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Hearts Shouldn’t Skip a Beet

The nitrate in vegetables, which the body can turn into the vasodilator nitric oxide, may help explain the role dark green leafy vegetables play in the prevention and treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease.

February 21, 2012 |
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Those of you paying close attention to this discussion of how beets can boost athletic performance may have noticed a term that sounded familiar, nitric oxide, which I talked about before in the Power of N.O. It’s a vasodilator, helps open up blood flow. That’s how those nitroglycerine pills work when someone’s having angina. So if that’s how beets work, no wonder it lowers blood pressure as well. Increasing athletic performance is nice and all, but if high nitrate vegetables can do that, then these novel findings of may have several clinical implications. A dietary therapy that lowers blood pressure and increases exercise tolerance may obviate the use of expensive drugs with potentially deleterious side effects. Look at this: drink some beet juice and look what happens to your blood pressure within hours—and still working a day later!

We've known that fruits and vegetables reduce heart disease risk, particularly dark green leafy vegetables, we just haven't exactly been sure why. These findings suggest that dietary nitrate underlies the beneficial effects of a vegetable-rich diet and highlights the potential of a natural low cost approach for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. That's why this prescription was published in an American Heart Association Journal.

Two cups of beet juice is a lot of nitrate, though. Although the magnitude of the improvement in performance after consumption of the natural vegetable juice beverage might seem surprising, it is important to note that the acute dose of nitrate used in the present study (a half liter) is 4–12 times greater than the typical daily dietary nitrate intake in the United States. Yeah, but if it’s found in vegetables, how much is that really saying?

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

The Power of NO video I reference can be found here. And the athletic performance-enhancing effect of beets story starts with my video Doping with beet juice, explained further in Priming the proton pump, and confirmed in Out of the lab onto the track. There are ten other videos on blood pressure, 28 other videos on greens, 75 other videos on heart disease and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

For some context, please check out my associated blog post, Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    The Power of NO video I reference can be found here. And the athletic performance-enhancing effect of beets story starts with my video Doping with beet juice, explained further in Priming the proton pump, and confirmed in Out of the lab onto the track. There are ten other videos on blood pressure, 28 other videos on greens, 75 other videos on heart disease and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/kabocha/ kabocha

      I think I have read that nitrates/nitrates were something found in processed meats and were to be avoided – please clear up my mistake.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

        kabocha, you’re correct. The nitrites in processed MEATS are harmful. Dr. Greger delves into detail as to why this is so, i wont spoil it for you.

        Hint: animal fat plays a role in the transformation of nitrites to nitrosomines.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/eagleraych/ eagleraych

    How many dark green vegetables would one need to eat to consume those nitrate concentrations? What are the equivalent proportions?

    Thanks!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/jaxon/ jaxon

    Makers of hotdogs, worried that the public is afraid of products with “added nitrates”, are now using celery juice to provide the nitrate necessary to “cure’ their hot dogs. They have found that celery juice is loaded with nitrates and by adding it to the hot dog they can honestly add “no added nitrates” to the ingredient label. For detailed discussion See http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/seasoningflavoring/a/nitrates.htm

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/matt/ Matt

      So they recognize their food is junk……… i don’t think they can fix it, once they do they’ll find another setback for tampering with years of evolution….. and so on.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      That is quite a trick, but as we’ll see in the next few videos, nitrites become cancerous when animal fat is present.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/JanaNielson/ Jana Nielson

    My husband has been taking Beet Root powder caps for a few months. I am wondering if the powder has the same performance enhancing effects as the juice does.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/pincopallino/ pincopallino

    Let me repeat here a question I put on another video but which may have escaped.
    I read in the book “The Nitric Oxide (No) Solution” that kale is the top source of nitrates, far better than beets. I wonder if with kale one gets the same effects as with beets, perhaps improved proportionally?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/pincopallino/ pincopallino

    Thanks for your answer, after which I dug out the book and looked again at the table (page 64), which indeed gives not the nitrate content but the NO index. This is an index created by the two authors (Nathan S. Bryan and Janet Zand), which is calculated using two factors: the total amount of NO-creating nitrate and nitrite in the food, and the ORAC of that food. The figures reported in the book are as follows (for the top of the list):

    Kale 6825
    Swiss chard 2055
    Arugula 1452
    Spinach 1123
    Chicory 938
    Wild radish 914
    Bok choy 775
    Beet 632
    Chinese cabbage 499
    Beet (root) juice 482

    The book does not give references, it just quotes journals without giving the details. I do not know if this NO index is something trustable or just a proposal by two authors which did not get any following. Any opinion?

    • brec

      No biochemist I, but I observe that NO-generation and ORAC are two completely different things. NO is a free radical, while ORAC measures absorbance (destruction) of free radicals — antioxidant potency.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance!

  • brec

    I got here via a search engine after Dr. Esselstyn’s advice to *chew* leafy greens six(!) times daily. The diagram in this video of the tortuous route from dietary nitrate to arterial NO is the only explanation I’ve encountered for the “chew” advice. I’m just curious as to its provenance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1394450220 Mary Tillery Jr.

    Hi Dr Greger! I love your videos. Thanks for doing great work. I was so inspired by your videos on beets that I have been eating beets and juicing the leaves. The problem is that I have developed a rash or hives. What does this mean?

  • AshleyNicole

    As a runner, who races nearly every weekend, I am excited to find out this information! Thank you!

    • AshleyNicole

      Actually, I do have a concern. I have normal blood pressure, but on the lower end, sometimes ALMOST too low, but always in the normal range. Would drinking beet juice before exercise drop my blood pressure too low, or would it simply help cardiovascular performance?

  • nonyabizzz

    How do you make beets edible? They taste nasty.

  • Tobias Brown

    Does this apply to golden beets as well?

  • cyndishisara

    These very same foods which are high nitrates are also high in oxalates. Such as swiss chard. I understand that cooking these vegetables reduces oxalate concentration by 80%. Just the same is not arugula the best choice because of its low oxalate concentration?