Toss beets in salads, drink them in your green juice, or turn ’em into hummus. You can do more than just roast these root vegetables, and you’re going to want to get creative with them when you discover their many health-boosting properties.
“From helping to reduce blood pressure and increase oxygen to providing a generous dose of antioxidants, there are quite a few reasons to include beets in your diet,” says Jenna Volpe, RDN, who’s based in Austin, Texas.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw beets pack a nutritional punch. They’re a rich source of fiber, manganese, copper, and folate. Beets even offer a surprising amount of protein while being naturally low in fat and free of cholesterol.
Beets are available all year long, but they're best when they’re in season during summer, fall, and winter in the United States, according to the USDA. You can keep them on hand at all times by buying frozen or canned beets — just be mindful of added sugar and salt. Between the varieties of beets, ways to purchase and store them, and endless preparation methods, you’ll never run out of ideas. And that’s a good thing considering the following seven health benefits, which will have you running to the grocery store or farmers market.
“Beets have the impressive ability to widen blood vessels and enhance blood flow, which helps lower blood pressure,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD, who is in private practice in New York City. She notes that elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for two of the leading causes of death — heart attack and stroke.
The substance responsible for the blood-pressure-lowering effect of beets is nitrates, which could reduce blood pressure and significantly decrease the risk of cardiovascular events, according to a review in the December 2018 Biomolecules. Nitrates are naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, including beets, but they’re also sometimes used as food additives in meats and cheeses. While the nitrates found in plant-based foods are thought to be harmless, and are the primary source of nitrates in the typical diet, those from food additives may be associated with certain types of cancer, according to research published in March 2020 in Antioxidants.
Dietary fiber is an important but often overlooked marker of gut and overall health. On average, Americans eat 10 to 15 grams (g) of fiber per day — a fraction of the recommended amount of 21 to 38 per day, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
“Beets support a healthy gut microbiome — the collection of bacteria in your gut that helps regulate inflammation, immune function, mood, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels,” Cassetty explains. The human gastrointestinal tract is one of the most complex ecosystems, and dietary fiber can have a major impact on the diversity and richness of the gut microbiome. Upping your fiber intake allows gut bacteria to expand their populations in the gut, per a review published in May 2021 in Nutrients.
The USDA measures about 3.8 g of fiber per cup of beets. Try fermented beets for extra probiotics and beneficial gut bacteria. Fermented foods, like pickled beets, contribute to the diversity of your gut bacteria, supporting gut health and digestion, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
You may want to swap your sports drink for beetroot juice before your next workout. Nitrate supplementation via beetroot juice can increase the performance of resistance training and increase workout intensity, according to a review published in May 2021 in Frontiers in Nutrition.
“Nitrates in beetroot juice increase blood flow and allow more oxygen to get to your muscles, which may boost endurance and allow you to work out for longer,” says Cassetty. “Beetroot juice can lead to athletic performance benefits like reaching a certain distance faster and recovering in less time.”
A nitrate-rich diet may offer some protection against neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia. In a small trial, published in Nutrients in July 2019, consumption of nitrate-rich beetroot juice was linked to enhanced cognition in both younger and older adults, though more rigorous studies are needed.
“Beets enhance cognition by increasing nitric oxide (the bioactive form of nitrate) levels in the blood,” Volpe says, noting that this improves oxygen flow to the brain. As you age, a sharp brain becomes even more important.
Betalains are the pigments that give beets their vibrant red color. According to the Cleveland Clinic, beets’ high concentration of betalains possess anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce inflammation throughout your whole body and soothe joint pain. Chronic inflammation is considered a silent killer, linked to diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, per Harvard Health Publishing.
A review in Human Nutrition and Metabolism in September 2021 noted that beetroot is the main source of betalains, which are involved in the pathways of the body’s inflammatory process. Researchers have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity of betalains in people with osteoarthritis.
Your liver is one of your most important organs, but the rates of liver diseases are on the rise. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) estimates that 24 percent of U.S. adults have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition caused by excess fat in the liver. Though people with NAFLD can live normal lives, it can increase the risk of liver cancer and liver failure. A healthy lifestyle — namely one that involves eating beets — may help.
Beets contain the active compound betaine, which may be responsible for the vegetable’s antioxidant properties and positive effects on liver markers in people with NAFLD, according to an article published in November 2019 in Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science.
“Antioxidants in beets help prevent the development and growth of cancer at the cellular level,” explains Volpe. “They’re one of the only vegetable sources of antioxidant-rich betalains and anthocyanins, which protect cells from oxidative damage.” Oxidative damage is caused by an imbalance of oxidants and antioxidants, according to a review published in December 2018 in Frontiers in Physiology. The ensuing oxidative stress can be an underlying contributing factor to disease.
Beets are a rich source of polyphenols, flavonoids, and the aforementioned dietary nitrates, all of which support its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer capacities, according to a review in a 2021 issue of the Journal of Cancer Prevention. An antioxidant-rich diet, such as one involving beets, may protect cells from oxidative stress, which may contribute to cancer prevention, per the National Cancer Institute.