Love them or hate them, beets are earning a second look.
Body builders and endurance athletes are downing juice shots to boost performance. Chefs are stirring purées into antioxidant-rich chocolate desserts for a superfood double-play. Food manufacturers are making snacking healthy with dehydrated beet chips, single-serving, marinated beets and organic juices. And concentrated powders are sold as dietary supplements to boost endurance.
Beets also are being studied as a natural way to battle cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and the sluggishness that can come with age.
As awareness of their potential benefits grow, we have to ask: Are beets really healthy? Or is this just hype?
“It’s a little bit of both,” said Dana Hunnes, a senior dietician and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. “The beet itself is super-healthy. Companies want to market that and take advantage of these incredibly healthy properties and make it faster or easier to consume them.”
Beets are dense with nutrients, including potassium, betaine, magnesium, folate, and Vitamin C and a good dose of nitrates. Beets can also help reduce blood pressure and anemia, improve circulation and cognitive function. Studies have explored how beets may contribute to improved athletic performance by enhancing blood flow, which improves the delivery of fuel to muscles and the removal of byproducts such as lactic acid that can dull performance.
USC’s basketball team, for example, using beet juice as a pre-workout supplement.
The catch? As with many superfoods, getting noticeable effects may require rather large servings or precise timing. A study on blood-flow disorders derived benefits from a two-cup serving of beet juice. Research indicates that athletes looking to exercise at low intensities for longer time periods are wise to ingest beets 2½ to three hours prior to exercise.