Inevitably the big decision came—the international games banned taking of performance enhancing drugs or doping in sports. Endurance athletes all around the world hunted for a natural food that helped boost their performance—food that contained high concentration of nitrates that enhanced vasodilation, or the capacity of blood vessels to dilate and heighten blood flow enabling the athletes to use oxygen more efficiently and achieve peak energy and stamina.
And among a number of nitrate-packed drinks, from citrus fruit juices, peanut butter banana smoothie to chocolate milk, the hunt zeroed in on an insignificant looking root-vegetable—the beetroot.
Olympic athletes started guzzling the beet juice as a sports drink. The world of endurance sports got caught up in this ‘blood-red frothy elixir’ fever. Paula Radcliffe, the six times world champion marathoner drank it, so did American race cycling legends, Taylor Phinney and Lance Armstrong.
The beet lived up to all the media hype. Researchers at St Louis University in America recruited 11 normally fit men and women and made them run five kilometres on a treadmill, two times. The participants were divided into two groups and prior to the test were given, as placebo, cranberries and beetroot to eat. The result showed that the group that ate beet ran faster and longer.
Other findings made by the Exeter University, UK in 2009 validated that drinking the beet juice regularly increased blood nitrate levels, the oxygen uptake going up by almost 16 per cent and the resting blood pressure going down significantly, thus, enabling a boost in stamina, energy and muscle strength.
An occasional food
For us, beet (also called table beet, garden beet, and red beet) has never been an everyday food. You must have tried it one time or another especially in dinner parties, tossed into a salad. You cautiously pick a piece or two (its eye-catching dark red colour lures you) not because you are familiar with its nutrient value, but just to kill your curiosity. Most likely, after trying a piece, you will just leave the rest on your plate. The reason is simple: it tastes funny. Some find its light sweet earthy taste awful, almost like dirt. In short, most hate it.
To make matters worse, this ruby coloured root vegetable is so overpoweringly red that it pushes its pigment virtually everywhere, your hands, tongue, dress and if you happen to gobble up a little too much—even into your pee, LOL! It can scare the daylights out of you, believing you are bleeding internally!
Why eat it, then? Because, it is rich in antioxidants, essential vitamins, minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin B, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium and can help you by a mile. Let’s take a look at the chock-full of benefits that can be tapped from this not-so-popular root veggie. Between vegetables, high in nitrates, such as carrots, spinach and radish, beetroot packs the biggest punch.
Better for your blood pressure
Based on a 10-year study on the effect of nitrates on human bodies, doctors at Bart’s and London Hospital made a claim that beetroot can be as successful as clinical drugs in reducing blood pressure. The high level of dietary nitrites in beetroot after ingestion in our body convert into nitric oxide, a compound that helps relax and dilate blood vessels enabling better oxygen-rich blood and apparently efficient circulation.
Further studies made on a group led to findings like consuming a glass of beet juice a day lowered BP reading by 7.7/5.2mmHg, surprisingly better than some clinical drugs prescribed for hypertension. Hundred grams of baked or grated raw beetroot has almost a similar effect.
Improves cardiovascular health
Research made by medical scientists have led to the fact that the fibre content in beetroot helps to bring down triglyceride and LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) levels. Both of these complications invite heart-related problems.
A plant alkaloid called betaine and folate found in beetroots safeguard the arteries from hardening and blocking, preventing homocysteine levels to rise to dangerous levels. High homocysteine concentration in our bodies is the main cause of cardio-disease, heart attacks and strokes. The beets also contain potassium which works as vasodilator and relaxes the blood vessels significantly minimising blood clots and as a result help prevent both heart attack and stroke.
Boosts brain capability
As we age, our bodies generate less nitric oxide, so significant for the brain to function efficiently. Likewise, the brain’s energy metabolism and neuron activity is subjected to a marked slowdown. High in nitrate, regular intake of beetroot produces enough nitric oxide in our bodies to cover this loss enabling us to achieve such skills as better focus, organisation and attention to detail.
Wards off certain cancers
Research and studies carried out at the Howard University, Washington DC, USA, have revealed that regular intake of beetroots can help stave off cancers of the lungs, skin and colon. In the case of breast and prostate cancer patients, the betacyanin content in the beets slows down the growth of tumours by as much as 12.5 per cent. Doctors even advise eating beets, both for treatment of such cancer patients and for cancer survivors to remain cancer-free longer.
Keeps your blood sugar under check
Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Diabetics undergo a painful experience restricted as they are to a strict no-sugar diet. The natural sweetness of beets can satisfy the sugar craving of diabetics. As a medium glycemic index vegetable, when consumed it releases its natural sugar gradually into the blood stream and does no harm.
On the other hand, its low calorie content, fat free property and the presence of compounds called betalain and betanin, all help to lower blood glucose levels and boost insulin sensitivity. So, fellow diabetics, you are free and safe to eat beet or beet juice—of course, in moderation.
The Nature’s Viagra
That’s what science-backed research says today. Even history has it that the Romans sipped beet juice as an aphrodisiac. “Evidence of beets’ aphrodisiac power can be found as far back as the sensually provocative murals on the ruins of Pompeii,” writes Amy Reiley, food and wine authority, and fourth generation publisher.
Clinically, the high concentration of nitrates in beets produce nitric oxide that help blood vessels to dilate and boost blood flow to the genitals—something the modern drugs like Viagra try to reproduce. The presence of mineral boron in beets further boosts the production of sexual hormones and stimulates libido. Backed by scientific findings, claims have been made that drinking a daily glass of beet juice can exceptionally help with your ED or Erectile Dysfunction problem and revive your moments of morning woods.
Detox for your body
Our livers perform the drudgery of detoxifying or ridding of toxins which build up in our bodies over time. The betaine in beetroots helps the liver to make light work of detoxifying our bodies of unwanted toxic deposits.
Eat the greens too
More often than not, when you visit the Kathmandu veg marts, you notice beets minus the leaves. Always try buying the beets with the green leaves intact. The beet greens pack vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Amazing as it may sound, the leafy beet greens contain more iron than spinach. Cooking is no chore, just prepare it like any other leafy greens or mix with the others.
Apart from the above, it boosts your immune system, remedies digestive disorders and such cleansing may even help prevent and reduce fat deposit in the liver and provide relief from allergies.
The healthy benefits of beets do not end here. They help several other problems such as, anaemia, fatigue, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, chronic constipation—the list seems never to end!
A word of caution
“Beets contain oxalates, which when in excess, can cause body fluid to crystallise. So people with kidney or gallbladder problems should avoid beetroots”.
How to eat
Simple! Just remove the skin, slice it, or add it to a salad or a soup, or simply eat it raw. If you wish to make it a little savoury to your palate, boil it until it is quarter done and then pickle it with vinegar or vinaigrette.
For athletes and sportsmen—just try this simple and quick recipe:
*4 red beets (raw)
*1 thumb of ginger
*1 medium apple (optional)
Blend the above in a blender with a little water, strain and then drink it. You may beat your rival, but you just can’t beat the beet!