Beets Help Lower Blood Pressure
Last week I wrote about how nitrates in certain plant foods, such as spinach, can help boost muscle power. But did you know they can also help lower blood pressure? Natural nitrates in vegetables are ultimately converted into a simple compound, nitric oxide (NO), which the body uses as a signaling molecule. NO coaxes the smooth muscles enveloping blood vessels to relax. This allows blood vessels to expand, and blood to flow more freely under reduced pressure.
That’s desirable for anyone whose blood pressure runs high. High blood pressure (hypertension) is extremely common, and it’s linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, among other diseases. It’s estimated that up to one billion people around the world have hypertension. Although doctors frequently prescribe any number of medications to control rising blood pressure, it’s possible to control mild hypertension with lifestyle changes. Getting regular exercise helps, and diet is hugely important.
Plant-based diets have been linked to better blood pressure control. Certain foods, like beets, and beetroot juice, have been shown to significantly impact blood pressure. Beets are an excellent source of vegetable nitrates. Most of the recent studies documenting the benefits of beets have involved the consumption of beetroot juice. But eating the whole vegetable is also beneficial. For instance, a small study conducted at Saint Louis University last year showed that eating whole beets “acutely” enhances the exercise performance of “recreationally fit” men and women. People who consumed beets ran 5% faster during the last mile of a 5-kilometer race than people who did not eat beets.
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Coles LT, Clifton PM. Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
Siervo M, Lara J, Ogbonmwan I, Mathers JC. Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr. 2013 Jun;143(6):818-26. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.170233. Epub 2013 Apr 17.