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How to Use Canned Beets to Improve Athletic Performance

Vegetable nitrates, concentrated in green leafy vegetables and beets, underwent a great makeover a few years ago. They went from being understood as inert substances to having a profound effect on the power plants within our cells, reducing the oxygen cost during exercise. This means they can allow us to bust out the same amount of work with less oxygen. One little shot of beet juice allowed free divers to hold their breath for more than four minutes, or about a half-minute longer than usual. For others, improved muscle efficiency allowed athletes to exercise at a higher power output or running speed for the same amount of breath. I profiled this fascinating discovery in an unprecedented 17-part video series (see below), the longest I think I’ve ever done. That was back in 2012, but what does the new science say? That’s what I cover in my video, Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

Most of the studies were done on men, but it works on women, too, including African-American women who are an even more neglected research demographic. Drinking beet juice results in the same workload power outputs using significantly less oxygen. But what about whole beets? They are cheaper, healthier, and found in any produce aisle, but there had never been studies on actual beets… until now.

Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. They gave physically fit men and women a cup and a half of baked beets, which is equal to about a can of beets, 75 minutes before running a 5K. They started out the same, but during the last mile of the 5K race, the beet group pulled ahead compared to the placebo group, who were given berries instead. Though the beet group participants were running faster, their heart rate wasn’t any higher. If anything, they reported less exertion.

Faster time with less effort? They don’t call them block-rocking beets for nothing! :)

If nitrates are so good, then why not just take them in a pill? Although dietary nitrate supplements can work, their long-term safety is questionable. Non-vegetable sources of nitrates may have detrimental health effects, so if we want to improve our performance, we should ideally obtain nitrates from whole vegetables. The industry knows this, so instead it markets an array of nitric oxide-stimulating supplements. However, there is little or no evidence of a performance improvement following supplementation with these so-called NO boosters. The evidence is with the vegetables.

How much money can companies make selling beets, though? How about a novel beetroot-enriched bread product? We’ve tried to get people to eat their fruits and vegetables, and where has that gotten us? But, hey! Lots of people eat white bread, so why not have them eat red bread? And indeed it worked: red beet bread brought down blood pressures and improved the ability of arteries to relax and dilate naturally. Bread, therefore, may be an effective vehicle to increase vegetable consumption without significant dietary changes,” because heavens forbid people should have to change their diet to improve their health… 


If you want to put the whole discovery in context and get the detailed mechanism, see my 17-part video series:

How else can we support athletic performance? See

On the other hand, Paleo Diets May Negate Benefits of Exercise.

It’s great that we can improve athletic performance eating a few beets, but what about people who could really benefit from a more efficient use of oxygen? That’s the subject of my video Oxygenating Blood with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables. Also check out Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables.

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:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


52 responses to “How to Use Canned Beets to Improve Athletic Performance

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  1. I’ve been using arugula. However I can almost feel a boost when I do eat beets. I wonder if perhaps since beets weight much more perhaps regardless of more percent in arugula .beets actually provide more. Or perhaps it is simply a perception thing psychological.

    In any event beets go bad before arugula so…
    Don’t much care for the smell of arugula though.
    Years ago I never could envision myself eating all this horrible stuff ;)
    Guess most here like it but while I have been vegan since 1990 I never really had a whole food diet like I do now. Takes some getting used to..

    Thanks Dr Greger for ruining the taste of most all my foods eaten ;(
    Just kidding of course.




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    1. I eat raw arugula along with my semi cooked vegetable to get the enzyme. Look it up, arugula is a precursor of sulforaphane production in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, etc. This is an alternative to the chop and hold technique.

      Arugula is also a soft vegetable that is easy to eat and digest raw.




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    2. Every day I eat a huge bowl full of aurugula, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli, and cauliflower. I eat it all with NO and I said with NO salad dressing oil. no oils…No Oils…..NO OILS !!!




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    3. Arugula – it sounds like a dog’s plaintive howl.

      Is that the same as rocket lettuce? I have never seen arugula in either Australia or the UK but rocket lettuce is available and I think the French call it roquette.




