Adding beets to your diet can not only brighten up your dinner plate, but it can also improve your health. Because of their earthy flavor, which some describe as "dirt-like," beets can be an acquired taste. If you're "team beet," though, you'll enjoy the many health benefits of beets — but they do come with a few side effects.
Beets are rich in nutrients and most side effects benefit your health, from protection against oxidative damage to lower blood pressure. However, beets can cause your urine or stool to change color, which isn't harmful, and you may want to take caution with beets if you have oxalate kidney stones.
Nutrients in Beets
The most commonly grown beets (also known as beetroot) are a vibrant red or purple color, but some varieties can be yellow or have red and white stripes on the inside. Their deep colors come from pigments called betalains, and those colors are a clue that this root vegetable is packed with powerful phytonutrients. Beets provide a range of vitamins, minerals and fiber, in addition to disease-protecting phytochemicals.
One cup of cooked beets provides about 3 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbs and 3.4 grams of fiber. They're especially rich in folate, as well as the minerals copper, manganese and potassium. Beet greens are also edible and a good source of the antioxidant vitamins C and beta carotene, as well as vitamin K, which is essential for healthy blood clotting.
The biggest nutritional bonus of beetroot comes from their betalains. Beetroot contains a vast array of antioxidant compounds within the betalain family, and each accounts for some of the health benefits of beets. Two of the most powerful betalain compounds are betanin and betanidin.
Health Benefits of Beets
Beetroot is considered by many to be a functional food, meaning it has the ability to promote better health and prevent disease. Beets can reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer. A review of the potential benefits of beetroot and beet juice supplements, published in the journal Nutrients, found evidence that the betalains in beetroot juice can reduce inflammation in the body and protect DNA from oxidative damage. In addition, the phytochemicals in beets help to maintain healthy and more flexible blood vessels.
In addition to their antioxidant compounds, beets also contain nitrate, which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps improve blood flow throughout the body and in the brain. It's thought that eating beets or drinking beet juice may help to preserve brain health and cognitive function as you age.
Probably the best-studied health benefit of beets is their ability to reduce blood pressure. Many people drink beetroot juice as a complementary therapy to treat hypertension. In a meta-analysis published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, researchers looked at the benefits of beetroot on blood pressure. They found that the blood-pressure-friendly benefits of beets come from their nitrates along with their other health-promoting phytochemicals that act independently of the nitrates.
Side Effects of Eating Beets
For most people, including more beets in the diet is healthy and safe — and side effects like lower blood pressure or antioxidant protection are good for you. It's rare to have any harmful side effects from beets, but you should be aware that some people have a beet allergy. Like other fruit and vegetable allergies, a beet allergy is usually caused by food pollen allergy syndrome. This is usually a mild reaction to the pollens in fruits and vegetables, which are similar to the pollens that cause hayfever.
Symptoms of a beet allergy may include redness, swelling or itching in the mouth, tongue or throat. In most people, symptoms are mild and clear up easily, but some people may have a more severe reaction, which can lead to anaphylaxis.
Another strange and potentially frightening side effect of eating beets is called beeturia. The dark red pigments in beets can turn urine red or pink in about 10 to 14 percent of people, according to Medical News Today. They can also turn your stool a dark red-black color a day or two after eating them. If you don't associate it with eating beets, you may worry that you have blood in your stool, but these conditions aren't harmful or permanent.
Caution With Kidney Stones
Because beets are high in oxalic acid, you should avoid them if you are on a low-oxalate diet. In some people, eating foods that are high in oxalates can cause kidney stones, especially if you eat them in large amounts.
Read more: Beets and Urine Discoloration
Taking Beet Supplements
While eating whole beets is good for you, many people choose to get the health benefits of beets by taking beet supplements. Most often, beet supplements are in the form of beetroot powder. You can mix this with water or another fruit or vegetable juice to get a good dose of the antioxidants, nitrates and other active compounds in beets by drinking instead of eating them. Some grocery stores and most health food stores carry beetroot powder. You can also buy prepared beet juice at most grocery stores.
Beet supplements are often taken to help lower blood pressure, but they're also used by athletes or those who do high-intensity exercises like running, sprinting, swimming or biking. Because the nitrates in beets help to relax blood vessels, promote vasodilation and increase oxygen flow, they can be helpful in improving endurance.
A research study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition analyzed 120 trained athletes and weekend warriors. The results showed that supplementing with beetroot juice resulted in a significant improvement in performance during high-intensity activities. The supplement drink also improved muscle power and reduced muscle fatigue associated with intense workouts.
Getting the Most Beet Benefits
To get the most health benefits from eating beets, it's important to try to preserve their nutrients. When you buy them, choose fresh, firm beets and avoid any that are soft, bruised or shriveled. You can store them in the refrigerator, but try to use them within three weeks. Make sure you don't wash them until you're ready to eat them.
Beets can be eaten raw or cooked, but because the betalains will break down with exposure to heat, don't cook them too long. Instead, cut them into small pieces and steam them quickly, for about 15 minutes.
If you prefer to drink your beets, refrigerate the prepared juice according to the manufacturer's instructions. Store any beetroot powder in a cool, dry area to keep it fresh and prevent clumping.
Read more: How to Cook Beets in a Microwave
Is This an Emergency?
- Anaphylaxis Campaign: Allergy to Vegetables
- Nutrients:The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease
- Advances in Nutrition:The Nitrate-Independent Blood Pressure–Lowering Effect of Beetroot Juice: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition:Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Intermittent High-Intensity Exercise Efforts
- Medical News Today: Why Beetroot Turns Pee and Poop Red
- The World’s Healthiest Foods: Beets