With its sweet, earthy taste and ruby-red interior, beetroot is a favourite of foodies, but there’s far more to it than that.
We explain how the secret weapon of sports stars increases fitness and can help stave off cancer…
HALE AND HEARTY
The majority of beetroot’s benefits stem from the unusually high levels of nitrates it contains – gram for gram it possesses about 20 times more than most other vegetables.
Nitrates have suffered a bad reputation because of their use as a food additive.
Animal experiments had linked their commercial use to cancer and in the Sixties the World Health Organisation set upper limits on their use. However, recent studies have shown that nitrates in beetroot lower blood pressure.
A 2010 study carried out by Queen Mary’s University in London found that drinking just one 250ml glass of beetroot juice a day dramatically lowered blood pressure for several hours.
It also found that the higher the blood pressure, the greater the drop observed.
A new study carried out by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, found that a 500ml glass of the juice led to a significant drop in blood pressure after six hours. If beetroot juice was consumed widely, researchers say we could see a ten per cent reduction in death from cardiovascular disease.
Nitrates lower blood pressure because bacteria in the mouth and gut convert it into the gas nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens the blood vessels, allowing blood to circulate more freely.
Studies carried out by the University of Exeter have shown that nitrates not only lower blood pressure but improve stamina too.
A 2010 study found that adults who drank 500ml of the juice a day could exercise 16 per cent longer than those given a drink supplement with nitrates removed.
‘Nitrates work in synergy with the other antioxidants that beetroot contains to reduce the oxygen needed by muscles,’ says Stephen Bailey, who worked on the study. ‘This enables them to work more efficiently and slows fatigue.’
Indeed, disabled athlete David Weir put some of his gold medal-winning success at the London Paralympics last summer down to a regular intake of beetroot juice. England rugby player Ben Foden as well as marathon runner Helen Davies also rate the drink as a great endurance booster.