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The Beet Juice Craze: Beat it or Join it?

05 April 2022

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Have you heard? Beet juice, AKA beetroot juice, is a thing. A craze, you might say. People are drinking it every day and talking about it like it’s a magic elixir. Is it?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, beets are pretty special. They’re one of very few deep red-purple vegetables or fruits, and that beautiful color brings with it a more unique subset of antioxidants and nutrients than is found in produce of other colors. Beets’ ruby red hue comes from a type of naturally occurring plant pigment called betalains. 

Betalains are phytonutrients that contain loads of antioxidants and choline. They’ve got anti-inflammatory properties, and studies have shown that betalains may reduce the risk of some cancers and slow or even lessen tumor cell growth. Betalains are present in the flesh and peel of beets, but deteriorate when cooked. Raw or lightly-steamed beets will give you the biggest betalain boost.

Beets (the greens are edible – and delish!) contain iron, loads of nitrates, beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamins A, B & C. The beetroot contains all types of vitamin B, plus potassium, the afore-mentioned iron, manganese and magnesium. The iron content in beet greens is higher than in spinach.

A nutritional powerhouse, beets are also packed with fiber and encourage the growth of good bacteria in your gut. We need plenty of healthy bacteria in our digestive system to help fight disease and boost our immune system. Fiber also improves digestion and reduces the risk of constipation.

That’s the scoop on whole beets, now let’s drop the beat on beet juice. Its adherents believe it gives them extra energy when exercising, improves athletic performance and more. Let’s explore.  

 

What are the health benefits of beet juice?

Beet juice may boost stamina to help you exercise longer, improve blood flow, and help lower blood pressure, some research shows.

Lower blood pressure. Several studies, published in journals like Hypertension and Circulation showed that people who drank beet juice instead of water saw less blood clotting and a drop in blood pressure after three hours. A connection was also found between beet juice drinking and a 13 percent boost in muscle power among people who’ve experienced heart failure. Yet another study showed that people who drank 16 ounces of beet juice lowered their systolic blood pressure by four or five points on average. Nitrate power at its finest.

Vitamin C. Beet juice contains vitamin C, an antioxidant which helps boost immunity and helps defend cells against damage from free radicals. It also supports collagen production and helps with the absorption of iron.

Potassium. This may help with athletic performance. It’s an electrolyte that guards against muscle cramps, weakness and fatigue and helps nerves and muscles function.  

Those betalains. Betalains are really good stuff: potent antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and possibly preventative against some cancers and tumor cells. 

Improved fitness. There may be some legitimacy to this much-touted claim. It may well improve athletic performance and reduce muscle fatigue by improving the delivery of oxygen and blood flow to the muscles. A 2019 study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that cyclists who drank beet juice for a week showed improved performance. They also got faster, finishing a 10K course in 1.6 percent less time. This happened in both high- and low-altitude settings, compared with their non beet juice drinking colleagues. Researchers think the high levels of nitrates in the beet juice get converted into nitric oxide in the body. This improves circulation, relaxes and dilates blood vessels and boosts blood oxygen.

 

Are there negative side effects  beet juice?

In most cases, people can safely eat beets or drink beetroot juice without experiencing any negative side effects. However, some people might experience some of the following symptoms. 

Beeturia. This is something to be aware of because otherwise it might be shocking at first. Beeturia is the discoloration of urine caused by eating beets or consuming food/beverages colored with beets. Your urine, when affected, will range from deep red to pink. It can also make your stools dark and/or tarry. This condition doesn’t affect everyone; estimates are that it’s about 14 percent of the population. Beeturia seems more common among those with an iron deficiency. Beet juice, with its concentration of pigment, may cause beeturia in a higher percentage; one study indicates seven out of eight regular beet juice drinkers will experience it. Beeturia, while a little weird – or entertaining, depending on your perspective – is harmless.

Kidney stones. Beets and beet juice are rich in oxalates. AKA oxalic acid, oxalates are naturally occurring compounds which will bind to minerals like calcium and form kidney stones. Other indicators that your oxalates level is too high include painful bowel movements and/or grainy stools, painful urination, changes in mood, skin rashes and/or hives, dizziness, fatigue and trouble focusing.   

FODMAPs. Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) are fermentable sugars that do their fermenting in your colon. They’re fine to consume, but they’re difficult to absorb, which means they can cause gas, bloating, pain and stomach cramps. If you’ve got small intestine bacterial overgrowth or irritable bowel syndrome, FODMAPs are especially not your friend and should be avoided. 

Allergic reactions. People with beet allergies can experience hives and rashes, tight vocal cords or even anaphylaxis, which causes the immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause you to go into shock. Blood pressure drops suddenly and the airways narrow, blocking breathing.  

Liver harm. The good news is that beet juice is really rich in iron, copper, phosphorous and magnesium. That’s also the bad news. Iron, copper, phosphorous and magnesium are all metals and if you consume them to excess, they accumulate in the liver, potentially damaging it, and the pancreas too.

Hemochromatosis. When all those minerals and metals accumulate in our bodies, there’s a possibility that we’ll end up with more iron than we need. This is called hemochromatosis and it can be harmful. Symptoms can include abnormal heartbeat, decreased production of hormones and lethargy or low energy.

 

So what’s the verdict? Is it a miracle elixir? On the whole, we can surmise that beet juice is for the most part pretty good for you. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals, is rich in antioxidants and can lower blood pressure temporarily. As with all things, though, moderation is key. Eating beets is arguably a better choice. When you juice beets, you lose the nice dose of fiber they contain and you ingest more sugar than you would by eating a beet or two.

 

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