Beets may not be the most popular vegetable, but they can’t be “beet” for good health. Beets are rich in nitrate—a compound found naturally in plants that can lower your blood pressure. A recent study in rats found that beetroot juice prevented the blood pressure-raising effects of eating too much salt. This research has big implications for human health.
As many as 24 million people living in the U.S. control their blood pressure through lifestyle modifications, such as exercise and a heart-healthy diet. Modifications like this are needed now more than ever. Around one in two adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Adults living in the U.S. consume too much sodium. Because about 70% of sodium intake comes from restaurant meals and prepackaged and processed food, we collectively struggle to reduce our salt intake. However, beetroot supplements—powders or pre-made juices—are easily available online for those without a sweet tooth for whole beets.
We know that beetroot juice reduces blood pressure in people. Studies also show that beetroot juice can improve our gut microbiome and increases the production of cardioprotective short-chain fatty acids. Considering that dietary salt raises blood pressure, in part, by affecting our gut, beetroot supplementation may be a great place to start to counter these effects.
You may wonder how exactly consuming nitrate helps protect us from salt-induced increases in blood pressure. Special bacteria in the mouth can break down nitrate into nitrite. You may recognize the word “nitrite” from cured meats, which are bad for your health because of the curing process that uses problematic nitrite compounds. But one cup of beets has about 200 milligrams of natural, healthy nitrate that gets turned into nitrite, which in turn plays an important role in producing nitric oxide, a potent blood vessel relaxer. In addition to nitrate, beetroot juice has other good stuff (compounds such as phytochemicals, flavonoids and polyphenols) that can help your blood pressure. Looking forward, I’m excited to learn about research on beetroot supplements for preventing the negative effects of high dietary sodium in humans. Until then, don’t drop the beet.
Joseph C. Watso, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology at Florida State University. Watso is interested in studying the role of lifestyle factors to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.