You probably have heard over and over again how beneficial it is to eat beets, and it is.  High in fiber, potassium, vitamins A and C, and folate, beets are believed by many to protect against the development of cancerous cells, coronary artery disease and stroke, lower cholesterol and have anti-aging effects.  A recent study further confirms that beetroot may also help lower blood pressure.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry have been looking at the benefits of beetroot for numerous years.  Having found in previous studies that the juice helped lower blood pressure, the researchers pinpointed nitrate as the blood pressure lowering ingredient – an ingredient also found in lettuce, cabbage and fennel.  According to WebMD, nitrate in beetroot widens blood vessels, which helps the blood flow more easily and lowers blood pressure.  This is great news considering how tasty beets are.

The recent findings are based on a small study of 15 patients – men and women – with high blood pressure. According to the report published by the American Heart Association Hypertension journal, the patients were free of any other medical problems, but they had a systolic blood pressure between 140 and 159 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Plus, none of the patients were taking medication for their hypertension.  The study involved the patients drinking 250ml (8oz) of either nitrate-rich beetroot juice mixed with apple juice or an equal volume of water each day.  The ones who had the beetroot juice experienced blood pressure reductions of around 10 mm Hg, bringing some into the normal range, the journal Hypertension reported.  The juice in the experiment contained about 0.2g of dietary nitrate, about the same as around two beetroots or a large bowl of lettuce.  The reduction was highest around three to six hours after drinking the juice, but still had a lasting effect 24 hours later.

According to WebMD, when the researchers limited their analysis to men only, they found a significant reduction of about 4.7 points among those who drank the beetroot juice.  Previous studies have also suggested that beetroot’s blood-pressure-lowering effects may not be as strong in women.  Interestingly, WebMD reported that researcher Dr. Amrita Ahluwalia noted, that the study demonstrated how small amounts of the vegetable could have a significant effect, when in the past it was believed otherwise.  Dr. Amrita Ahluwalia was quoted by WebMD as stating that possibly in the future health professionals can advise patients that “one fruit and/or vegetable a day is likely to provide some benefit, two will provide more and three even more,” instead of trying to convince them to have 5-servings a day, which is overwhelming.

Keep in mind that beetroot is not unique; there are many other nitrate-rich vegetables that will probably have the same effect.  These are all great vegetables to eat daily.  You will notice that the DASH Eating Plan, designed to lower high blood pressure, includes these vegetables.

Researches caution that it is still too soon to recommend any specific diet changes before a larger study is completed.  There has yet been any research done on the long-term effects of eating nitrate-rich foods to lower blood pressure.  Please note, that while beetroot is extremely healthy, like all foods it must be enjoyed in moderation.  Doctors have cautioned that the cleansing effect of beetroot is powerful and should be diluted with other fruits and vegetables.  Some people may develop kidney problems due to oxalate contained in the vegetable.  We advise speaking with your health professional about including beetroot in your daily menu.

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