Improve Your Health with Root Vegetables

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Researchers are turning up all kinds of exciting revelations these days about the significant benefits of root vegetables.

“Rooting” for Your Health

In the last few years I have been seeing an increased volume of research on the health-boosting power of root vegetables. They include familiar items like carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes. Familiar yes, but not foods that typically make it on the superfood list.

The research convinced me some time ago that I needed to make these foods part of my daily menu. More on that in a minute.

Here is a brief summary of a few recent findings I have come across:

  • In a large 2012 multi-center European study, researchers found that among fruits and vegetables, regular consumption of green leafy and root vegetables appeared to have the strongest potential in helping to reduce the risk of diabetes. “Persons at risk of diabetes may benefit from consuming higher quantities of these vegetables,” they said, and added that further study was need to understand the particular mechanics of why these items appear to be more potent. The findings emerged from analysis of a database of more than sixteen thousand participants in a medical study. The green leafy vegetables identified in the study were spinach, chard, endive, lettuce, borage, watercress, and beet leaves. Beets are packed with natural antioxidants and other compounds, among them nitrates. In the body, nitrates are broken down and eventually contribute to an increase in nitric oxide, a strategic chemical made in the lining of blood vessels that keeps those vessels relaxed and dilated. A 2013 review in the Journal of Nutrition of sixteen previous studies on nitrates and beetroot juice supplements found a “significant reduction” in systolic blood pressure, on average of more than 4 points.
  • Also in 2013, sports and health researchers at the University of Lexeter reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology that a half-cup (140 ml) of beet juice taken about two-and-a-half hours before activity decreased the oxygen consumption requirement and increased the exercise tolerance of cyclists by about 14-16 percent. Exercise, by the way, is a primary way of improving your nitric oxide level.

How much beetroot juice should you take? Hard to say. Anywhere from a half-cup to a cup or two a day would probably do you good. You might also want to consider adding beets to a veggie and fruit smoothie like I do. The combination makes a great antioxidant and detox cocktail, and getting your fresh beet fix that way is a lot cheaper than buying juice. If you start adding beets (juice or whole) into your diet, you may notice some harmless color changes (redder) in your urine and stool.

Beets have now become a fixture in my daily fare, part of a sustained effort to create “farm stand meals” that can balance the frequent eating out that I do, particularly on business trips. I make a veggie and fruit smoothie most of the time at home for breakfast, and when feasible, carry a blender with me on longer trips. The live enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other phytonutrients in the vegetables pack plenty of jump start energy, cleanse and restore the GI tract, supply the cells with raw materials, and boost the immune system. For me, there is no better way to start the day. Give it a shot and see the difference it can make on your energy level and how you feel.

Learn more about what they can do for you and how to put them to use for you as I do, in a “power smoothie.” 

References and Resources:

  • Cooper AJ, Forouhi NG, et. al. Fruit and vegetable intake and type 2 diabetes: EPIC-InterAct prospective study and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. Oct 2012;66(10):1082-1092. [Full article.]
  • Siervo M, Lara J, et. al. Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr. Jun 2013;143(6):818-826. [Full article.]
  • Wylie LJ, Kelly J, et. al. Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology. Aug 2013;115(3):325-336. [Abstract.]

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