Beetroot

Hailing from the Mediterranean region, the beetroot plant or common beet has long been consumed for its nutrient-rich content; however, this vegetable is also a powerhouse of medicinal benefits, and science is still investigating its many possible applications for human health.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Beetroot, beet, red beet, garden beet, blood turnip
  • Scientific nameBeta vulgaris
  • Plant typeVegetable
  • Native regionMediterranean
  • Main Economic UseAlimentary
  • Plant Life CycleAnnual
  • Food GroupFruits and Vegetables
  • Main Consumed PartLeaves, Root
  • OLD Main Economic UseAlimentary
  • Native RegionMediterranean
Beetroot

The benefits of beets have been known for millennia, and ancient civilizations have used the whole beetroot plant (leaves included) in the treatment of a number of health conditions. Nowadays, this nutritious vegetable is a food staple around the world, mainly consumed in culinary forms; however, modern scientific studies have revealed some of the mechanisms of action behind the amazing beetroot properties, paving the way for new medicinal and nutraceutical applications.

Beetroot Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Vasodilator
  • Key constituentsBetaine, betalains, nitrate
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Food, Juiced, Tincture, Poultice, Powder, Syrup, Dried
  • Medicinal rating(4) Very useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Beetroot Benefits and Properties

Health Benefits of Beetroot

The anti-inflammatory and vasodilator beet properties have found several medicinal uses throughout history. The most important beets health benefits include:

  • Reducing inflammation. The high content of antioxidant compounds in beets helps protect cellular integrity and internal organs from oxidative stress, thus preventing inflammatory diseases.

  • Promoting cardiovascular health. Consuming beetroot in dietary amounts can help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow, thus stabilizing arterial pressure and reducing cardiovascular risk.

While further research is necessary, some studies suggest that the ability of beets to balance body fluids can help enhance athletic performance, as well as preventing muscle cramps and promoting the optimal functioning of all body organs.

How it Works

Beetroot is not only nutrient-rich, bot also contains several bioactive compounds that are thought to be responsible for its health benefits, mainly ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids.

Modern studies on the mechanisms of action behind beets health benefits  have largely revolved around their high content of inorganic nitrate, which the body turns into nitrite and nitric oxide to be used for a variety of vital functions. Nitric oxide is incredibly effective at relaxing and dilating the blood vessels. The therapeutic potential of this proven ability of beetroot is being extensively researched, as dilated vessels mean lowered blood pressure, better blood flow, and optimal functioning of muscles and organs. Since nitric oxide helps cells use oxygen more efficiently, it is though that it could relieve pressure on the heart.

When nitrate-rich foods like beets are consumed, the good bacteria in the mouth converts it into nitrite and nitric oxide.

Beets are also high in betalains, which are red-violet pigments with strong antioxidant properties that help protect the body from oxidative stress, reducing the internal inflammation that can trigger a number of diseases. It has been shown that betalains are capable of lowering toxic levels of Homocysteine (Hcy), an amino acid that triggers the release of catecholamines, which are neurotransmitters that, if produced in excess, can cause constriction of blood vessels, raising blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, the high concentration of betalains and phenolic compounds in beetroot juice have been shown to play a key role in glucose metabolism and insulin production, helping prevent blood sugar spikes after meals.

Another important phytocompound in beets is betaine, a type of betacyanin that is crucial for maintaining the balance of fluids and electrolytes, necessary for muscle contraction and proper functioning of all body organs. Preliminary research has suggested that betaine supplementation may improve strength and power performance, and this compound has also been used in the treatment of liver disorders, hyperkalemia, and gastrointestinal disturbances, among other health conditions involving water balance, such as hyponatremia.

Some studies suggest that the ability of beets to improve blood flow may help prevent neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Herbs like cabbage and greater plantain also possess strong anti-inflammatory properties, whereas ginkgo biloba and cacao provide vasodilator and cardiovascular benefits.

Beetroot Side Effects

Beetroots are considered safe in both culinary and medicinal amounts. It's important to note that consuming nitrates from sources other than whole vegetables, such as arugula, beetroot, celery, lettuce, and spinach may cause detrimental health effects. Also, about 10 - 15% of the population may experience beeturia, or a harmless reddening of the urine, after consuming beets.

Beetroot Nutrition

Beetroot Nutrition

Most beetroot benefits are based on its nutritional profile, which includes high amounts of essential minerals and vitamins, necessary for growth, development, and proper function of all vital organs in the human body.

