Bile Binding Beets

Bile Binding Beets

In my video Breast Cancer and Constipation, I discussed how fruits and veggies bind carcinogenic bile acids in our gut. Since bile acids are absorbed back into our systems, they may increase our risk of not only colon cancer but also other cancers as well. In light of this, researchers publishing in the journal, Nutrition Research, concluded that to “lower the risk of diet and lifestyle-related premature degenerative diseases and to advance human nutrition research, relative bile acid–binding potential of foods and fractions need to be evaluated.”

They found that some vegetables bind bile acids better than others. We know that those eating more plant-based diets are at a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. This could partly be because of phytonutrients in plants that act as antioxidants and potent stimulators of natural detoxifying enzymes in our bodies. Veggies can also lower cholesterol and detoxify harmful metabolites, functions that can be predicted by their ability to bind bile acids.

A group of USDA researchers studying this topic discovered three important things. First, they found an over five-fold variability in bile acid binding among various vegetables that had similar fiber content, suggesting that bile acid binding is not just related to total dietary fiber content (as previously thought), but instead some combination of unique phytonutrients yet to be determined.

Second, they discovered that steaming significantly improves the bile acid binding of collards, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, beets, eggplant, asparagus, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower, suggesting that in this way steaming vegetables may be more healthful than those consumed raw.

Finally, they ranked multiple vegetables for bile binding ability. Which vegetables kicked the most bile butt? (in my video, Which Vegetable Binds Bile Best?, you can see a visual comparison of bile binding ability.) Turnips turned up last. Then came cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, spinach, asparagus and green beans. Mustard greens and broccoli were better. Eggplant, carrots and Brussels sprouts basically tie for the #5 slot. Then collards at #4. Kale got the bronze, okra the silver, and beets the gold. Kale, surprisingly, got beet.

The researchers concluded that inclusion of all these vegetables in our daily diets should be encouraged. When consumed regularly, they concluded, these vegetables may lower the risk of premature degenerative diseases and improve public health.

More raw versus cooked comparisons in

Beets also have a number of other remarkable properties. Check out my video series on Doping with Beet Juice as well as Hearts Shouldn’t Skip a Beet, and Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr

  • AlanS

    The photo prompted me to ask this question: is there a significant difference between red beets and golden beets in terms of nutrition other than the composition of betalain? Thanks

    • Thea

      Alan S: I don’t know the answer to you exact question, but I know of some information that hints at the answer. For example, check out the following video from NutritionFacts on the nutritional value of different color rice, comparing brown, red and black:

      That says to me that the color of a food *can* make a big difference in it’s nutritional value. But I also think that the question is not simple. What nutrition are we talking about? For example, *suppose* (I’m making this up for example sake) red beets had three times more antioxidants than yellow beets. That would not necessarily tell us anything about the bile binding ability of the two types of beets.

      Similarly, the video above ranked black rice far below red in terms of overall antioxidants. But there are all sorts of phytonutrients and based on the following video,, I think it would be reasonable to guess that black rice has more anthocyanin, the nutrient that helps prevent and halt glaucoma. So, the question of what has more nutrients may be too general of a question, in my opinion, to be helpful.

      What do you think?

      • AlanS

        Hello Thea: In the case of brown flaxseed and golden flaxseed, Dr. Greger says that they are nutritionally similar and suggests one pick one’s favorite color. I was wondering if a similar comparison can be made on red beet and golden beet. Or, as you have pointed out, is the answer complex and depends on your specific purpose of eating beet.

    • vegank

      Other than the fact that the golden variety would probably have more carotenoid phytonutrients, the binding effect would be similar across all of the beets would it not – Depending on what nutrient contributes to the binding property of vegetables.

  • Peter H

    I tried to find the original article, but nothing has been published in Nutrition Research recently on the function of bile acids…. Nevertheless, Dr. Greger gives the impression that bile acids, or bile salts as bile researchers prefer to call them, are bad for you. But, bile salts are very essential in our physiology: they are produced by the liver to keep excess cholesterol that is excreted by the liver in solution. If we didn’t have bile salts, we would all be suffering from gallstones, which are cholesterol crystals. Once the bile salts are excreted into the intestine, they help break up larger fat and oil droplets, so that we can actually absorb these essential fats from our diet. During the process of fat absorption in the intestines, the bile salts are reabsorbed as well, which is not a bad thing; they can be used again by the liver to produce new bile….and so the cycle of entero-hepatic excretion/absorption starts over again. Thus, I am a bit confused as of why the impression is given that bile salts are bad. Of course, too much is always bad, and maybe a diet too rich in (animal) protein and fat will lead to too much bile salts excreted by the liver. But the way this research is presented is a very roundabout and convoluted way of saying that veggies are good for you!

    • Thea

      Peter H: I don’t know if this will help you or not, but I would like to point out that this blog post is really a “part 2” blog post. The part 1 can be found in the previous post from January 14 here: And in part 1, we have this paragraph:
      “Bile acids are formed as a way of getting rid of excess cholesterol. Our liver dumps bile acids into the intestine for disposal, assuming our intestines will be packed with fiber to trap it and flush it out of the body. But if we haven’t been eating enough fiber-rich whole plant foods, bile acids can be reabsorbed back into the body and build up in the breast.”

      So, I think Dr. Greger covered your concern, but just did it one post back.

    • Tom Goff

      You can find the original (December 2007) article by clicking on the green “concluded” in the the text of Dr G’s article above. As that article notes:
      “Reducing bile acid recirculation lowers cholesterol by reducing fat absorption and use of cholesterol to synthesize bile acid. Secondary bile acids increase the risk of cancer. Bile acid–binding potential is related to lowering the risk of heart disease as well as cancer prevention.”

    • guest

      Great post. Hopefully this will open up a more thorough (and accurate?) discussion and assessment of the role of bile acids, the human body, etc.

  • Annie

    Do they have to be steamed? Roasting is less healthy?

  • Brenda

    I was hoping it would be cooked versus raw. I eat beets almost daily but I boil them as i think steaming would take longer – have to investigate.

    • JP_Pensee

      Steaming is quick and easy!

    • George

      Brenda: I cut the beet (red) into thin slices and steam eight minutes and it comes out just about perfect, not too hard; not too soft. There’s no need to peel the beet because the water that condenses on the beet slices dissolves and carries the peel into the pot.

  • gary55305

    Would canned beets do the trick? So much easier than peeling fresh beets….