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      1. Dear Tom, yes, its rocket. I struggle to get the organic stuff where I live in the UK and goodness knows what they treat the non organic leaves with. The whole oxalate saga and whether or not you can ameliorate the effects of one food with another, is vexed. For instance would the arsenic in rice matter if you ate it with beans which might just bind the arsenic and carry it out, same with other metals like lead and mercury. So rice and beans could be a combo made in heaven. Likewise cyanide  in various veg and flax seed is a mixed blessing/curse. Cyanide in small doses can kill cancer……. It can of course also kill the entire organism. With arsenic there is evidence that one can build up a tolerance by building up consumption slowly, which probably accounts for some of the resistance to signs of arsenic poison in populations that have consumed crops with high levels for generations. I would be interested to hear any on else’ comments on this.




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        1. Thank you Gillian.

          I am currently in the Philippines and organic anything is hard to find if not impossible. So are nuts (apart from peanuts), berries and wholemeal bread made without egg/dairy/sugar.’

          On the other hand. (black, red and brown) rice is cheap and readily available. So are local vegetables and fruits. I believe that Philippino rice is low in arsenic anyway, However. selenium competes with arsenic (and other heavy metals) for uptake in the body.
          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19514899

          Long grain brown rice is relatively high in selenium (whereas medium grain brown rice has none) compared to white rice. Plus, as you say, eat beans and you should be getting enough selenium to reduce the arsenic risk from rice. Brussels sprouts, onions, peas, mushrooms all contain some selenium too.
          http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5707/2

          The selenium content of foods (plant and animal) does vary according to the local soil. I understand that European soils can be low in selenium but that is a good reason perhaps to add Brazil nuts to the diet.

          Canadian lentils are supposed to be good vegetarian sources of selenium but may not be available in the UK and I have not seen lentils at all in the Philippines. Instead, mung beans are widely available and are a reasonable source of selenium so I always include these with beans, peas, other mixed vegetables and mushrooms in my rice meals.
          http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4349/2




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          1. :-). Mung beans- worth sprouting. These are one of the few sprouts I will still  eat having had some bad experiences with sprouts in the past  (broccoli and beetroot). But I used to think that if something was good, more would surely be better,  while as grown ups know, that does not follow at all.
            Very best wishes for a brilliant WFPB new year, Tom, but you need to get out of the Ps.




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  2. I always have a container full of cooked beets in my fridge so I can add them to my morning pre-workout smoothie! Those along with some garnet yam, ginger root, turmeric root, a pinch of black pepper, ground flax seed, lemon (blended as per your cookbook!) And topped with blueberries!
    I love (and live by) your videos. Thank you for all your hard work!




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    1. What splendid smoothie combination! I am ignorant as far as the garnet yam is concerned, but the rest is to me very familiar. I use much the same ingredients, also a pinch of cayenne pepper and whatever fruit is available. And then, for the two of us, a tablespoon of mixed AIM powders (LeafGreens, Redibeets, JustCarrots, CalciAIM, PeakEndurance, Coco LeafGreens), all mixed in leftover Rooibos Tea which tea we have throughout the day.




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  3. I’m looking at the beetroot-enriched bread study by Hobbs et al, and I’m having trouble interpreting the graphs. They show the AUC deltas in (mmHg min), but the values seem much too low. For the biggest juice dose, the AUC deltas correspond to lowering BP only by about 0.1-0.2 mmHg on average (eg. delta AUC ~180 mmHg min over 780 min course gives average lowering of 0.23 mmHg). Yet they report peak lowering of over 20 mmHg @ 2-3 hrs postpranidal. And it doesn’t seem like the blood pressure rebounded in a short time, the AUC deltas seem to be growing over the whole day afterwards.

    Maybe they just bumbled the graphs which are in fact showing mmHg hrs, not mmHg mins? That would make the average BP lowering about 5-10, which would be more likely given the rest of the article. Could you help me explain that?




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    1. Hey Jiri- I’m Dr Anderson, a volunteer and cardiologist. I’ve pulled the article. What I’m seeing is that they are reporting BP change between time zero and at 4 hours after intervention, 13 hours after intervention, and 24 hours after intervention. They show a modest drop in BP (systolic and diastolic) that persists over those time periods. I’m not sure it’s necessary to average this change by each minute. I think they meant to see if beet enriched bread lowers BP over the time period when the components of beets are likely to remain active. Interesting article.




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    1. Hi there. I just got Dr. Greger’s new cookbook and there are recipes for both cooked beet dishes and a mention of the health benefits of beet juice, which is made from raw beets. It seems to me both are acceptable.

      NurseKelly
      Moderator




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  4. I wonder if the nitrate in beets could also help wind instrument players re. efficient use of oxygen (in particular I wonder if regular beet consumption would make much difference for a wind instrument player that already eats a lot of fruits and veggies on a WFPB diet but doesn’t eat beets very often).