Beets contain a considerable amount of dietary fiber, which promotes good digestion and regular bowel movements, as well as a delayed glucose metabolism, which prevents blood sugar spikes after meals. On the other hand, while beetroot scores 64 in the glycemic index (GI), which is moderately high, it also has a extremely low glycemic load (GL), meaning a very slow rate of sugar absorption in the body.

Contrary to popular belief, beets are great for everyone, including diabetic people, since they help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Beets are a great source of vitamin B9, better known as folate, which is crucial for fetal development and also plays a supportive role in the production of red blood cells. While folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) is added to most culinary products, women in reproductive age or pregnant, people with depression, elders, and people with malabsorptive disorders are at high risk of deficiency and should increase the amounts of this important nutrient in their daily diet.

Beets also provide good amounts of copper and manganese, two minerals that are essential for many bodily functions. While copper contributes to the formation of red blood cells, as well as promoting the health of blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones, manganese promotes fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation, also helping with the formation of connective tissue, bones, blood clotting, and sex hormones.

Other nutrients, present in adequate amounts in beets, are iron, magnesium, and potassium, as well as vitamins C (ascorbic acid) and B6 (pyroxidine), whereas smaller quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, along with other B-complex vitamins contribute to round the nutritional value of beetroot.

A cup of raw beets (136 g) provide 58 calories, zero fat, and 15% of the recommended daily value for dietary fiber.

How to Consume Beetroot

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsLeaves, Root
  • Edible usesColoring, Sweetener
  • TasteSweet, Earthy
How to Use Beetroot

Beets are described as having a full, earthy and sweet flavor. Betaine, the red pigment in beets, is often used as a food coloring in items like frozen pizza, tomato paste, pasta, pink lemonade, and strawberry ice cream.

Beets can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, roasted, baked, and pickled. Take care when preparing them, though, as their deep red color can stain skin, clothes, and surfaces.

Red beets have earned a good reputation in their pickled form, which preserves many of their nutritional benefits and medicinal properties.

While most uses for this nutritious vegetable are culinary, the many benefits of beets can also be obtained through herbal remedies and dietary supplements.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. Both beetroot and beet leaves can be eaten in their fresh form, which is highly recommendable in order to fully reap the medicinal properties of beetroot. Salads and smoothies are the most popular ways of consuming all parts of the Beta vulgaris plant.

  • Cooked. While some water soluble nutrients, mainly ascorbic acid and other antioxidant compounds, get reduced when cooking the beetroot, this is the preferred form of consumption for this nutritious vegetable, and still provides a great deal of vitamins and mineral, as well as nitrates. Beets are a staple ingredient in the famous Russian national dish, borscht.

  • Juice. Beetroot juice has become a staple in the diet of many athletes and people with healthy life styles, since this concentrated form contains high amounts of nitrates and antioxidant compounds, all of which are highly beneficial for cardiovascular health and performance.

  • Poultice. Fresh beet leaves can be crushed and applied directly on skin rashes and inflammations in order to sooth irritation and swelling.Dried. With a longer shelf-life, dried beets can be eaten as a snack, used to garnish salads, or hydrated to be added to a number of culinary creations. Beet leaves can also be baked and consumed as healthy chips.

  • Infusion. Beetroot tea is becoming trendy due to its alleged detoxing properties, as well as its high content of antioxidant compounds, folic acid, and iron, all of which contribute with proper bodily functions, promote a healthy pregnancy, and help prevent anemia.

  • Powder. In this dehydrated and pulverized form, beets health benefits are very well preserved. Beetroot powder can be added to juices and smoothies, as well as used as coloring agent for culinary recipes.

  • Pickled. This is another form of consuming beets, since in pickled form they not only have a long shelf-life, but also retain many of their nutritional and medicinal benefits.

  • Syrup. The juice of beetroot, full of healthy sugars, antioxidant properties, and essential minerals, extracted and reduced to a syrup has been used as a sweetener for centuries, mostly for culinary purposes. 

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Liquid extract. Beetroot extract is rich in betalains, which are powerful antioxidants that can help reduce cellular damage and also protect the skin from solar radiation. Studies suggest that this preparation can also help the immune system in order to fight harmful pathogens, such as influenza. Beetroot extract is also used as a natural dye for culinary products, such as ice cream, yogurt, powdered beverages, among many others.

  • Capsules. The bioactive compounds responsible for most beets health benefits can be obtained in this supplementary form, which can be ingested in standardized daily doses. Capsules are particularly convenient for those who find the taste of beets unpleasant.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores, Organic markets, Online health stores

Beets are highly popular around the world, and widely available in both natural and supplemental forms. 

Natural Forms

In their raw, fresh form, beets are widely available through the year, in most supermarkets and farmer markets around the world. Other beet products, such as powder, syrup, and dried beets, can be purchased in specialty food stores and also from online retailers.

