Beets are "the most underappreciated food in the history of eating," according to Carolyn Pierini, a nutrition consultant at the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) meeting in Hollywood, Fla., last month. Beets have been used as a food source for centuries because they can be grown most of the year in a variety of climates and stored for some time.
Today beets are recognized as a super food, and beet powder is an active ingredient in nutritional supplements. In the book The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution, authors Nathan Bryan and Janet Zand report that beets have the ability to boost stamina, improve cognition and support heart health. They include recipes that contain beets in a three-day meal plan designed for people who want to exercise longer with less effort.
During the A4M conference I could measure how many beet meals I needed by using saliva strips that tracked my nitric oxide levels. A lozenge made from beetroot, hawthorn berry and other botanicals helped raise the NO levels in my saliva from low to normal, but I decided that eating beetroot, arugula, spinach, kohlrabi, endive and parsley is a more tasty way to do this.
Beetroot nitrate is the source of nitric oxide, which penetrates cell membranes sending signals to every cell in the body. Research demonstrates that NO gets blood flowing and makes platelets less sticky. In addition, brain cells communicate better mood and neurological function. Studies reported in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association, found that drinking a cup of beetroot juice daily significantly lowered blood pressure among patients with high blood pressure.
Nitric oxide, the master regulator of blood flow, which affects every organ and tissue in the body, has been the subject of more than 130,000 published scientific papers since its discovery in the 1980s by three scientists who were later awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
A plant-based diet of fruits and vegetables delivers nitrates into the body, which bacteria then convert to nitrite. Beets are an amazing source of concentrated nitrate.
Beet benefits also are found in the compound betaine, mainly from pigments in the beetroot. Because cooking beets in water results in some betaine loss, roasting them in the oven is a healthier way to preserve their nutritional benefits. Peeling and slicing them without cooking is popular with raw food advocates. The accompanying salad recipe is delightful with cooked, roasted or raw beetroots.
Betty Wedman-St Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at betty-wedman-stlouis.com.