Mayo Clinic Minute: The benefits of beets
What Health Benefits Do Beets Provide? The Must-Know Nutrition Facts, Side Effects, and Detoxing Abilities of the Root Veggie
They star in the popular smoothies and juices of today, and have long been eaten for their bounty of vitamins and minerals. Read on to learn more about their benefits — like whether they can actually “detox” your body — and whether this root vegetable may pose any side effects for you based on your individual health.
What Are Beets Exactly and What Is Their History?
While beets and beet products are becoming more and more popular in the natural-foods market, the beet is anything but new. Records suggest people in ancient Babylon, Greece, and Rome enjoyed the root veggie, and archaeologists have found evidence of their use in certain parts of North Africa as well. Ancient civilizations originally prized the leaves and stalks of beets for culinary use, and used their roots as medicine. The ancient Greeks and Romans even turned to beets for their purported aphrodisiac qualities. (1)
The closest thing to the modern beet was first noted in both Germany and Italy in the late 1500s. This form of the vegetable had larger roots and smaller stalks and leaves than its ancient versions. (1)
In the 1700s, German chemists found a way to make sugar from beets. (1) Today, this method is used with a specific subtype of beet called the sugar beet, which has a much larger root than the table beet and is white or beige in color. Sugar beets originated in what is now western Poland, (1) and made their way to the United States in the late 19th century as part of the rise in sugar production in California. (2,3) Other types of beets were brought to the U.S. much earlier, and historians believe American colonists introduced them. (4)
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What’s in a Beet? Nutrition Facts for the Root Veggie
Beets are a low-calorie food packed with a variety of nutrients. The following nutrient estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are based on a ½-cup serving of sliced beets:
- Calories: 35
- Protein: 1 gram (g) (2 percent daily value, or DV)
- Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 8 g
- Fiber: 1 g (4 percent DV)
- Sugars: 6 g
- Iron: 0.4 milligrams (mg) (2.22 percent DV)
- Sodium: 250 mg ()
Beets are also a source of betaine, a type of antioxidant that’s evident in its rich, red-colored roots. The beet root is also a notable source of manganese, folate, and vitamin B2. (2) Beets are also a source of potassium, containing about 259 mg per ½ cup serving, meaning they offer about 5.5 percent of the DV. (6)
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What Are the Benefits of Eating Beets? A Look at the Science
The health benefits of beets are wide ranging. Like most other plant-based foods, beets are high in nutrients yet low in calories. Their antioxidants also offer additional benefits, such as reduced risk of cellular damage.
Generally speaking, beets are among the group of vegetables and fruits that may help reduce your risk for chronic illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. (7,8)
Antioxidants give vegetables like beets their bright, vibrant colors, and in the case of this food, that color is bright red. As a general rule of thumb, the more bright-colored plant foods you include in your diet, the more antioxidants you’ll consume. Even beet greens contain beta-carotene, which is also found in carrots, spinach, and broccoli. Eating more antioxidants may help reduce your risk for some cancers. (9)
The potassium content of beets may also play an important role in blood pressure regulation. While sodium is necessary in small amounts, too much sodium in your diet can increase your blood pressure over time. Potassium helps by flushing out excess sodium from the bloodstream via your urine. (10)
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As with other plant foods, researchers have studied beets for their potential effects on inflammation. One review published in the journalNutrientsfound beetroot supplements to have anti-inflammatory effects that could help reduce the risk for heart disease, cognitive decline, and oxidative stress from free radicals, which is linked to many chronic diseases. (11)
In another study, anemic adolescent girls in India who drank beetroot juice saw improved levels of the protein hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. A person with anemia has low red blood cell or hemoglobin levels. (12)
Still, more research is needed to understand how beets in supplemental form affect human health.
Beets have a historical reputation as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is said to have eaten beets to make herself more attractive.
While eating beets alone won’t make you more attractive, this myth may indeed stem from those nutrients in beets that can make you feel better and possibly increase your libido. These include betaine, boron, and tryptophan. (1)
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What Types of Beets Are Available to Eat?
The beet we know today in the U.S. is one of four types of beets called garden beets. Other types of beets include the sugar beet and the mangold, which is used for livestock. (2)
But the varieties don’t stop there. The National Gardening Association has identified five subtypes of garden beets, including: (13)
- Detroit Dark RedThese have the darkest red roots of all garden beets
- FormanovaThis variety grows in a cylinder shape
- Lutz Green LeafAmong all types of garden beets, this variety is the largest
- ChioggiaThese beets have red and white striped roots
- GoldenThis type of beet has carrot-colored roots
Are Beets Good for Weight Loss?
Some people tout beet supplements as athletic performance enhancers, and increased exercise can play a role in your overall weight loss efforts. (11) But know that beet supplements alone won’t help you lose weight. What’s at the core of the veggie’s potential weight loss benefits is the nutrient density of the plant: It provides fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and is still low in calories. (5)
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Are Beets Okay for People with Diabetes to Eat?
Yes — beets are a good food choice, especially for people with type 2 diabetes. Aside from its nutrient density, an antioxidant called lipoic acid is of particular interest in diabetes because it may help repair damaged nerves. (14)
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Can Beets ‘Detox’ the Body? And if So, How Does That Work?