Herbal Remedies and Supplements

Beetroot supplements, such as capsules and liquids extracts, are mostly marketed to athletes and those looking to improve physical performance, and they can be easily found online, as well as in some specialized health stores. These products are perfectly safe, though it should be noted that reaping the benefits of beets is best accomplished through fresh consumption.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsRoots, Leaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun, Partial shade
  • SoilMedium (loam)
  • Soil pH5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • Planting timeEarly spring, Fall
  • Plant spacing average0.5 m (1.64 ft)
  • Potential insect pestsBeetles, Nematodes, Leafminers
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot, Viruses, Bacterial blight, Bacterial leaf spot, Damping-off, Downy mildew, Powdery mildew

The beetroot plant (Beta vulgaris), also known as common beet, red beet, and sugar beet, among other names, is an ideal crop for temperate, cool weather and also perfect for small gardens, since it requires very little room to grow. One of the best things about growing beets is that the whole plant, leaves and roots can be harvested and consumed. Although the beetroot plant is fairly easy to cultivate, it requires some basic conditions to thrive, and the following gardening tips can be useful for gardening success.

Growing Guidelines

  • The beetroot plant is propagated by seed, and it grows well in the cool temperatures of the early days of spring and fall. Beets do well in a sunny area with partial shade.

  • Beets must be planted in well-drained, loam soil, deep enough to make plenty of room for the roots. If the soil is too dry, the plants can become stringy, tough, or split.

  • Beetroot plants prefer a soil pH of 5.8-7.0 but can tolerate a pH of up to 7.6.

  • Gardening tip

    Mixing organic material into the soil, such as grass, leaves, and other soft plant residues can provide extra nutrition for the beets while growing.

    Beets are also sensitive to boron deficient soils, so testing the area beforehand and making the necessary amends may be a good idea.

  • Beets germinate in 5 - 10 days and require a soil temperature of at least 40°F (4°C) to sprout. 

  • Each beet seed produces two to six plants. The space between plants, considering thinning, should be of two to three inches (5 - 8 cm) apart.

  • Before planting the beetroot seeds, its is important to break up the soil 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) deep, and clear the area from rocks, trash, and twigs.

  • Beets have deep roots that can reach depths of 36 to 48 inches (91-122  cm), so care should be taken not to plant them near to tree roots.

  • Beetroot plants require frequent but moderated watering in order to grow at their best.

  • The time from planting to harvest can be of 8-12 weeks in warmer months, and 16-18 weeks in cooler months.

  • When grown in cloudy, damp weather, beets are more vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal diseases, mainly bacterial blight, beet curly top virus, beet western yellows virus, leaf spot, damping off, downy mildew, powdery mildew, and root rot.

  • Beetroot plants can also be attacked by nematodes, beetles, and leafminers.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesAnimal feed, Dye

Plant Biology

Beets may also be referred to as beetroot, common beet or red beet, among other names, and are native from the Mediterranean.

Grown for their edible root, beet plants are  usually erect, with a long main root and a rosette of leaves growing on stems. Their green and purple-veined leaves are oval in shape, erect from the ground and arranged alternately on the stem, and grow 8 - 15 inches (20 - 40 cm) in length. Beet roots are usually red in color. The plant produces green flowers attached directly to its base, without a stalk or peduncle, which can reach 3.3-6.6 feet (1-2 m) in height.

Beets are usually grown as annual plants, harvested after one growing season. The red, bulbous beetroot grows underground and is usually round and red, sometimes with minimal secondary roots, though they can be flat-bottomed as well as yellow or white.

  • Classification

    Although it is usually grown as an annual crop, the beetroot plant (Beta vulgaris) is a biennial root vegetable in the Chenopodiaceae also known as Amaranthaceae or goosefoot family, which contains 2,500 species spread out over 180 genera. This family includes many flowering plants, and though it is a widespread family, most of its members are found in tropical areas. Other economically-important herbs within this large botanical group are amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa).

  • Varieties, Subspecies, and Cultivars of Beetroot

    Commonly associated with a blood-red color, the modern beetroot, both red and white, originated in Italy from the wild beets native to the Mediterranean coastline.

    In general, there are three varietal categories Beta vulgaris: beets,which are enjoyed for alimentary purposes; chard, which is grown mostly for its flavorful leaves; and sugar beets, which are commonly used for sugar processing. Most beets today are dark red or purple, but there some varieties are white or yellow. Other varieties that are too coarse for human consumption - called mangold, mangels, or mangelwurzel - are used for animal fodder.

