From borscht soup to grilled vegetable kebabs to vegan cupcakes, beets are increasingly appearing on the menus of fine restaurants and in recipes on foodie websites. There are several varieties of beets, ranging in hues from white to yellow to red. Packed with dietary fiber, folate, potassium and manganese, red beets rate high on the list of healthy foods. But before you search for a red beet recipe, be aware that they can leave behind a surprise in your toilet bowl -- a red color to your stool that might resemble blood.
Beets and Your Stool
Red beets contain a chemical called betacyanin that gives them deep purple color. Although most foods are chemically altered by the digestive process in such a way that they lose their coloration, betacyanin breakdown is variable. Factors that influence whether betacyanin passes through your digestive system intact include the acid content of your stomach and the nutrients in other foods eaten along with red beets. So you may or may not notice a red tinge to your stool after eating red beets. People who do experience reddish stool after eating red beets also typically have pink to red urine, which is sometimes known as "beeturia." The presence of betacyanin in your stool and urine is harmless -- but it is important to distinguish redness due to eating beets from blood in the stool.
Blood in the Stool
Blood in the stool is an important finding that should never be ignored. In many cases, however, blood in the stool actually causes it to be tar colored rather than red. This is because blood from the upper part of the digestive system -- including the esophagus, stomach and small intestine -- is altered as it passes through, causing it to lose its red color. Red or maroon blood in the stool is typically from the lower digestive tract, including the colon and rectum. Hemorrhoids are a common cause. However more serious problems are also a concern, including colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulitis.
Beets or Blood?
If you're otherwise feeling well, noticing reddish stool and urine a day or two after eating red beets is likely harmless and due to betacyanin. A pinkish to purple tint to the toilet water instead of a true red is a tip-off that the reddish coloration of your stool is due to the beets rather than blood. If you made the beets yourself, the color in the toilet bowl will resemble what you saw on your knife when you cut the beets. However, if there is any doubt about whether you have blood in your stool, contact your doctor.
Next Steps and Cautionary Notes
If you experience unexplained reddish discoloration of your stool, make an appointment to see your doctor. There are several tests available to determine whether there is actually blood in your stool. You might be advised to avoid eating beets for 2 to 3 days before the test as some enzymes found in beets -- not the red beet pigment -- can interfere with certain stool blood tests.
Seek medical help right away if you suspect you're passing blood in your stool and experience any other warning symptoms, including:
-- fever or chills
-- nausea and vomiting
-- severe or worsening abdominal pain
-- dizziness or fainting
-- paleness, weakness or fatigue
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.