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    1. I wonder also but am inclined to think absolutely yes.

      Musical things may approximate athletic events to my read. Few think of Frank Sinatra as a athlete, but the story I have heard is that in his prime singing days as a young buck he would swim for at least a mile whenever he could to assist his signing capacities, not to stay in shape but to improve that specific.

      A wind instrument it seems all about the breath..I would guess one would have to make sure it evacuates from the stomach before playing..But I think the improvement window is 1.5-2 hours so that should be right to certainly evacuate from the stomach..




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      1. Right, there certainly are similarities between athletes and musicians. I know some wind players who run marathons and Sinatra’s swimming routine helps explain those long phrases on ballads ! Though I understand the importance of exercise and engage in a reasonable amount, I was kind of hoping to be a little lazier than running marathons or swimming miles, ergo the question about beets. And, good point, I wouldn’t try to gobble some down before running on stage.




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  5. Nice information. Only one caveat to the article which jumps out at me is the statement of whole beets being available at any produce section, cheaper and healthier than juice.

    Unless you buy organic, ALL beets in the produce section are GMO and organic is anything but cheap. I can’t afford to juice organic beets. One MUST look for organic juice or canned beets too, also not cheap.

    The bottom line is we all need to be growing beets, non-GMO beets, as they are in fact very healthful. They store well in a “quick and dirty” root cellar too.




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  6. I follow WFPB diet as much as possible. I would like to enjoy beets to improve athletic performance, but for me they seem to trigger gout (quite debilitating!). This has happened 2 or 3 times, a few days after consuming some beets that I roasted. Anybody have similar experience and/or have suggestions on how to mitigate this?




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    1. Just a suggestion but they say tart cherries are great for gout.
      I can’t find always tart cherries but I do mix cherries frozen in with other stuff when I make a breakfast mix.
      Don’t have gout though just think cherries are health and tasty ;)
      Worth a try perhaps.Frozen ones are pitted.




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    2. It is the oxalate. There is no way of consuming beets or other high oxalate foods like kale, and avoiding the oxalate hit. Do a google search of low/medium oxalate foods and stick to those.




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    3. Hi DonC, I also suffer from gout but I have never experienced an attack from eating beets. My gout tends to be mild and I have noticed fewer attacks since going on WFPD. I have been able to eat beans and mushrooms without a problem but sometimes for no reason it seems to flair up. Chickpeas may be a trigger but I still eat falafel rolls without any problems. It may be the combination of foods, the volume or perhaps it is just random. No idea. Good luck.




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      1. I certainly agree with the weird- one day you can eat something without consequence and yet another time… all hell. People with hiatus hernia and GERD notice the same thing. It is also impossible to know what else people on the board have consumed… for example the big understated issue of alcohol, that no one who drinks want to blame for anything.




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    4. Eliminating animal protein is the best course to avoid gout attacks. Here is a video on avoiding gout with diet: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/preventing-gout-attacks-with-diet/

      Meanwhile, if beets are a problem, it’s ok to avoid them. There are plenty of other nutrient rich plant foods to use. Arugula is one example. Here is a helpful result of NutritionFacts.org search on athletic performance and food: https://nutritionfacts.org/fwp_search=atheltic+performance&fwp_content_type=video

      Hope these links help! Dr Anderson, volunteer




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    5. The pain you experienced after eating beets is likely from their high oxalate content. Most suffer kidney stones from a high oxalate diet, but they can accumulate in joints, muscles, and tendons, as well as other areas of the body, including eyes, heart and kidney. Oxalates can cause severe arthritic pain and other serious health problems and are also implicated in autism. I tried to go vegan but have had to back off due to the complications from oxalates. All my favorite vegan foods were on the high oxalate list: beets, chard, spinach, rhubarb, all nuts, most seeds and most beans. It has been a real bummer and Infelt totally betrayed as Inwas trying to eat healthy. If you have had kidney stones, avoid beets and the other high oxalate foods. You really need to study about it. Check out lowoxalateinfo.com for more info. Luckily, arugula, lettuce and crciferous veg are all low oxalate.




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  7. How to Use Canned Beets to Improve Athletic Performance….OK….
    Hmmm. And after reading the entire article, there is indeed a reference that “Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance.” as well as references to beet enriched bread.
    But NOWHERE are canned beets referenced ANYWHERE In the article.
    Apparently they have not been put to the test….