    The sugar beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. altissima) was developed in Germany in the 19th century, as an alternative to sugar cane, and it is still being cultivated primarily for this purpose. Sugar beets, also known as white beets and albino beets, are the most common variety grown for sugar production.

    Nowadays, there are many dark-colored cultivars of sugar beets, being the most popular ones the Globe beetroot, which has a round and smooth tuber, with dark red flesh, and the Egyptian beetroot, also with a spherical appearance, and a reddish, smooth surface.

    On the other hand, traditional dark red beets or garden beets (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. vulgaris) are preferred for direct human consumption, and there many cultivars available, mainly Derwent Globe, Darkest Globe, and Detroit Dark Red, whereas fast growing varieties, appreciated by growers are Rapid Red, Early Wonder, Early Egyptian, and Early Market.

Round shaped varieties of beetroot sometimes show pink, or red and white inner circles.

History of Beetroot

The common beetroot is thought to derive from the wild or sea beet (Beta maritima), which grew in the Mediterranean basin. They were eaten in both Ancient Greek and Roman culture, though just the leafy green tops - the pointed black or white root was only used medicinally. Beet juice was thought to cure jaundice, as well as ringing in the ears and toothache when put inside the nostrils, while beet leaves were used for binding wounds.

By the late 1400s, cultivated beets were found across Europe, and both parts of the plant were consumed. Eventually, they made their way across the Atlantic with European immigrants, and the bulbous, dark red root of today is used both for culinary purposes and as a performance enhancer in athletes.

The use of beet sugar was initiated in Germany and France when cane sugar was prevented from reaching Europe due to a British blockade during the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century. The sugar beet was introduced in Chile by German settlers in 1850, and arrived to North America in 1879.

Economic Importance of Beetroot

Beets are most popularly consumed in Eastern and Central Europe, but also grown and eaten all around the world. The current leading producer of beetroot is France, followed by Germany and the United States.

The majority of beets are processed into sugar and other products, but a smaller percentage is sent fresh to the markets. In the United States, beets are a small minority in the population of cultivated vegetables, and most of the production comes from Wisconsin.

Nowadays, beet sugar accounts for about 30% of the world's sugar production, and almost half of the sugar consumed in the United States comes from sugar beets.

Popular Beliefs

The beetroot was highly valued by ancient Greeks and Romans, which attributed aphrodisiac qualities to this vegetable. Beets appear associated with lust and love on frescoes, in houses of prostitution of Pompeii and Rome.

In Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite ate beets to increase her appeal.

Other Uses

  • Dye. The deep pigments of beets are also used as a food coloring or dye for industrial purposes as well.
  • Pharmaceutical industry. In addition, a protein in sugar beets is currently being researched as a potential substitute for human hemoglobin to be used in blood transfusions.

Bibliography

 
  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Betalains--a new class of dietary cationized antioxidants, 2001
  • Journal of Nutritional Science, Effects of a beetroot juice with high neobetanin content on the early-phase insulin response in healthy volunteers, 2014
  • Sweeteners: Nutritional Aspects, Applications, and Production Technology, p. 168
  • Red Beet Biotechnology: Food and Pharmaceutical Applications, pp. 143-144
  • Health Benefits of Beetroot, pp. 9-16
  • Exclusive Food Product Researches, pp. 32-33
  • The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits, 2009
  • University of Connecticut, The Effect of Betaine Supplementation on Performance and Muscle Mechanisms, 2011
  • Hamilton University, Beets
  • International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, The effect of variable doses of inorganic nitrate-rich beetroot juice on simulated 2,000-m rowing performance in trained athletes, 2014
  • Kansas State University, Beetroot beneficial for athletes and heart failure patients, Kansas State University research finds
  • Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Beetroot juice supplementation does not improve performance of elite 1500-m runners, 2014; A single dose of beetroot juice enhances cycling performance in simulated altitude, 2014
  • Wake Forest University, Benefits of beet juice
  • Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance, 2012
  • University of Arizona, Table beets
  • Oregon State University, World Food Crops - Sugarcane & Sugar Beets
  • The Journal of Nutrition, Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis, 2013
  • Australian Government, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries - Land requirements for beetroot
  • Penn State University, Plant Village, Beet
  • Washington State University, Beets
  • PubChem, Betaine
  • The British Journal of Nutrition, Blood pressure-lowering effects of beetroot juice and novel beetroot-enriched bread products in normotensive male subjects, 2012
  • British Broadcasting Corporation, Plant protein could be used for blood, say scientists
  • Nutrients, The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease, 2015
  • Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, Growing Beets
  • Nutrition Journal, Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease, 2015
All About Beetroot