Nutrition 101: Is Beet Juice the Next Super Food?

By , SparkPeople Blogger

When I saw a new report last week about the benefits of beet juice, I thought it was worth looking into further. It was only after I did a little more investigating that I discovered, beet juice just might become the next marketing focus right behind pomegranates as a potential super food you should be including in your diet.

As we continue to look at some nutrition basics in our ongoing Nutrition 101 series, let’s look at beets and see whether the benefits are real or nothing more than propaganda and if this is a super food worthy of marketing hype.

Beet juice contains a high level of nitrates, which are believed to have a variety of cardiovascular benefits such as inhibiting platelet aggregation, preventing ischemia-induced endothelial dysfunction, and decreasing blood pressure. A study published last year conducted by researchers at Barts and the London School of Medicine found that drinking 500 ml (a little over 2 cups) of beet juice a day can significantly decrease blood pressure. The research found that the benefit came from the ingestion of dietary nitrates that are contained in the beet. Now new British study has found that beet juice can help individuals exercise sixteen percent longer by increasing stamina. This can be a potentially wonderful benefit if your exercise of choice is endurance in nature.

Before you begin to order beet juice online or run to your natural health food store and pay top dollar for this new super food, there are a few points that you should keep in mind. It is important to note that the blood pressure benefits were found in healthy volunteers and NOT in individuals that suffer from hypertension. It seems unclear if the same benefits would be found in those individuals since there are many unanswered questions related to why hypertension affects some and not others. It is also important to note that the conversion of nitrates to nitrites and the roll of saliva, stomach acid and absorption which seemed to be important in the outcome are also all rate limiting steps that could affect how beneficial or applicable this research finding is to those suffering from high blood pressure.

We know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can be beneficial to lowering blood pressure. Some believed that the reason they were helpful was their antioxidant properties while other researchers were unsure what exactly was responsible for their benefit. While it is exciting to think that nitrates may be a contributing factor, it is important not to jump in with both feet without looking a little deeper.

Vegetable nitrates are naturally occurring and present in small amounts and some are naturally higher in them than others are. The vegetables that tend to be naturally rich in nitrates include not only beets but also spinach, cabbage, broccoli and carrots. Whether vegetables grow conventionally or organically does not seem to matter when it comes to nitrate levels since the food does not discriminate between compost and chemical fertilizers. It is important to note that babies under the age of 3 months should NOT receive nitrate rich vegetables or fruits. This is one reason for the recommendation to wait until babies are over four months of age before starting solids. Also, babies should not receive drinking water or formula made with well water since it typically contains high levels of nitrates from ground water runoff. The risk for infants from high nitrate levels is there conversion to nitrites which can decrease the ability of the blood to transport oxygen which could be life threatening in some situations. Babies between 4 months and one year should receive a variety of solid foods and servings of nitrate rich vegetables should be limited in size and frequency.

The Bottom Line
Including vegetables and fresh vegetable juice is an important part of any healthy diet. While new research findings suggest that drinking fresh beet juice can increase exercise stamina and may have cardiovascular benefits, be aware of the potential for marketing hype and inflated prices for vegetable juice. Instead of buying over priced hype, try investing in a juicer and coming up with a nitrate and vitamin rich drink from fresh carrots, broccoli, spinach, cabbage or beets in a taste combination that you can include as part of an overall healthy diet. Enjoy your new drink at different times of the day and take note if you personally see a benefit in your performance, recovery or blood pressure before you succumb to the marketing or labels from those that seek to make a buck from your interest in improving performance, blood pressure or health.

Have you heard of beet juice or any of its potential benefits? Have you seen it anywhere or been tempted to purchase it?