Chew on This

You can’t beat beets for rich source of healthy nitrates

Borscht is a soup made with beets and has its roots in central and Eastern Europe.
Borscht is a soup made with beets and has its roots in central and Eastern Europe. For The Washington Post

Tastes change as we mature. As a child I would see my mother enjoying a bowl of borscht and never once asked for a taste. Didn’t like anything about it.

Borscht is a soup made with beets and has its roots in central and Eastern Europe. Now, I am a beet lover. And my affinity for them has grown since hearing Andrew Jones, PhD, (@AndyBeetroot) at the recent Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics meeting.

Sheah Rarback.jpg
Sheah Rarback

Beets are a rich source of nitrates that our bodies convert to nitric oxide. Summarizing Jones’ extensive research review, nitric oxide is a vasodilator that contributes to easier blood flow, lower blood pressure, less platelet aggregation and thus reduced risk for heart disease.

Additionally nitric oxide may enhance cognitive functioning and most probably improves athletic performance.

Eating nitrate rich vegetables is a first step for increasing nitric oxide. The richest ones are beets, spinach, bok choy, arugula, rhubarb, cabbage, carrots and lettuce. The amount of nitrate in these vegetables varies depending on soil and growing season. The antioxidants in these vegetables help stabilize the nitric oxide molecule. There is more consistency in the amount of nitrate in beetroot juice, which is why it is most frequently used by athletes.

The conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide begins in the mouth. We frequently talk about the gut microbiome, but there is also an oral microbiome. Antibacterial mouthwash kills all the bacteria in the mouth, including the good ones that start the conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide.

Jones presented data that even a weak mouthwash used twice daily diminished the benefits of a nitrate rich diet. Toothpaste does not have the same effect.

Nitrate can be confusing due to past articles regarding cancer. Nitrites, a different molecule, are added to processed meats. And this is what can be involved with increased cancer risk with high-heat cooking. The World Health Organization stated “overall, the epidemiological studies showed no consistently increased risk for cancer with increasing consumption of nitrate.”

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.