Monday, May 8, 2017

Beets for Your Heart? Really?

My mama was a great fan of pickled beets, but I’m pretty sure she would have been surprised to learn that they are being promoted as a heart-healthy food.

What Are the Claims for Beets and Dry Beet Powder?

Various supplement makers and natural products gurus advertise that beet (known outside the US as beetroot), especially in its dry, concentrated form, lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow, and enhances athletic performance.

What Is the Evidence for the Claims About Beet Products?

Mama always thought beets were good of you. And modern science tends to agree.
      A study conducted by scientists in Australia, Iran, and the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana asked volunteers to consume either 250 ml (about a cup) of beet juice or 250 grams (a little over half a pound) of cooked beets every day for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, the volunteers switched from beet juice to beet root or vice versa. Both cooked beets and beet juice improved blood flow, although beet juice was slightly more effective than cooked beet root. Beet juice but not cooked beats also lowered both total cholesterol and LDL. However, volunteers also had lower HDL when they consumed beet juice. [Abstract]

·       A study of well-conditioned soccer players confirmed that the contribution of beet juice to improved vascular flow is in its nitrate content. [Full Text] This would make drinking beet juice a little like taking Imdur or Imzo or nitroglycerin pills, only without the headaches.

·         Another study of young male athletes found that adding nitrates to the diet, in an amount similar to the nitrates you would get from eating 5 servings of vegetables a day, helped muscles do more work with less oxygen. [Abstract] Beets and related plants like spinach are the best easy-to-get vegetables for dietary nitrates.

So what’s not to love about beets—and spinach? The detail from the research studies that promoters of beet products tend to overlook is that the more in-shape you are, the more you respond to dietary nitrate. Beets and spinach do a body good, but they more good when the body is already in good physical fit. If you get a good result from EECP, for example, these vegetables may help you extend it. If you are not yet in improved cardiovascular status, however, you won’t feel as good as fast. Beets are a highly nutritious food, not a cure-all.

Moreover, if you are diabetic, you might get better results from spinach than from beets. Here’s a blurb I published on another blog in 2011.

When I was a kid, which was a long time ago, I loved to watch black and white cartoons of Popeye the Sailor. Whenever Popeye was faced with a desperate situation, he'd pull out a can of spinach, pop it open with his remaining strength, and then he'd find his superpowers to win the day. "I'm strong to the finich (finish) 'cause I eat my spinach," he'd sing just before "The End" flashed on the screen and the credits would start to roll.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm haven't found that spinach gives diabetics superpowers, but they have found that the nitrates in spinach help cells function better under conditions of oxygen deprivation. Feeding volunteers 200 to 300 grams of spinach a day (that's about 1/2 to 2/3 pound, and its a lot) decreased oxygen needs during exercise.

And the significance to diabetics is that when cells burn sugar under low-oxygen conditions, they burn up to 35 times more. At least for a short time.

As you'll read on this site over and over again, test it out. See if eating more spinach helps you lower your blood sugars. And do let us know if you develop superpowers.

[Abstract with link to full text]

Image credit: BriannaWalther, via Wikimedia Commons.

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