Kale, quinoa and even seaweed have had their moments as the trendy superfood, usually made popular by food writers and celebrity chefs who promise a host of health benefits with each portion. Now it seems the latest ‘it’ food is beetroot.
The purple vegetable has been making an increasing number of appearances in food blogs, websites and television shows. Celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi and food blog Deliciously Ella have both endorsed its health benefits and, in doing so, boosted its popularity. As a result of such mentions, sales of fresh beetroot have risen from £30million a year a decade ago, to £50.5million this year.
Beetroot is a good source of iron and folate, and also contains, nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants. This selection of beneficial nutrients certainly makes the vegetable a positive component of a balanced diet.
A number of studies, including one conducted at Queen Mary University of London, have linked beetroot to reduction of high blood pressure. Scientists attribute this to the vegetable being rich in nitrates, which they believe our body converts into nitric oxide – a chemical thought to lower blood pressure.
Can Beetroot Lower Your Blood Pressure?
Drinking one cup of beetroot juice each day can lower your blood pressure, UK scientists have found. Scientists at Queen Mary University have conducted research which proves drinking a daily cup of beetroot juice can significantly lower blood pressure among people with high blood pressure and hypertension.
Scientists at the London university conducted research with patients that had high blood pressure, which involved them drinking a 250ml glass of beetroot juice each day. The scientists found the patients experienced an average decrease in blood pressure of about 8/4 mmHg, which, for many, brought their blood pressure levels back into the “normal” range.
Queen Mary University said this because beetroot contains high levels of the substance “inorganic nitrate.” Other leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage, also contain the substance.
The potential importance of the findings is “substantial” as large-scale observational studies suggest each 2mmHg increase in blood pressure also increases the likelihood of death from heart disease by 7% and stroke by 10%.
The university also said this is the “first evidence of a long-lasting blood pressure reduction with dietary nitrate supplementation in a relevant patient group.” The average reduction in blood pressure through a single anti-hypertensive drug is 9/5 mmHg. These findings therefore suggest a role for dietary nitrate as an “effective, easy and affordable treatment” in managing blood pressure with similar results to drug treatment.
Professor Amrita Ahluwalia, lead author, Queen Mary University of London, said: “Diseases of the heart and blood vessels – which can cause heart attacks and strokes – remain the biggest cause of death worldwide. However, unlike some other serious illnesses, we are fortunate in that we can make certain lifestyle changes which dramatically improve our heart and blood vessel health. This research has proven that a daily inorganic nitrate dose can be as effective as medical intervention in reducing blood pressure and the best part is we can get it from beetroot and other leafy green vegetables.
“These findings are exciting because we’ve now tested the effectiveness of dietary nitrate in reducing blood pressure in 64 patients, over a sustained period of time, and found it works. Plus it’s so easy for patients to work this into their daily lives and see a positive benefit,” Ahluwalia added.
Dr Shannon Amoils, senior research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said: “This interesting study builds on previous research by this team and finds that a daily glass of beetroot juice can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension – even those whose high blood pressure was not controlled by drug treatment.
“The trial is small however, and the next step will be to see if this result can be repeated in a much larger group of people with high blood pressure and over a longer period of time.”
Clinical Blood Pressure Study
The double-blind phase two clinical trial, published in the journal Hypertension and funded by the British Heart Foundation, was carried out among 64 patients aged 18 to 85 years. Half of the patients were taking prescribed anti-hypertensive drugs, but were failing to reach their target blood pressure. The other half had been identified as having high blood pressure but not yet on medication.
Patients were randomly assigned a daily dietary supplementation for four weeks. Half received the dietary nitrate (250ml beetroot juice) and the other half received a placebo (250ml nitrate-free beetroot juice). In addition, patients were monitored for two weeks both before and after the study, bringing the total study period to eight weeks.
During the study, patients in the intervention group also experienced an improvement of around 20% in blood vessel dilation capacity and around a 10% reduction in arterial stiffness. Queen Mary University said these changes in blood vessel function have been shown, by other studies, to be associated with substantial reductions in heart disease. There were also no adverse side effects from the daily dietary nitrate.
In the two weeks after the study period, the blood pressure readings among patients in the intervention group returned to their previous high levels. There were no changes to blood pressure, blood vessel function or arterial stiffness among the placebo group during the study.
Ahluwalia said the next step is to run a large-scale phase three clinical trial. This will help determine whether the impact of dietary nitrate can be sustained long-term and whether this should be recommended in NHS guidelines.
Other Health Benefits of Beetroot
Other research has linked beetroot to improved exercise performance and even a reduced risk of dementia.
Anthony Gardiner, marketing director at G’s Fresh, a major supplier of beetroot to the leading supermarkets, says that increasing documentation of beetroot’s superfood status has had a clear impact on sales. “There has been a lot of university work on the benefits of beetroot over the past six years and we are expecting more research in the next year, including the positive effects it can have on hypertension and endurance.”
Alison Hornby, a dietitian and BDA spokesperson, says: “Beetroot and beetroot juice, along with green leafy vegetables, cabbage and celery, are very useful as part of a balanced diet as their nitrate content may help to reduce blood pressure.”
This was further endorsed by Dr Michael Mosley in the BBC series, Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.
If you’d like to incorporate beetroot into your diet, there are now a wide variety of ways to do so. Beetroot is appearing in soup, juice, smoothies, yoghurt, salads and much more.
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