What is the Best Vegetable for Your Heart?
I’ve had this lively discussion with colleagues for years, and in the past we would have argued over broccoli, spinach, and kale, but there is new information that has surprised me. It might surprise you too, because at the moment, I would pick beets. Plus, I’m going to share a delicious recipe “Roasted Beet & Avocado Salad with OrangeVinaigrette” to go with this blog as well. As an added bonus, the red and green colors in this dish add fabulous colors for your plates.
Beets became the health rage recently after they were consumed in extract and food forms by athletes in the 2012 Olympic games—they improved athletic performance by 16%—and now we know much of this benefit comes from improving circulation—meaning better cardiovascular function.
Since ancient times, beets were consumed by Greeks, Romans, and Jews. Aphrodite attributed her romantic power to the beet root, and thus it became known as an “aphrodisiac”. Hippocrates recommended beet intake for health.
The red beet root juice looks like blood, as it contains anti-aging compounds called betalains, betaines, and betanins. These beet compounds have powerful anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, anti-cancer, and cellular rejuvenative properties.
Yet the most important beneficial property of all, is that beetroot contains the most concentrated source of healthy nitrates of any vegetable, which are then converted to nitric oxide inside the human body. Nitric oxide is the master molecule that regulates blood vessel function—improving circulation, improving blood pressure, inhibiting arterial plaque growth, and preventing dangerous clots from forming. Other good sources for these plant-based nitrates are rocket salad (arugula), spinach, endive, kohlrabi, parsley, and Chinese cabbage.
In a research study conducted by Exeter University and published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, scientists found that cyclists who drank 500 ml of beetroot juice were able to cycle up to 20% longer than those who used a placebo. There are multiple other studies that have shown similar benefits.
A major misunderstanding is that beets are high in sugar, because beets have been given a glycemic index of 48 to 64 (but only if you eat 5 cups all at once). The problem is, nobody could eat this many beets. In fact a ½ cup of chopped beets only has a glycemic load = 3 (Glycemic load refers to how much sugar comes with a “serving” of food, and anything less than 10 is considered low). So the fact is, a typical serving of beets has very little sugar, while it is a great source of fiber, artery-friendly nitrate, magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin C, and other heart friendly nutrients.
To confirm this point, there is a recent study that shows that eating more root vegetables (such as carrots, beets and turnips but excluding potatoes) decreases your risk for developing diabetes. (Cooper. Eur J Clin Nutr 2012;66:1082-92) These root vegetables were even better for people than fruits and above ground vegetables.
The bottom line is that I would encourage you to enjoy beets often, and especially before participating in any major endurance event. Perhaps the best way to prepare beets is to roast them in the oven. Cut them into lemon sized wedges. Mix them with virgin olive oil and some Italian herbs, and bake them at 400 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes until they are al dente. They are delicious.
OK, enough science, now try this recipe,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and I hope you love it!
To Your Health and Bon Appétit!