The unsuspected benefits of beets and their juice

A beetroot juice or smoothie, a source of nitrates, contributes to sporting effort. Getty Images

Messy, overly earthy flavor… If a certain bad reputation precedes beetroot, this root vegetable deserves its place in a meal from a healthy point of view. Details with two specialists.

Beets on the plate? On the menu of our summer salads, we often prefer its cousin, the carrot. Why such dislike? Blame it, perhaps, on the traumatic memory of the school canteen, where the root vegetable, cut into cubes, was buried under liters of vinaigrette. Only this food with an earthy and sweet flavor and consumed from June to November, conceals nutritional assets, sometimes misunderstood.

Friend of transit and anti-inflammatory

With an average content of 43 calories per 100 grams, according to the Ciqual nutritional composition table, beets are first and foremost a rather “light” food. Then, like any vegetable, it contains soluble fibers (2.5 g/100g), real aids to regulate transit and blood sugar.

These fibers also play the role of food by providing prebiotics to bacteria, friends of our microbiota. “Scientific studies have shown that these microorganisms would be beneficial in the prevention of fatty liver disease (excess fat in the liver, editor’s note)”, reports Jean-Michel Lecerf, head of the nutrition and physical activity department at the Institut Pasteur de Lille.

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On the stalls, it is impossible to miss this vegetable variety and its shades between bright pink and purple. This unique shade comes from its antioxidant content, especially betalains. “These anti-inflammatory pigments will act against free radicals, the cause of cell aging,” says dietitian nutritionist Erika Guyot, also pilot of the scientific and research commission of the French Association of dietician nutritionists (AFDN).

An asset for endurance

This root vegetable is also rich in natural nitrates (about 150 mg/100g) which, as part of a balanced diet, helps improve blood circulation. “Associated with potassium, also contained in the beet, these compounds will cause dilation of the blood vessels and thus a reduction in blood pressure, the risk of hypotension and hypertension”, explains Dr. Jean-Michel Lecerf.

These anti-inflammatory pigments will act against free radicals, the cause of cell aging

Erika Guyot, nutritionist dietitian

A recent Australian study, published on June 8 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, suggests that the level of nitrates present in beets would also have effects on sports performance. Dietitian nutritionist Erika Guyot, who was able to consult the work, confirms. “By increasing the blood flow, the nitrates contained in the vegetable make it possible to increase the supply of nutrients and oxygen in certain regions of the body, such as the muscles”, explains the specialist. This is enough to avoid hypoxia during sports activity and to support long endurance efforts, such as running, completes nutritionist Jean-Michel Lecerf.

Support against anemia

Beets also display an interesting level of vitamin B9, also known as folic acid (12.4 µg/100 g). This intake is recommended in the event of a pregnancy project, because the needs are greater in pregnant women, confirms Erika Guyot. Folic acid can also help improve the absorption of iron in the body and reduce the risk of anemia, adds Dr. Jean-Michel Lecerf.

Raw, cooked or blended?

To benefit from all these essential nutrients, the ideal would be to consume raw beets. “The cooked version causes a slight loss of vitamins, especially B9,” notes dietitian nutritionist Erika Guyot. But it is also necessary to take into account its digestive sensitivity, because the cooked fibers are more digestible, nuance the professional. This is why specialists advise to vary the modes of consumption, with a portion of 90 to 100 g in raw grated salad, hummus or even as a dessert, in a cake or a smoothie.

However, if you choose this root vegetable for sports performance, a small starter will not be enough to meet your nitrate needs. As noted by nutritionist Jean-Michel Lecerf, to obtain visible effects, it would be necessary to consume “more than 300 to 500 grams of beets”. Faced with such a quantity, it is therefore easier to ingest it in the form of juice or smoothie. “You can mix it alone, add spices, lemon, milk to mask its earthy taste, or even enhance the mixture of fruits, such as bananas or apples”, suggests the nutritionist dietician.


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