The Health Benefits of Beets
Add the humble beet to an ever-growing list of fruits and vegetables that are packed with protective substances that guard your good health. This little root vegetable is rich in powerful nitrates that boost the flow of blood throughout your body.
You already know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps keep you healthy by supplying many of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function normally and fight disease. Some foods are better than others, and when it comes to lowering blood pressure and maintaining normal blood flow to your heart and brain, beets are the very best. Here's why.
It has long been known that consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables, helps reduce high blood pressure and protect against heart disease, but no one ever knew why. Though it was assumed that the effects of this diet were due to the high antioxidant content of fresh fruits and vegetables, no research has ever been able to prove that out.
It's All in the Nitrates
In 2008, a British study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension found that blood pressure is reduced significantly when a diet rich in high-nitrate vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce and beets, is consumed. In the body, nitrates are converted to nitrites, which not only help reduce blood pressure but also prevent blood clotting and inflammation. In this study, when patients drank about 16 ounces, or 2 cups, of beet juice, blood nitrite levels went up and blood pressure went down. Systolic blood pressure dropped by about10.4 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure dropped by about 8 mm Hg. Peak drops occurred approximately 3 hours after drinking the juice.
The researchers suspected that this drop in blood pressure occurred because nitrite is a vasodilator, opening up blood vessels to allow blood to flow more freely. Several follow-up studies, published in 2010 editions of both Hypertension and the European Society of Cardiology journal, Cardiovascular Research, confirmed these results and found that both dietary nitrates and nitrate supplements increase blood levels of nitrites, reduce blood pressure and protect the vascular system.
A Bonus Effect
Yet another study, performed by researchers at Wake Forest University in North Caroline, and published in a November 2010 issue of the professional journal Nitric Oxide, found that a high-nitrate diet improve blood flow to the brain of older adults. These researchers speculate that, as a result, such a diet could help prevent some of the cognitive decline that often occurs with aging.
Kapil, V et al. "Inorganic Nitrate Supplementation Lowers Blood Pressure in Humans." Hypertension. 2010;56:274-281. Web. 8 Nov 2010.
Miller, GD. "Acute Effect of a High Nitrate Diet on Brain Perfusion in Adults." Nitric Oxide. Doi:10.1016/jniox.2010.10.002. Web. 8 Nov 2010.
Webb, AJ et al. "Acute Blood Pressure Lowering, Vasoprotective, and Antiplatelet Properties of Dietary Nitrate via Bioconversion to Nitrite." Hypertension. 2008;51:784-790. Web. 8 Nov 2010.
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