The next time you find yourself in the mood for a healthy juice, keep this often-overlooked powerhouse in mind: beetroots. Health-focused consumers have touted the advantages of beets for years, and now mounting scientific evidence suggests consuming beetroot in juice form can bring serious health benefits. The evidence also helps to distinguish the health benefits from the hype.
Proven benefits include fighting inflammation, improving athletic performance, and decreasing dementia risk. The juice is rich in dietary fiber, antioxidant compounds, and a wide array of vitamins and minerals. In addition to containing iron, folate, magnesium, and vitamin B6, beetroot juice is high in vitamin C, which protects cells against free radical damage, boosts the immune system, assists in collagen production, and more.
Does this warrant adding beetroot juice to your health food arsenal? Here’s what the research shows.
Beetroot juice benefits
Betalains provide many of beetroot juice’s positive physiological effects. They’re also responsible for beetroot’s rich colors. Betalains are scarce in plants, making red beetroot the most common source in Western diets.
Betalains scavenge free radicals and have strong antioxidant defensive properties. “This would suggest that beetroot supplementation might be a promising adjunct strategy to help manage diseased states propagated by oxidative stress, such as liver injury and cancer,” wrote researchers from Northumbria University, United Kingdom, in a study published in Nutrients.
Researchers have found that betanin, a betalain pigment, may even inhibit specific chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in the progression of Alzheimer disease and dementia. Prior studies have established strong links between beetroot juice consumption, increased oxygen flow to the brain, and improved cognitive function.
Beetroot juice contains high concentrations of nitrates, another naturally occurring bioactive compound. Found in beets as well as leafy greens, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide during digestion. This compound reduces blood pressure and increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles.
Because of this conversion to nitric oxide, experts point to beetroot juice as having superior blood pressure-lowering ability. A 2020 study examined how 66 people with hypertension responded to beetroot juice supplementation in their diets. After one month, nearly 100% saw a reduction in blood pressure.
Nitrates may also be key for athletes looking to gain an edge. A low-powered, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that dietary nitrates lowered the body’s oxygen demand during exercise and enhanced performance in endurance sports. The study followed a supplementation regimen for 8 men participating in recreational sports. The men drank either 17 oz of beet juice (nitrate rich) or a blackcurrant drink (nitrate poor). The men who drank the beet juice experienced significantly reduced oxygen cost during exercise.
Evidence indicates that beetroot juice can also improve muscle function in patients with heart failure. In a small double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, 9 patients with heart failure were given beetroot juice. As a result, nitric oxide levels in their breath increased by 35% to 50%, and knee muscle power increased by 11%.
Where beetroot juice falls short
Some research has prompted the belief that beetroot and beetroot juice consumption can prevent certain cancers. One study, published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, found that beetroot fibers fed to rats reduced pre-cancerous liver lesions. However, there have been no similar studies in humans that identify cancer-fighting. Even in the 2015 Nutrients study above, beetroot juice therapy was not proven to be an effective cancer-fighting mechanism. The authors simply suggested it might be a helpful adjunct for disease management. The true effect of beetroot in people with cancer is unknown.
In addition, a review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition says that drinking too much beetroot juice can be harmful. Investigators wrote that drinking beetroot juice above the acceptable daily intake can stimulate the formation of a class of carcinogenic compounds that may induce several adverse effects. Researchers caution that literature on the negative effects of beetroot juice is limited and should be increased to improve risk assessment.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that there are no official dosage recommendations for beetroot juice. However, in a second study illustrating beetroot juice’s potential to lower blood pressure, 68 patients drank 250 ml of beetroot juice per day with no ill effects.
No doubt, beetroot juice can be an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Even if beetroot doesn’t have the panacea powers that it’s often touted to have, there are real advantages to consuming it in juice or plant form. As with anything else in your diet, do your due diligence and keep an eye out for forthcoming research.
In the meantime, drink your beetroot juice responsibly.