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  8. I read on a site that pure beet juice could paralyze your vocal chords? Is this true? Also, whats the reference to canned beets? You can use canned for same results as fresh?




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    1. Never heard of that. Could it be a relationship to its GMO status perhaps? It is true nonorganic or unmarked as non GMO beets are likely GMO. GMO means they use more herbicides and such things. So just to venture a guess perhaps one could be more affected by those residues than the beets themselves. Makes sense to me as the throat would be the most directly concerned. If the throat were the problem.

      On canning I would guess they have the same approximate nutritional content for most foods.. It is just a guess however. Drying and juicing by my read have more of a affect on select foods than canning. But I would suppose it is selective on which item is considered.Beets it seems stand up well to juicing.
      Antioxidative content seems to vary with those procedures to my dim recollection.




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    2. Hi thanks for your question. I think the mention of canned beets is simply the convenience. A lot of our viewers mention they feel too short on time to buy, wash, prepare, and cook raw fruits, beans, and vegetables. But if you have the time, I’m sure you can use fresh beets too.

      I’m sorry I don’t have any information on beet juice and vocal cord paralysis. I did a quick search on pubmed.gov which is where Dr. Greger recommends you go for information on topics he hasn’t yet covered, and I didn’t see anything. It doesn’t look like there has been any studies on that. Sounds a bit like a rumor.

      NurseKelly
      Moderator




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    3. Fresh cooked organic beets help with gallbladder function. Canned do not help. No benefit at all. Maybe canned are gmo? Does anyone know?




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      1. Hi, this is Dr. Daniela Sozanski, PhD in Naturopathy Atlanta GA and Moderator for Nutritionfacts.
        I assume there is a study comparing the canned vs fresh cooked beets protection with gallbladder function. I can only suggest that canned vegetables do contained at times preservatives and color enhancers and that may be counteracting the protective effect. But what I would like to better suggest is eat raw beets and their leaves. They are the easiest to prepare, buy, wash and cut in slices. This way you preserve and consume the live enzymes they contain, which will help with the digestive system health. Eat with a drizzle of olive oil or with humus. They are not only a prime anti carcinogen but also an athletic booster, as Dr. Greger shows in his video. I hope this helps, Daniela




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  9. That “till now” statement always irks me…that study was done in 2012. And only looked at 11 subjects.
    The same year as this study, that was was larger (n = 20) and did a crossover study with beet juice and found no significant difference in performance btwn beet and placebo. I think you need to present negative findings as well as positive so you can reach a better consensus. Beets are great food, but not a magic bullet.

    Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012 Dec;22(6):470-8. Epub 2012 Jul 4.
    No improvement in endurance performance after a single dose of beetroot juice.
    Cermak NM1, Res P, Stinkens R, Lundberg JO, Gibala MJ, van Loon LJ.
    Author information
    Abstract
    INTRODUCTION:
    Dietary nitrate supplementation has received much attention in the literature due to its proposed ergogenic properties. Recently, the ingestion of a single bolus of nitrate-rich beetroot juice (500 ml, ~6.2 mmol NO3-) was reported to improve subsequent time-trial performance. However, this large volume of ingested beetroot juice does not represent a realistic dietary strategy for athletes to follow in a practical, performance-based setting. Therefore, we investigated the impact of ingesting a single bolus of concentrated nitrate-rich beetroot juice (140 ml, ~8.7 mmol NO3-) on subsequent 1-hr time-trial performance in well-trained cyclists.

    METHODS:
    Using a double-blind, repeated-measures crossover design (1-wk washout period), 20 trained male cyclists (26 ± 1 yr, VO(2peak) 60 ± 1 ml · kg(-1) · min(-1), Wmax 398 ± 7.7 W) ingested 140 ml of concentrated beetroot juice (8.7 mmol NO3-; BEET) or a placebo (nitrate-depleted beetroot juice; PLAC) with breakfast 2.5 hr before an ~1-hr cycling time trial (1,073 ± 21 kJ). Resting blood samples were collected every 30 min after BEET or PLAC ingestion and immediately after the time trial.

    RESULTS:
    Plasma nitrite concentration was higher in BEET than PLAC before the onset of the time trial (532 ± 32 vs. 271 ± 13 nM, respectively; p .05).

    CONCLUSION:
    Ingestion of a single bolus of concentrated (140 ml) beetroot juice (8.7 mmol NO3-) does not improve subsequent 1-hr time-trial performance in well-trained cyclists.




