Hate Beets? Learn How to Gain Better Cognitive, Cardiovascular and Athletic Performance

By Erin Chamerlik, MS, MT(ASCP)

Beets are a healthy vegetable but how often do they appear on your plate? Let’s talk about what you are missing if you are not eating organic beets either fresh or prepared in a way to preserve the nutrients (not canned). In this article are solutions for those following a low-carb and ketogenic diet as well.

Beets leave health clues. They bleed!

If this clue leads you to believe that beets might be good for the cardiovascular system–you are right! If you start to ponder all the ways that healthy blood flow benefits the body, you might wonder if it is helpful for athletic performance, cognitive function and libido. Again, you are right!

Beetroot is rich in vitamins, minerals, anthocyanin, betacyanin, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, vitamin C, and other biologically active components. Beets are unique because they contain powerful betalains. These compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, detoxification and anti-cancer properties. (1)

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Betalains occur in two forms i.e. betacyanin (red-violet pigment) and betaxanthin (yellow-orange pigment). (2)

Betacyanins (a form of betalains in beets) are the reg pigments in beets and betanin (Beetroot Red) is the most common betacyanin. Betanin is an antioxidant and a scavenger of reactive oxygen species. It exhibits gene-regulatory activity. Betanin plays a role in detoxification and may induce phase II enzymes. Betanin has been shown to possibly prevent LDL oxidation and DNA damage. (3) (4)

The bioavailability of betalains from beetroot is low but may be enhanced by antioxidant metals such as selenium, which stabilizes betalains. (4)

Health Benefits of Betalains (5)

  • Antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-protozoal activity.
  • Anticancer properties.
  • Improves ratio of HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol and lowers the level of oxidized LDL.
  • Lowers blood glucose and body weight.
  • Liver protective. Induces detoxification phase II enzyme.
  • Improves mitochondrial function.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Fights inflammation.

In addition to betalains in beetroot, beets are also recognized as a powerful health-promoting food due to presence of carotenoids (natural pigments with antioxidant properties) and nitrate (NO3), which can enhance exercise performance by increasing nitric oxide production. (2) (6)

Nitrates in Beets

We have seen recommendations to limit nitrate and nitrite consumption but there is strong evidence linking the consumption of nitrate- and nitrite-containing plant foods to beneficial health effects. (7)

The top seven foods with very high levels of plant-based nitrates are celery, cress, chervil, lettuce, red beetroot, spinach, and rocket (rucola). (8)

Beets Enhance Efficiency of Mitochondria — Benefits for athletic performance, stamina and energy

Studies have demonstrated that beetroot juice can enhance exercise performance. Beets are high in dietary nitrate shown to increase the production of nitric oxide. Mitochondria, the energy producers in cells, work more efficiently and physical performance increases. (9)(10)(11)(12)

Researchers stated, “We conclude that dietary nitrate has profound effects on basal mitochondrial function. These findings may have implications for exercise physiology- and lifestyle-related disorders that involve dysfunctional mitochondria.” (12)

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Increasing nitrate intake by consuming beets improves endurance exercise performance. Consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults. (13)

A study of twelve male cyclists showed, “Six days of nitrate supplementation (from beetroot juice) reduced pulmonary oxygen uptake (VO₂) during submaximal exercise and improved time-trial performance in trained cyclists.” (14)

Dietary nitrate supplementation from beetroot juice improves performance during intense intermittent exercise. (15)

Aging is associated with an impaired ability of the vascular endothelium to increase plasma nitrite and nitric oxide (NO) during exercise. (16) Adding dietary nitrate in the form of beets gives the body a ready source of nitrates to produce nitric oxide which results in a lower oxygen demand during exercise. A 2007 study concluded that energy production becomes more efficient. (17)

Beetroot Supplementation Provides Cardiovascular Health Benefits

Beetroot juice ingestion substantially lowered blood pressure (BP) by up to 3 – 10 mm Hg over a period of a few hours in healthy volunteers. Vasoprotective and antiplatelet aggregation properties were attributed to the conversion of nitrate in beetroot to nitrite which is reduced to nitric oxide. (18) (19) (20) (21)

How to Consume Beets for Health Benefits

Once one understands the many health benefits of consuming beets, we need to consider what form is best. When purchasing beets, look for organic beets. Beets grow underground and their thin skin means they easily absorb chemicals and heavy metals.

