Vegetables are a crucial part of a healthy diet, and beets are no exception — but can they really lower your cholesterol, as some say? Before adding them to your diet, learn about the relationship between beets and cholesterol, the benefits of beets and any potential downsides.
Foods That Lower Cholesterol
Beets are a type of root vegetable known for their distinctive color and flavor. You can eat them raw or cooked, and they're a great source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folic acid and potassium, according to the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit in Ontario, Canada. But that's not all.
"Some studies have shown that having beetroot juice lowers the bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises the good cholesterol (HDL)," says Guy L. Mintz, MD, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.
Beets are one of several foods Dr. Mintz says you can consume for cholesterol benefits. Other common foods that he says can lower your cholesterol include oats, beans and other legumes, foods high in soluble fiber, fatty fishes and nuts (including almonds and walnuts — but make sure the nuts are not roasted in coconut oil and other hydrogenated oils, which are high in saturated fatty acids).
Read more: Why Are Beets Good for You?
To lower cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends reducing your intake of trans and saturated fats. Per the AHA, consuming trans fats actually increases your bad and lowers your good cholesterol.
As such, the AHA recommends limiting saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of your total daily calories and avoiding trans fat altogether — which means keeping red meat and dairy products, as well as fried foods, to a minimum and cooking with healthy oils like naturally unhydrogenated vegetable oil.
If your cholesterol levels remain high despite positive lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe statins, which, the Mayo Clinic explains, are medications that work to reduce your cholesterol by blocking a material your body requires to make cholesterol.
Beets, the Good and the Bad
It's important to keep in mind that beets have a relatively high sugar content, says Benjamin Hirsh, MD, director of preventive cardiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York. He says the amount is "similar to the amount of sugar found in a cup of strawberries."
Another consequence of consuming beets can be a condition called beeturia, which is discolored urine — typically ranging from pink to deep red — caused by eating beets or other foods colored with beetroot, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This occurs in 10 to 14 percent of the population, with increased prevalence in people afflicted with iron deficiency or malabsorption, the center says.
Read more: What Are the Side Effects of Eating Beets?
Aside from their role in lowering cholesterol, beets do have other potential benefits, according to Northwestern Medicine. For one, the peels and flesh of beets contain betalains, which are the plant-based nutrients that give the vegetable its color. Studies have demonstrated an association between betalains and a reduced risk for cancer. Betalains also aid the body's natural detoxification processes.
Northwestern Medicine also cites additional benefits from ingredients in beets. For example:
- Silica (a mineral) aids your body in its use of calcium, which is good for your bone strength and helps to prevent osteoporosis.
- Folic acid aids with cell growth in pregnant women.
- The compound betaine combats inflammation and helps protect your liver from disease by stimulating the function of liver cells.
- Betaine and tryptophan help put your mind at ease and contribute to a sense of well-being.
- Potassium can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for stroke and heart disease.
- Nitrates can also lower your blood pressure, and contribute to properly functioning muscles for increased energy and stamina.
And, according to Dr. Hirsh, there's preliminary research showing that beet juice can contribute to improving your brain's vascular health, which may, in turn, lead to improving your cognitive function. However, note that cooking beets can result in a loss of nutrients, notes Northwestern Medicine, so you should avoid cooking them for longer than 15 minutes.
- Guy L. Mintz, MD, director, cardiovascular health and lipidology, Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, New York
- Benjamin Hirsh, MD, director, preventive cardiology, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, New York
- Northwestern Medicine: “Drop the Beet on Your Diet”
- American Heart Association: “Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia)”
- American Heart Association: “The Skinny on Fats”
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit: “What Are Beets?”
- Mayo Clinic: “Statins: Are These Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Right for You?”
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Beeturia"