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    1. Well they used a significantly lower amount. The idea a larger amount is simply not doable would be true in some sports but not in others.

      In weightlifting for example the breath is held doing maximum exertion reps of certain types.Rapid breathing prior to the lift attempt to hyperoxygenate is not uncommon. And half breaths for example in a deadlift are preferable as the spine does not elongate as much allowing more weight. But less hypoxia would occur. So it seems a arbitrary thing
      A bit of a full belly in most lifts is not going to make a difference. Especially considering weightlifters may be very big peoples Cyclists comparatively are small thin people.. Having more 02 would. Even though it is just for a little bit hypoxic or not in that small period could make a diference.

      no offense but it sounds like some academics who think people use aerobic capacity in sports just in cycling or running and such. And the only athletes who exist are thin smallish ones.




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    2. There is no magical wonder substance which will keep you sailing on a cloud into the sunset.
      The described foods are super fuel components for your body machine.
      You are what you eat, combined with what you do to your body and what you allow to be done to your body. So, pair nutrition with what exercise is appropriate for your body machine needs.
      Your body machine requires the best for the best performance.
      We do not put junk into our car/bike engines, do we? No, because we know it is going to cost us. Do we use the same criterium when giving our body engines junk food and overdoing coach potato exercising?




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  10. What about raw, organic beets that are low temperature (110 degrees F or less) dehydrated and then powdered? I buy organic from Sprouts, when they are on sale, and in a large quantity. I uses the powder as a spice on many meals and it seems to help keep my blood pressure down. (I have heart disease).




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    1. Thank you for your question. Most of the studies beetroot have used the whole vegetable (cooked or raw) or beetroot juice. There is little data available to know whether powdered form will have the same effect although intuitively I would have thought so.




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  11. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1089860317302057

    Timely and worthwhile recent clinical…. by Andy Jones on 1. delivery of dietary nitrate makes a difference: closer to raw vegetable or raw juice is best and 2. Saliva bioconversion of nitrate to NOx correlates with blood pressure lowering. So, Take always: try to eat the nitrate-rich vegetable in its native/original state and monitor your saliva to stay compliant to plant-based nitrate-rich veggies




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    1. Dr Greger has done a excellent video on Uric acid and gout called treating gout with diet.

      Uric acid evacuation seems to be related to our acidity or alkalinity. Alcohol was the one substance most associated with gout.
      As far as uric acid was concerned the levels seem not to be much affected by vegetarian sources..




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    1. Thank you for your question. Most of the studies using beetroots have been with beetroot juice. Although I think the powder should have the same effect as all you have done is remove the water, I can not back this statement with any scientific evidence so I would stick with the whole vegetable or juice




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  12. How about beet soup (Borscht)? I guess my Lithuanian grandmother was right – it gives you “strong blood”. It also gives you pink urine though.




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  13. Seeing this topic brought back a fond memory! When I bought my Vitamix many many years ago, (not being very smart– I scrubbed two beets and put them in the vita–well they shot out and up and hit my ceiling– I still have a red spot on the ceiling. I have learned to visit my local health food store (organic) where they have grated red beets on the salad bar. This is great as they are toooo hard for me to do myself. They also have a juice bar and you can have beet juice too but I prefer the whole raw beet. The store gives me the beet tops as they have no buyers for them. They are wonderful very lightly steamed. My personal doc says great for BP .




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  14. I would assume that some number of people who decide to eat whole food plant based in order to treat one disease type or another, are also taking one of the most prescribed class of drugs on the planet: namely, H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors, both of which suppress stomach acid. Stomach acid is a requirement for the production of nitric oxide. I can’t help but wonder if folks on these acid suppressing drugs have precluded their body’s ability to convert nitrates to nitric oxide (I’m one of them). For those with gout……..tart cherry juice absolutely works. Gulp a mouthful each morning.




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  15. I’ve been eating beets for a while now. My friend said I have to take 1 bowl of beets everyday! I also saw powdered beets and I’ve been thinking to try it sometime. Does it work as well as the raw beets?And also, what is an arugula? Is it some kind of leaf?




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  16. Damian,
    I have not found any studies comparing powdered beets to whole beets. My preference would be the actual beets since they are not processed. However, if you want to try the powdered, it most likely would be effective. Read the label carefully to ensure minimal additives.

    Arugula is a green leafy vegetable found with lettuces in the produce aisle.




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