In a small study published in 2010 in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers found that adding half a liter of beet juice (also called beetroot juice) to healthy young men’s (ages 19 to 38) diets each day improved their exercise performance and duration. Endurance athletes saw a similar benefit from beet juice in another study, published in 2009. And yet another study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that beet juice benefited people ages 54 to 80 who had peripheral vascular disease — a stiffening of the arteries that carry blood to the legs, arms, stomach, or kidneys.
These prior studies led to the most recent discovery with beet juice, so perhaps beet juice can be used to help people who have developed stiff hearts from high blood pressure, diabetes, or a combination of both.
What is in beets that’s so powerful?
So what is the compound in this humble little vegetable that packs such a punch when it comes to high blood pressure? Nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a molecule that our body produces to help its 50 trillion cells communicate with each other by transmitting signals throughout the entire body.
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Nitric oxide has been shown to be important in some cellular activities. Here are a few Nitric Oxide benefits:
Help memory and behavior by transmitting information between nerve cells in the brain
Assist the immune system in fighting off bacteria and defending against tumors
Regulate blood pressure by dilating arteries
Improve sleep quality
Increase your recognition of sense (i.e. smell)
Increase endurance and strength assist in gastric motility
Nitric oxide has gotten the most attention due to its cardiovascular benefits. Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize, was prescribed nitroglycerin over 100 years ago by his doctor to help with his heart problems. He was skeptical, knowing nitroglycerin was used in dynamite, but this chemical helped with his heart condition. Little did he know nitroglycerin acts by releasing nitric oxide which relaxes narrowed blood vessels, increasing oxygen and blood flow.
The interior surface (endothelium) of your arteries produce nitric oxide. When plaque builds up in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, you reduce your capacity to produce nitric oxide, which is why physicians prescribe nitroglycerin for heart and stroke patients.
How to increase Nitric Oxide in my body
There are basically two ways to increase nitric oxide in your body, diet, and exercise. When you run or lift weights, your muscles need more oxygen which is supplied by the blood. As the heart pumps with more pressure to supply the muscles with blood, the lining in your arteries releases nitric oxide into the blood, which relaxes and widens the vessel wall, allowing for more blood to pass through.
As we age, our blood vessels and nitric oxide system become less efficient due to free radical damage, inactivity, and poor diet, causing our veins and arteries to deteriorate. Think of a fire hose as water rushes through it to put out a fire – it needs to expand enough to handle the pressure, still keeping enough force to put out the fire. Athletes and youth have the most optimal nitric oxide systems, reflecting their energy and resilience.
Another way to increase nitric oxide is through diet, most notably by consuming the amino acids L-arginine and L-citrulline. Arginine, which can be found in nuts, fruits, meats and dairy, and directly creates nitric oxide and citrulline inside the cell (diagram 1). Citrulline is then recycled back into arginine, making even more nitric oxide. Enzymes that convert arginine to citrulline and citrulline to arginine need to function optimally for efficient nitric oxide production.
We can protect those enzymes and nitric oxide by consuming healthy foods and antioxidants, like fruit, garlic, soy, vitamins C and E, Co-Q10, and alpha lipoic acid, allowing you to produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds in the body, so the more antioxidant protection we provide, the more stable it will be and the longer it will last. Doctors are utilizing this science by coating stents (mesh tubes that prop open arteries after surgery) with drugs that produce nitric oxide.
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Foods that contain Nitric Oxide
OK so you don’t like beets, you never have and you never will. Not even if it will lower your high blood pressure. So what else can you eat? Here is a list of vegetable that contains nitric oxide:
Cooked or raw: which is best?
If you want to get the maximum benefits of nitric oxide from beets is it best to eat them raw or cooked? Cooking beets decrease the bioavailability of dietary nitrate from the food, meaning that raw beets deliver more dietary nitrate. To potentially experience an ergogenic effect from dietary nitrate you have to consume about 5-7 mmol of dietary nitrate, which is difficult to achieve eating actual beets but is the amount found in about 500ml of beetroot juice made from raw beets. Concentrated beetroot juice shots and powders can further reduce the volume of fluid you have to consume.
How to make beet juice
There are a variety of beets juice recipes for you to choose from, but is here is one of my favorites. It is crisp, clean, and powerful.
2 large raw beets, peeled
3-4 large Gala or Honeycrisp apples
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
a large fistful of organic parsley
1 organic lemon, juiced
Place all of the ingredients in the juicer and juice.
Raw Beet Salad Recipe
This amazing beet salad recipe will aslo help you get the most nitric oxide in your diet. Remember though juicing will get you the maximum. You can juice more beets then you can consume.
4 beetroot (500g)
4 carrots (400g)
1 red onion (100g)
1c mint leaves
1/4c pumpkin seeds*
1/4c sunflower seeds*
Orange Balsamic Dressing
1 orange (peel removed)
5 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chia seed oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
Cracked black pepper to taste
Wash and scrub the beetroot and carrots, and slice off any rough bits. You don’t need to peel them, especially if they’re organic, as a lot of nutrients are in fact in the skin. Slice them into match-sticks by slicing them thinly (do the carrots on a diagonal), then grab a bunch of slices and lay them flat and chop into matchsticks. Now that’s the hard way – if you have a grater or a mandoline you can also use that, or easier still a food processor with a grating attachment or chopping function. I’ve sliced them manually above though to show you it can be done (and looks quite nice!).
Thinly slice the red onions and mix together with the remaining ingredients, reserving a few mint leaves, seeds and raisins to sprinkle on top. If you’re using dried and activated seeds they’ll be crunchy already so add as is, otherwise pop your seeds in a pan on low heat for 5 minutes, shaking regularly until they just start to go brown and aromatic.
Blend the dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth, then mix through the salad.
Sprinkle with reserved mint, seeds and raisins and serve!
Beet juice and diabetes
Some people, who are diabetic, will tend to stay away from this juice. The reason cited is the sugar content in beets. So I did some poking around to see what I could find.
For the over-weight beet-juice drinkers, insulin resistance was improved and blood sugar didn’t go up as much in the 60 to 90 minutes after consuming the sugar—compared to when they rinsed with mouthwash first. Their insulin resistance and blood sugar still were slightly higher than in their nonobese counterparts—but it was a big improvement for them. That’s a key benefit, since elevated insulin resistance plus high blood sugar, over time, increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For the obese, who likely started with low nitric oxide levels, drinking beet juice apparently boosted nitric oxide levels high enough to help them better metabolize sugar.
Obese adults at risk of developing insulin resistance may benefit from adding healthful nitrate-rich foods—including a glass of beet juice—to their meals.
What about the sugar naturally contained in beet juice itself? It’s true that there’s a lot of sugar in beets—and even more in beet juice. But evidence suggests that the physiological benefits outweigh the sugar—just make sure you skip less healthy sources of sugar such as soda, candy, and other sweets. You can also experiment with other nitrate-rich foods, such as spinach.
If you have any questions or concerns please consult your health care physician. Also, I think it is always a smart practice to let those who provide for your healthcare to know any changes you are making to your health regimen. Most physicians will be happy with the changes you are making.
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