By Cat, Nov 1 ,2015 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons; photo below from Wikimedia Commons)
- See also: 1. Beet Kvass (fermented beet beverage); 2. Raw Beet Juice. 3. How to Cook Beets; 4.Basic Braised Greens (About) (includes beet and chard greens); 5. Pickled Beets; 6. What to do with beets, a nutrition powerhouse
- See also (other sites): 1. my article on The EssentiaList (a sustainability blog): Health Benefits of Beet Juice & Beet Kvass; 2. Health Benefits of Beets (Mercola (2a); How to grow Beets (Mercola (2b))
Beets and chard are closely related; beets are grown primarily for their root (although their leaves are also important nutritionally), while chard is grown primarily for the leaves which, like beet leaves, can be used in much the same way as spinach. Juiced beetroot is a major component of the raw juices used for a detox juice fast, but it has other health benefits as well.
Health Benefits of Beets and Chard
Many people warn against beets because, like carrots and parsnips, they are a high-sugar veggie. But I believe that consuming these sugars in the complex form found in root veggies does not have the same impact on insulin and blood sugar levels as eating sugary candies or desserts.
See also The Art of Aging article on the Health Benefits of Beets (6). The benefits listed in that article are in addition to those below.
Detox and Liver health
Juiced beetroot is a major component of the raw juices used for a detox juice fast. Beets contain a precursor to glutathione, the prime detox agent in the liver that works to rid the body of toxins that can cause many serious health problems, including colon cancer.
Beet greens/chard can also be an ingredient in a raw veggie juice, to support detox.
Improving insulin sensitivity
Beets have also been observed to lower blood sugar levels (improve insulin sensitivity), making them an important food for diabetics and pre-diabetics. This is the primary reason I eat beets every day, added raw to my morning smoothie, and simmered or roasted as a veggie-side on my dinner plate.
Lowering blood pressure
The ‘secret’ ingredient in beetroot pertinent to blood pressure is nitrates, that convert to nitric oxide (NO) when absorbed into the blood stream. Nitric oxide is what saves the life of people who take nitro-glycerine at the first sign of angina or chest-pain that could signal a heart attack, because the nitro-glucerine converts to nitric oxide
Don’t let the concern that nitrites can be cancer causing (they are added preservatives in lunch meats, hot dogs, etc.) put you off from drinking/eating beets, because:
- nitrites are not the same as nitrates (tho they can inter-covert);
- nitrates in whole food like beets are not the same as those added to hot dogs; that is, they don’t behave in the same way when consumed.
Nitric Oxide (NO) action in the body:
- dilates and relaxes blood vessels,
- increases blood flow,
- stops the adhesion of white blood cells to the lining of blood vessels,
- stops the migration of smooth muscle cells to the sites of atherosclerotic lesions (plaque-forming injuries), and
- decreases the tendency of the blood to clot.
The dilation and relaxation of blood vessels is the nitrate effect that lowers blood pressure. Think of it as enlarging the diameter of pipes, allowing more liquid to flow.
Most of the NO in the body comes from the metabolism of proteins, but certain foods (like beets) can also provide it from the diet.
There has been a lot of research on this effect of beets; drinking beet juice (from beet-root) can lower blood pressure within 3 hours of drinking it, and the effects can last for 24 hours (3). How can it work so quickly?
Proponents of juicing believe that consuming raw foods as juice bypasses the need for the food to be digested before absorption, so the beneficial effect happens faster.
Boost your stamina, especially for exercise
Drinking fresh, raw beet juice prior to exercise boosts your strength and stamina to exercise longer (put to 16% longer, according to Mercola (2). This benefit is thought to be related to nitrates turning into nitric oxide (see ‘Beets for lowering blood pressure’ section, above).
Fight inflammation and cancer
Betaine, a key component in beetroot (from which it gets its name) “helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress. It’s also known to help fight inflammation, protect internal organs, improve vascular risk factors, enhance performance, and likely help prevent numerous chronic diseases.” This ‘magic’ is attributed to “lower levels of several inflammatory markers, including C reactive protein [CRP], interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha. (2)
The carotenes that give beetroot its deep crimson color may behind its cancer-fighting qualities, especially human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. (2)
Other nutritional benefits of beet-root:
The ruby-red color of beets (beet-root) is the first clue of their antioxidant benefit; even yellow and orange beets have antioxidant benefits. The red-yellow color range in foods indicates the presence of different carotenes, of which vitamin A is the most well-known.
In addition to carotenes and nitrates, beet-root is also rich in (1):
- fiber (a type that is especially beneficial for the digestive tract and is believed to help prevent colon cancer, and support the cardiovascular system) (1)
- folate (a B-vitamin)
- vitamin C
Beets have also been observed to lower blood sugar levels (improve insulin sensitivity), making them an important food for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
Benefits of beet greens and chard
Beet greens and chard, like other dark green veggies, are rich in minerals which can help keep your bones strong (and ward off osteoporosis). However, to obtain this benefit, the beet/chard greens should be lightly braised, allowing the fats in olive oil along with added moisture to make the minerals bio-available.
These greens also (2):
- Fight Alzheimer’s disease; and
- Strengthen your immune system by stimulating the production of antibodies and white blood cells
Ways to consume beets
My favorite way to consume beetroot is to simmer or roast them whole; for beet greens and chard I prefer to braise them, but I also add them raw to my morning smoothie. Young beet/chard leaves can be added raw to salads.
Freshly juiced raw beets provide the maximum health benefits inherent in beets, but fermenting the beet juice (Beet Kvass) not only provides these same benefits but also provides the benefits of lacto-fermentation, provided the kvass is not pasteurized.
Similarly, lacto-fermentation of whole raw beets (Pickled Beets) provides the added benefit of lacto-fermentation – even if the beets are lightly cooked before fermenting.
- Mercola: (a) Health Benefits of Beets; (b) How to grow Beets
- Pub Med: article by L. Coles in Nutrition Journal: Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
- The Best of Raw Food: Benefits of Beet Juice (thebestofrawfood.com/benefits-of-beet-juice.html)
- Blood Pressure Solution on the full-width test
- Art of Aging: Health Benefits of Beets