Beetroot’s deep, overpoweringly red juice has earned it the reputation as the most bossy of vegetables.
Although the leaves have always been eaten, historically the beet root was generally used medicinally for a range of ailments, including fevers, constipation and skin problems.
More recent health claims suggest beetroot can help lower blood pressure, boost exercise performance and prevent dementia.
We’ve teamed up with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) to examine if beetroot health claims are supported by the evidence.
Beetroot is a good source of iron and folate (naturally occuring folic acid). It also contains nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants (notably betacyanin)
Beetroot is rich in nitrates. When ingested, scientists believe our body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a chemical thought to lower blood pressure. A well-conducted review of the current evidence from 2013 concluded that beetroot juice was associated with a modest reduction in blood pressure.
Another well-conducted review from 2013 looked at research linking beetroot juice to improved exercise performance. The review found that inactive and recreationally active individuals saw “moderate improvements” in exercise performance from drinking beetroot juice. However, the review noted there was very little effect on elite athletes.
A 2010 study suggested that a diet high in beetroot juice may increase blood flow to certain areas of the brain. However, this was a small and short-term study with several limitations and as such does not provide robust evidence that a diet high in nitrates aids cognitive function. Further research is needed in larger numbers of people over a longer period.
The dietitian’s verdict
Alison Hornby, a dietitian and BDA spokesperson, says: “Beetroot and beetroot juice, along with green leafy vegetables, cabbage and celery, are very useful as part of a balanced diet as their nitrate content may help to reduce blood pressure.
“Getting active, reducing the amount of salt in your diet and maintaining a healthy weight are also key strategies for getting your blood pressure under control.”
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