What are the health benefits of beets? The extensive list includes positive impacts on:
- blood pressure and vascular function
- controlling diabetes and insulin homeostasis
- kidney dysfunction
and an increase in a healthy microbiome.
But answering the question, “What are the health benefits of beets?” isn’t enough. I want to understand why beets are healthy.
And the answers begin at a sub-cellular level.
Each of our cells contains tiny engines called mitochondria. They’re also known as cellular powerhouses or energy factories.
Mitochondria produce ATP energy from raw ingredients they extract from our food. We call the production process cellular respiration. However, one ingredient, in particular, enhances our mitochondrial function.
Beets are a high-nitrate food. Our bodies convert the nitrates into nitric oxide, which enters our mitochondria and gives them a boost.
The double-blind crossover trial Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans explains the mechanics behind this improvement: mitochondrial intake of nitrates reduces proton leakage.
Positive effects of healthier mitochondria ripple throughout our bodies. They even affect our athletic performance.
What Are the Health Benefits of Beets for Athletes?
The crossover trial authors noted that improved mitochondrial function correlated with reduced “oxygen cost” during exercise.
How much of a reduction.
It found that “those who consumed the beet juice” used 19 percent less oxygen than those drinking a beet-colored placebo.
Surprisingly, instead of slowing down due to their lower oxygen intake, the beet-juice drinkers were faster than the competition. When biking at the highest speeds, their time to exhaustion increased from 9 minutes and 43 seconds to 11 minutes and 15 seconds.
That’s a more than 15-percent increase, using 19 percent less oxygen!
Multiple studies show more endurance in runners or cyclists with beet juice in their system. One found that those who consumed it had faster sprint times and improved cognitive performance.
What Are the Health Benefits of Beets for Our Brains?
This study makes sense when considering that our brain requires 20% of the oxygen in our bodies.
In a randomized controlled, double-blind placebo-controlled trial on beetroot juice’s impact on the brain, Wake Forest University researchers divided 26 individuals aged an average of 65 years into two groups.
Both groups exercised three times weekly for six weeks. One downed a placebo beet-colored drink beforehand, and the other drank actual beet juice.
The real beet-juice group showed a remarkable increase in neuroplasticity, their brains’ ability to form and reorganized new neural connections.
The image provided in the study showed the brains of those consuming beetroot juice (BRJ) lighting up. The researchers concluded that their brain connections more closely resembled “those of younger adults.”
In yet another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 40 healthy adults consumed about two cups of beet juice or a placebo. They then took a test measuring improvements in cognitive performance.
The beet juice group answered an average of 47 questions correctly, or 4 more than the placebo group. The results suggested that a single dose of dietary nitrate “can modify brain function.”
Through the improvement of the “efficiency of cellular metabolism” or through “exaggerated neuromuscular response.” Nitric-oxide-producing beets directly impact both these factors.
And a post asking, “What are the health benefits of beets?” wouldn’t be complete without a look at how nitrate oxide impacts our circulatory system.
The inner linings of our arteries, veins, and capillaries make up the vascular endothelium. Nitric oxide relaxes the endothelium, allowing our blood to flow more smoothly.
In other words, a more pliable endothelium leads to better blood pressure and vascular function. More on this benefit in a future post!