Because of the nutritional value of beets, there’s talk on the internet that they may work as a liver detox. (1,7,8,9,10) This claim is often associated with beet juice, as it’s easy to consume large quantities of juice as part of a cleanse. (11)
The idea of cleanses and other types of liver detoxification methods is to wipe out a buildup of toxins and to give your liver a clean slate, so to speak. Some people say cleanses can help make your liver function more effectively. But the fact of the matter is there’s no clinical evidence that beets can detox the body — there’s also not enough solid evidence to suggest that any type of liver detox works well. (11,15)
Tips for Selecting and Storing Beets
The best whole beet roots are free of bruises and blemishes. If you’re looking for a more tender texture, select medium-size beets. (2) Larger versions tend to be tougher and may also be more difficult to cut.
Beets may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week (or even longer) until you’re ready to use them. (14) They can also be cut up and frozen, canned, or pickled. (2) Some people also like eating the leaves and stalks. Make sure the greens are still attached when you buy your beets, regardless of whether you plan on eating them — they indicate the freshness of the plant and help preserve the freshness of the root. (14)
How to Eat and Cook Beets, and Beet Recipe Ideas
Like other root vegetables, beets are very versatile when it comes to cooking them. Both the leaves and the roots can be roasted or sautéed. Alternatively, you could slice the roots and eat them fresh as a snack or add them to a salad. Another method is pureeing the cooked root to make a hummus or to use as a base for baking. You can add beets to your favorite smoothie for an extra kick (another alternative here is beetroot powder). (14)
Consider the following recipes to make beets your own:
Beet juice and supplements are also available at natural-food stores. But you’re more likely to get the full benefits of beet root by eating the whole food instead. (16)
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Are There Any Other Uses for Beets?
Beet root has been trending in the exercise world as a possible way to help increase athletic performance. (11) Purportedly, beet juice and beet root supplements can help expand blood vessels while you work out, which can in turn drive more nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, so you can exercise for longer. Still, the jury’s out on whether this actually helps with muscle fatigue. It’s a higher likelihood that beets can help people who work out recreationally, rather than bodybuilders or other high-endurance athletes. Still, many athletes, including Olympians, swear by it. (16)
Beets are also used by food manufacturers as a way to add red color to certain foods, such as baked goods. (17) This doesn’t mean that the food in question is any healthier. It’s important to look at the food as a whole and read ingredient labels carefully.
Side Effects and Health Risks of Beets
One of the most common side effects of beets — especially juices and supplements — is that they can turn your urine pink or red. This is just an aftereffect of the pigments in the beet and isn’t a cause for concern. (16)
While potassium is a necessary mineral to maintain your blood pressure and help prevent heart disease, it can be a problem if you have kidney disease — your doctor will likely advise you to avoid beets because of their high potassium content. This is because compromised kidneys can’t properly take in potassium, and the overall levels of this nutrient can get too high. Elevated potassium levels in kidney disease can lead to a heart attack. (10)
Also, while beet allergies are rare, they do occur in some people. Symptoms of a beet allergy may include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and hives. Anaphylactic reactions have also been reported. (18)
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Frequently Asked Questions About Beets and the Answers
Q: Can I eat beets with my health condition?
A: Beets are healthy yet powerful plants. You can safely eat beets in moderation if you don’t have any chronic health issues or allergies and sensitivities to the plant. Most people with diabetes can eat beets safely despite the sugar content — make sure you pair the beets with a low-carbohydrate food, such as salad greens. (14) If you have kidney disease, you may not be able to eat beets because of their high potassium content. (10)
Q: Does eating beets cause blood sugar spikes?
A: Beets contain natural sugars, but they don’t usually cause the sugar spikes that people with diabetes need to be aware of. This is thanks in part to the fiber content, which helps your body digest beet roots a bit slower. (14)
Q: How much beet juice or supplements should I take for working out?
A: While there aren’t official guidelines yet, the general recommendation is to drink up to 2 cups of beet juice a few hours before your workout to potentially improve your athletic performance. (16)
Q: Will eating beets increase my libido?
A: Not likely. While beets were historically considered an aphrodisiac, clinical studies don’t back up this claim. (1)
Q: What’s healthier: beet roots, beetroot supplements, or beet juice?
A: While all offer nutritional benefits, it’s always best to eat whole foods whenever you can — and beets are no exception. You can drink the juice or take the supplements when you’re on the run, but make sure you incorporate beet roots and leaves into some of your meals, too. (11,16)
Q: Can you eat a raw beet?
A: Yes, you can eat raw beets. They need to first be peeled and sliced, though. (5) You can eat raw beets plain or with seasoning. Alternatively, you can add raw beets to a salad for a sweet crunch. Beets can even be spiralized!
Q: Do beets detox the body?
A: Beets are a good source of antioxidants and nutrients that can help you stay healthy when you eat them in moderation, along with a balanced diet full of other vegetables. (5,6,9,11) But there’s no evidence that beets can detox your body in any way. The best method of detoxing the body from harmful substances is to abstain from those substances and behavior — including excess alcohol intake and processed foods.
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