  • Avoid long cooking times to keep the betalains from being damaged.
  • Cut medium beets into quarters. No need to remove the skin before steaming. Steam for 15 minutes. Rub the skin off with a paper towel.
  • Grate raw beets for salads or use to garnish soups.

Beet Shots, Juices, Powders and Supplements

When purchasing beet products, consider the country of origin and the extent of processing. Many “budget beets” are grown in Asia and then processed somewhere else into beet shots, beet juice and beet powders. Choose products using organic beets with minimal processing. Canned beets and boiled beets will be deficient in desired nutrients.

For beet shots and juices, the price tag increases with packaging, processing and beet quality. You may pay $3.00 to $4.00 per serving for these products.

As with any supplement, consider the “other ingredients” added to the beetroot. Guar gum, citric acid, natural flavor, silica, maltodextrin, rice powder, magnesium stearate, and cheap juices for filler and flavor are often added.

A good alternative is a high quality beet powder prepared from organic beets. These powders can be mixed into water or smoothies and some come in capsules.

A home freeze dryer will give you the ability to make your own beetroot powder and you control the quality of the beets. I have been using this method to prepare beet powder and have been adding the beet powder to daily smoothies.

Are Beets and Beet Juice High in Carbs?

Beets are high in carbohydrates. One cup of cooked beets has about 17 grams of carbohydrate causing many to think that beets are off the table for them. If you follow a low carb or ketogenic diet, you can enjoy all the benefits of beet nutrients without consuming too many carbs from beets if you choose to use beetroot powder.

Beetroot Research

Beets are nutrient dense root vegetables offering a unique source of phytonutrients that have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, detoxification and anti-cancer properties.

The research on the health benefits of beetroot is growing. The National Library of Medicine lists nearly 700 studies, 22% of the studies were published within the last year. Beetroot is a remarkable vegetable that can be enjoyed by everyone desiring to boost health and performance to new levels.


1. Molecules 2020, 25(13), 2999; https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25132999

2. Food Chemistry, 2019 Volume 272, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.08.022

3. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015 Jan;59(1):36-47. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201400484. Epub 2014

4. Molecules. 2021 May; 26(9): 2520. Published online 2021 Apr 26. doi: 10.3390/molecules26092520

5. Molecules 2021, 26(9), 2520; https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26092520

6. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019 Jul 1;29(4):345-349

7. J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):1-10. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131.Epub 2009 May 13

8. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 1-10, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131

9. MC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2021 Jun 7;13(1):65. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-021-00292-2

10. Annual Review of Nutrition,Vol. 38:303-328 (August 2018) https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-nutr-082117-051622

11. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019 Jul 1;29(4):345-349. DOI: 10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0223

12. Cell Metab. 2011 Feb 2;13(2):149-59. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2011.01.004

13. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Apr;112(4):548-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2011.12.002

14. Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012 Feb;22(1):64-71. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.22.1.64.

15. Appl Physiol. 2013 Jul;113(7):1673-84. doi: 10.1007/s00421-013-2589-8. Epub 2013 Feb 1.

16. Basic Res Cardiol. 2008 May;103(3):291-7. DOI: 10.1007/s00395-008-0714-3. Epub 2008 Mar 17.

17. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2007 Sep;191(1):59-66. DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2007.01713.x. Epub 2007 Jul 17.

18. Hypertension. 2008; 51:784-790, doi:10.1161/HypertensionAHA.107.103523

19. J Nutr. 2013 Jun;143(6):818-26. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.170233. Epub 2013 Apr 17.

20. Res Rev. 2013 Dec;26(2):210-22. doi: 10.1017/S0954422413000188. Epub 2013 Oct 18.

21. Nutr J. 2012 Dec 11;11:106. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-11-106

Erin is a holistic nutrition educator and wellness coach, dedicated to helping others achieve optimal health, vitality and wellness. She is passionate about health and nutrition and a strong advocate for natural health. Learn more about her work here: GetBetterWellness.com

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

Source: GreenMedInfo

Image: Pixabay

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