Surprising Health Benefits of Beets

By: Lainey Younkin, M.S., R.D.

The health benefits of beets range from lower blood pressure to improved athletic performance. Plus, learn about beet nutrition and find out the healthiest way to eat beets—juiced, raw or cooked?

Featured Recipe: Roasted Beet Salad

Beets boast a range of health benefits, and there's a variety of ways to enjoy them. With only 58 calories in a cup, beets are chock-full of folate, fiber and potassium. One cup delivers 4 grams of fiber, mostly the insoluble type that keeps things moving in your digestive system. Here, all the healthy reasons to make sure you save space on your plate for this ruby-red root veg (learn all about how to cook beets here). 

Try These: Healthy Beet Recipes

Beets can lower blood pressure

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Featured Recipe: Sheet-Pan Shrimp & Beets

Beets can improve cardiovascular health, decrease inflammation and lower blood pressure.

"Beets contain high levels of natural nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide within the arteries," says Stacy Mitchell Doyle, M.D., founder of FoodTherapyMD.com. "This causes the blood vessels in the heart and organs to dilate, which lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow."

A small 2018 study found that drinking a concentrated beetroot juice was more effective at lowering blood pressure than a non-concentrated beet juice, beetroot pancakes or beetroot crystal supplements. Systolic blood pressure (the top number) came down an average of five points in the group who drank the concentrated beet juice. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Beets can boost athletic performance

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Featured recipe: Ginger-Beet Juice

Beets improve endurance too. "Beets—and specifically beetroot juice—can be a secret weapon for athletes," says Chrissy Carroll, RD, a USAT Level I Triathlon Coach and blogger at Snacking in Sneakers. This benefit is also due to the beets' nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide and act as a vasodilator.

"In other words, the nitric oxide opens up your blood vessels and lets the blood and oxygen flow through more easily," Carroll says. The result for you? An extra edge to beat out (pun intended!) the competition.

In two studies, men who drank beetroot juice had improved cycling time trials. And a 2017 study in Nutrients found that when 32 male soccer players drank beetroot juice for six days, they had improved performance in a series of repeated sprints.

"For peak performance, try swigging down some beetroot juice or including some sliced beets in your breakfast about 90 minutes before your next long run or ride," says Carroll, "Of course, try this during training, prior to testing it out in any race."

More studies are needed since most have only studied men, not all sports have been studied and the effects on short- versus long-distance and high- versus low-intensity exercise are still unknown.

Read More: 6 Ways to Exercise Without Even Knowing It

Beets fight inflammation

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Featured Recipe: Greens & Roots Salad with Citrus-Walnut Vinaigrette

Beets are high in betalains, a group of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Betalains include betacyanins, which give beets their dark red and purple color, and betaxanthins, which are yellow (hence the golden beets that sometimes show up on a salad at a restaurant). Betalains decrease inflammation that could otherwise increase your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

"The phytonutrients in beets are also amazing for decreasing inflammation in the liver and kidneys, and facilitating the detoxification of these organs by increasing the production of glutathione, which is the body's natural detox mechanism," says Doyle.

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What's the healthiest way to eat beets?

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Featured Recipe: Beet Larb with Quinoa

Both eating beets and drinking beet juice will give you anti-inflammatory betalains and other phytonutrients. If you're looking to enhance athletic performance, drink up. Juicing beets delivers a concentrated dose of nitrates, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The problem is, you lose the fiber. That's not necessarily bad news if you're about to run a race. However, most Americans don't get enough fiber, and beets are a good source of the insoluble type, which keeps you full longer than beet juice and helps keep you regular (get our list of top high-fiber foods).

Raw beets contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than cooked beets. Like many vegetables, the longer you cook beets (especially in water), the more of the colorful phytonutrients leach out of the food and into the water. Retain the good-for-you nutrients in beets by roasting them or sautéing them instead. Or lightly steam them for just a few minutes, says Doyle.

If your urine turns purple after eating or drinking beets, don't worry. This is normal and actually has a name—beeturia.

Read More: How to Roast, Pickle and Steam Beets

Healthy ways to add beets to your diet

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Featured Recipe: Roasted Beet Hummus

Gone are the days of only eating beets from a can or salad bar. Now you can find beets spiralized (or spiralize them yourself), pre-steamed or cooked in the produce section, and in liquid form at your favorite juice bar. Fun fact: you can also eat beet leaves (aka beet greens).

Beet chips and pickled beets are gaining popularity too. Pickled beets can be healthy too, as long as they aren't loaded with salt and sugar in the pickling process. Here's a quick and easy pickled beet recipe sure to add flavor and variety to dinner.

Bottom line: You can't beat beets! Add these nutrition powerhouses to your diet for a plethora of health benefits, from improved endurance and lower blood pressure, to decreased inflammation and regularity.

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