And thus the sugar beet was born. Recent studies show that beets contain high amounts of nitrates and may be able to help address pathologies associated with lack of nitric oxide availability (x).
What is Beetroot Powder Used for?
Beets have been a source of vitamins and minerals for thousands of years, so it has been a part of the human diet for even longer. Today, people use beetroot powder supplements to potentially reduce the risk for a range of symptoms and conditions.
The antioxidants present in beetroot are of utmost value to the circulatory system, especially the heart. For example, betaine is an antioxidant present in beets. As an antioxidant, one of its responsibilities is to save cells from environmental stress that can potentially cause damage. But aside from this, it is also partly responsible for proper heart function (x).
Studies suggest that eating beetroot may lead to considerable improvement in patients with high blood pressure, which is a condition common in patients with type 2 diabetes. The nitrates present in beets are one of the vital nutrients that helps ensure that blood pumps efficiently through the blood vessels, resulting in better blood circulation and healthier blood pressure (x).
Fiber is a vital shareholder in the digestion process. It either is the fodder for the bacteria responsible for digestion or adds bulk to the stool. Research suggests that beetroot is a great source of fiber for humans (x).
Studies show that drinking beetroot juice prior to a workout may help enhance performance. If you are a fitness enthusiast, you may be able to have a more successful and efficient workout with better results. That’s because the nitrates present in the beetroot may provide better blood and oxygen flow. Theoretically, if the respiratory system is able to supply these nutrients throughout the body, you may have an easier time performing during workouts and may even faster recovery time (x).
Why are Beets Good for You?
Whether it is used for medicinal purposes or as an ingredient in a salad, beetroot has become one of the new “superfoods” on the market. While bodybuilders are gulping beetroot juice shots, chefs are striving to make the best purees and desserts out of the antioxidant-rich vegetable. But what does this mean?
What is a Superfood?
Broadly speaking, “superfood” is used as a general category for food items with high nutritional density. These foods supposedly have superior health benefits even when they are consumed in a limited quantity (x).
However, there is no scientific backing to support the idea of superfoods and regulatory systems do not officially recognize the term. There is also a lack of standard procedures to confirm whether something is a superfood because there are no official criteria that the classification is based on. In fact, some experts suggest that the term “superfood” is just a marketing technique promising maximum benefits in minimal calories. Scientifically speaking, it may be just that. The word first appeared in a Canadian newspaper that advertised a muffin to be a “superfood” (x).
Even though the term “superfood” does not really have an official place in nutrition, the food items within this category may still offer the benefits that the term suggests because they do have several beneficial properties and components. Berries, for example, contain vitamins and antioxidant capabilities and can also provide a few micronutrients, which may help maintain a healthy circulatory system. Are they super enough to stop a heart attack, for example? No. But they do contain some heart-healthy properties (x).
Nitric Oxide & Antioxidant Content
Research states that beets are a vegetable that contain high amounts of nitrates and nitric oxide, which are very beneficial to human health, specifically regarding circulation and heart health.
What is Nitrate?
Nitrate is a polyatomic ion of the form NO₃⁻ that acts as a free radical. That means it is an unstable molecule that requires an electron to reach a stable state. After it acquires an electron, the molecule spontaneously converts into a neutral oxide called nitric oxide, which has antioxidant effects (x).
What are Antioxidants?
Even though free radicals are a natural part of the human body, they can also cause damage and disease. To put it simply, when unstable molecules outnumber the stable ones, it puts oxidative stress on the body. That is where antioxidants may help. Antioxidants are molecules that have the ability to neutralize free radicals and protect against cell damage that can lead to chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, including beets (x).
Why is Nitric Oxide Important?
But just because nitric oxide has the potential to cause damage doesn’t make it any less important in the body. In humans, nitric oxide has a very important function in vasodilation, which essentially means that it contracts and relaxes the blood vessels, specifically the vascular muscles. Then the blood vessels can push blood through the veins more efficiently, maintaining healthy blood circulation in the body (x). In fact, if the body has a lack of nitric oxide for a prolonged period of time, it can increase the risk for several different diseases and disorders, such as heart disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction.
Most living organisms on the planet—including bacteria, plants, fungi and animal cells—seem to require nitric oxide. Even though the human body produces it naturally, some patients might still lack adequate amounts of nitric oxide. But luckily there are certain supplements that can help fill in the gaps if the body does not produce enough on its own (x).
Like we mentioned before, beets are often considered a “superfood” because the plant possesses a host of macronutrients and micronutrients that are essential to the human body. For this reason, people often eat beets as a food ingredient just for its nutritional content including:
Where to Buy Beetroot Powder Supplements
Now that you are aware of beetroot and its nutritious benefits, it’s time we talk business—using these benefits. While beetroot juice shots are pretty popular, beetroot powder as a supplement is another popular and available choice in the market. While you can choose to consume beets as a whole vegetable—boiled or roasted, for example—or as juice, many people opt for beetroot supplement powder. The powder is a great choice because of its neutral taste and it preserves maximum nutrients from the vegetable.
How Much Beetroot to Take in a Day
It is best to take a controlled amount of beetroot powder supplements to minimize the risk for unwanted side effects. Excessive doses may be harmful. Always consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen or before adding beetroot powder to an existing one. As a dietary supplement, the recommended dosage for beetroot powder is 3,500 to 7,000 mg per day. Your doctor must verify this of course.
What are the Side Effects of Beetroot Powder?
If you are wondering about beetroot side effects, you will be glad to know that there are almost no side effects of eating the vegetable itself. However, if you choose to take beetroot powder as a supplement, one thing to be cautious of is the quantity. Research states that eating beets and beetroot supplements in large quantities might be harmful or cause unwanted side effects. For example (x):
- Excessive beetroot intake may cause beeturia, which is when the patient passes pink or red urine. In a study on eight subjects that took beet supplements regularly, at least one of them experienced beeturia as a result (x).
- Studies indicate that beetroot might contribute to kidney stones (x).
- Patients with an allergy run the risk of anaphylaxis, which is a severe life-threatening allergic reaction.
- Excessive amounts of beets may also increase the risk for kidney damage and make kidney disease worse (x).
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Warnings
Beets may not be safe to use in large medicinal amounts during pregnancy. Pregnant women may experience methemoglobinemia due to natural increase in nitrate production (x). To be safe, it is best to avoid supplementary beets and stick to the vegetable itself during pregnancy to avoid complications.
While these symptoms and cases are uncommon, the risk is there nonetheless. The only way to avoid these side effects is to follow a doctor’s recommendations for serving sizes. Always consult a doctor before including any supplement in your diet, including beetroot.
Time to sum up our discussion.
Complete with vital nutrients, beets are considered a “superfood.” Rich in nitrate and a plethora of vitamins, beetroot has natural properties that may protect patients from the risk of health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and poor digestion. Athletes, gym enthusiasts and possibly any active person under the sun may benefit from beetroot. The science behind it is simple. The nitrate content in beets helps increase the amount of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, meaning it supports the flow of blood and oxygen in the body and thereby encourages energy formation.
However, there are certain issues that might arise with blind consumption, no matter how natural and organic your source is. Some of the risks of overeating beets include allergies and complications with pregnancy. You can avoid unwanted side effects by consulting a doctor for approval before starting a supplement course.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.