Beets are great for heart health and may have specific benefits for heart failure patients. They are one of the best dietary sources of nitrate, which relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the workload on the heart. And beet research suggests that beets can improve exercise endurance in heart failure patients.
This article explains the many nutritional benefits of beets and shows you how you can incorporate beets into a heart healthy, low sodium diet. I also answer questions about canned, powdered, and juiced beets. Are they acceptable substitutes? Read on for tips, information, and the latest research on beets!
Healthy Blood Vessels
The heart, blood, and blood vessels work together to nourish every cell and organ in your body!
Blood absorbs nutrients from the small intestine and provides the nutrients to your cells. The heart pumps blood through arteries, veins, and capillaries, picking up oxygen from our lungs and delivering it to cells for energy production. Blood also drops off carbon dioxide to be exhaled.
It’s a pretty amazing system.
Good blood flow is necessary for every organ and organ system to function correctly!
Both heart failure and atherosclerosis can hurt the body’s ability to circulate blood. Heart failure patients must keep their vessels as healthy as possible. And eating beets are an easy way to do this.
Nutritional Benefits of Beets
Beets have many nutritional benefits besides nitrates.
Beets are what we call “nutrient dense” — packed with micronutrients and phytonutrients!
Beets are relatively low in calories, considering the nutrition you get from each bite. One large beet has about 50 calories, while a half cup of beets provides 35 calories. Most of these calories come from carbohydrates, with a couple of grams of protein and nearly zero fat.
And remember, you need carbohydrates. Your brain prefers carbohydrates as a fuel source. Beets are an incredibly healthy way to get them.
Polyphenols and Betalains
Polyphenols and betalains are phytochemicals. These compounds act as antioxidants, scavenging free radicals that can damage the body. Betalains give beets their beautiful red color.
Fiber is so important and is only found in plant foods!
- Prevent constipation
- Decreases cholesterol
- Keeps your GI tract healthy
- Fiber also helps you feel full.
Each whole beet you eat has about 3g of fiber. Keep in mind that beet juice has had the fiber removed.
We already know that potassium can lower blood pressure and benefit heart failure patients. A cup of beets has about the same potassium as a medium banana—450mg. (If you are on a low-potassium diet or have kidney disease, check with your doctor. It’s unlikely one beet will cause a problem, but you may need to limit your daily potassium and focus on lower-potassium healthy foods.)
Folic acid has long been linked to heart health. That’s because folic acid helps decrease homocysteine levels in the body. Elevated homocysteine can be damaging to the heart. Just one cup of beets supplies a third of your daily requirement.
Exercise Endurance and Beets
A journal called Nutrients reviewed the many studies on beets and exercise and found the benefits of nitrates to be significant. (1). It makes perfect sense that nitrate consumption helps with endurance and exercise tolerance.
- Our body converts nitrates to nitric acid, dilates and relaxes the blood vessels.
- Relaxed blood vessels expand and allow increased blood flow.
- Increased blood flow means more glucose and oxygen are delivered to the muscles and organs.
Supplement companies have taken notice and actively market beet products to athletes. Beet shots, powders, juices, and chews are found at running and cycling stores and are readily available on the internet.
But does nitric oxide have the ability to help heart failure patients? Find out below!
Heart Failure Patients and Exercise Tolerance
A randomized controlled trial published in the JACC: Heart Failure found that beets increased exercise tolerance in heart failure patients. The study was very small, but the results were promising. Participants were a moderate dose of beetroot juice every day. After just one week of beetroot juice consumption, their exercise tolerance increased by 24%. And a significant decrease in blood pressure was seen almost immediately. (2)
Ways You Can Eat Beets
Beets can be purchased in the produce section of grocery stores. They can be roasted in the oven or cooked in an air fryer. Roasted beets are delicious and need little in the way of spices. I like mine with a bit of pepper and balsamic vinegar. I cube the beets, roast them, and store them in a container to use as a salad topping or side dish throughout the week.
Beets can also be boiled or steamed. Freshly boiled beets are sometimes available in grocery stores near the prepared vegetables. Avoid store-bought pickled beets due to their salt content. (Pickling is accomplished with salt and vinegar, so avoid pickled products.)
Ready to Eat
Prepared beets are found in mainstream grocery stores in the refrigerated section, most often near the produce. The most popular brand is Love Beets https://www.lovebeets.com/ While one variety is labeled as “Pickled” it is actually low in sodium with 60mg per half cup. You do have to watch your portions as each container contains three servings. Another version, “Garlic Herb Marinated Baby Beets” has only 20mg per half-cup serving. Give them a try and let me know what you think. Let me know if you see other brands of prepared beet options where you live.
Canned beets are great if you are in a rush. They are ready to eat. While I prefer roasted, canned beets can be quite good when diced and added to a salad or just eaten plain.
However, many brands of canned beets have a lot of sodium—up to 300mg a serving. Look for low sodium on the label. I know that Goya’s, Best Yet, Libby’s, and Sprouts all have low-sodium varieties.
Other Ways to Eat Beets
Juice is widely available at grocery stores, health food stores, and Walmart. The taste is strong, but it can be added to club soda and served over ice. One cup of Great Value Beet Juice has only 70 calories and zero added sugar.
1 1/2 ounce shots of concentrated beet juice. Its taste is strong, but you can’t beat the convenience, especially when traveling or on the go.
While you may not find beetroot powder at your local grocery store, it can easily be found online. Beetroot powders are light, convenient, and great for travel. They can also be added to bread, muffins, and pancakes, resulting in a beautiful pink color.
Additional Food Sources of Dietary Nitrates
Here is more good news!
While the focus of this post is on beets. They are not the only source of nitrates in the diet. Other foods high in nitrates include
- Dark greens like Swiss chard, spinach, or mustard greens
So, it should be easy for you to get at least one source of nitrate into your diet every day and get all the benefits.
Keep in mind that naturally occurring nitrates in foods are not the same as the sodium nitrate added to lunch meats or cold cuts. This is definitely NOT healthy and should be avoided.
Call to Action!
- Increase ALL fresh fruits and vegetables. Pay special attention to foods high in polyphenols, which increase nitrous oxide production. These include berries, plums, spinach, grapes, apples, onions, green tea, flaxseed, and most nuts, including almonds and pecans.
- Eat nitrate-containing foods EVERY SINGLE DAY.
- Decrease the intake of food high in saturated fats, as we know that these contribute to atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries.
Can you eat too many beets?
Beets are a high oxalate food. If you are prone to kidney stones and have been advised to follow a low oxalate diet, beets may not be for you.
In addition, you may need to limit beet consumption if you are on a low-potassium or renal diet.
Check with your physician.
1 Dominguez R, Cuenca E, Mate-Munoz JLet al.. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A systemic review.Nutrients. 2017: 9:E43.
2. Eggebeen J, Kim-Shapiro D, Haykowsky M, et al. One Week of Daily Dosing With Beetroot Juice Improves Submaximal Endurance and Blood Pressure in Older Patients With Heart Failure and Preserved Ejection Fraction. J Am Coll Cardiol HF. 2016 Jun, 4 (6) 428–437.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jchf.2015.12.013