Beetroot is a vegie that pops up regularly in any gardening magazine, including this one, not least for its culinary delightfulness and ease of growing. But did you know about this humble vegie’s surprising health benefits?
Especially when consumed as juice.
Beetroot juice contains high levels of inorganic nitrate, which has been shown to increase blood nitric oxide concentrations.
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This, in turn, promotes blood vessel dilation and blood flow, along with having good eﬀects on muscle contraction.
Common name: Beetroot, table beet
Botanical name: Beta vulgaris
Family: Chenopodiaceae (spinach family)
Requires: Sun, well-drained soil free of lumps
Best climate: All
Propagation: Seed, seedling
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Complementary medicine has long acknowledged the benefits of beetroot juice on hypertension (high blood pressure), but there is a body of scientific study confirming it.
A review of all the individual studies conducted between 2009 and 2017 (some 22) involving beetroot juice-supplemented groups and control groups produced pretty glowing findings for the juice.
Overall, systolic blood pressure (the top number) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) “were significantly lower in the beetroot juice-supplemented groups than in the control groups”. The longer the period of supplementation, the better the improvement.
One of the smaller studies in the review found that one glass (250mL) of beetroot juice a day for a month reduced blood pressure in a group diagnosed with hypertension by an average of 8mmHg systolic and 4mmHg diastolic pressure, or 8/4.
This result was almost comparable with the average reductions achieved from blood pressure medications (9/5).
The catch, though, is that a few weeks after stopping consumption of the juice, the subjects’ blood pressure readings returned to previous levels.
This suggests that drinking a glass of beetroot juice daily may be less a long-term solution and more a very good interim one while making other ongoing lifestyle changes to address hypertension, including exercise and dietary changes, better sleep patterns and so forth.
In another review of nine studies looking into the eﬀect of beetroot juice on exercise performance, published between 2010 and March 2017, researchers found that a single dose of the juice or doses given over a few days improved performance at intermittent, high-intensity exercise with short rest periods.
This is the type of exercise that is currently being promoted as ideal for weight loss and particularly good for slowing ageing.
The improvement in performance was attributed to beet juice’s beneficial eﬀects on muscle contraction along with improved muscle power and reduced muscle fatigue. As a result, athletes are often advised to drink beet juice to boost their stamina.
Beetroot can be grown year-round in most climates but winter and spring are particularly good times. It’s a root crop, so give the seed clusters plenty of room and make sure the soil is deep enough – as well as free of stones and clods – to allow proper root growth.
Even in ideal soil, the top of the beetroot will protrude from the ground, which makes it easier to know when to harvest.
If conditions aren’t ideal, it can bolt before producing a good-sized root. For shallow soils or containers, baby beets may be the answer. Like their bigger siblings, they need well-drained soil in a sunny spot.
Beetroot seeds can be sown in punnets and take 10-14 days to germinate. Once planted, beetroot is ready to harvest within 10–12 weeks, though in cooler weather, you can leave beets in the ground longer.
Left too long, though, they become woody and horrible – best fed to the chooks.