Beets – Properties and medicinal uses

Beets or Beta vulgaris are a popular vegetable used all over the world. They are appreciated for their unique taste, color and flavor. They have a lot of health benefits which include improving heart health, reducing birth defects, improving digestive health, boosting cognitive function, and aiding weight loss.

Botanical name: Beta vulgaris

Other names: Table beet, red beet, garden beet, golden beet

French name: Betterave

Spanish name: Remolacha

Botanical family: Chenopodiaceae.

Beets have a blood-red color. For some people, after eating beets, they pass out a blood-red urine. You don’t have to be frightened, it’s not blood, but rather a pigment found in red beets known as beta-cyanin. According to a study conducted at the university of Sheffield (United Kingdom), red urine or feces after eating red beets occur in 10-15% of people, and it is more frequent in those with iron deficiency problem, or difficulty with intestinal absorption of iron.

Therefore, if you notice blood-red urine or feces after eating red beets, you should note that beets just diagnosed you of lack of iron or digestive problems. However, one is not advised to worry a lot as red beets helps in providing solution to the diagnosed problem. This can be attributed to its regulating effect on the digestive tract and anti-anemic effects.



Beets are mainly used as a food all over the world. They can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, or combined with other vegetable in salad. In Eastern Europe, a beet soup known as borscht is a very popular dish. Apart from the root, the green leafy portion of beet is also edible. Young leaves can be added raw to salads, while the mature leaves are usually steamed or boiled before consumption (like this, their taste and texture is similar of that of spinach).

Beets have a long history of medicinal uses. Its roots and leaves are used to treat a number of ailments. The ancient Romans, used beetroot to treat fevers and constipation. For a very long time, beets have also been used to treat problems of the digestive system and the blood. A popular gastronomist, Bartolomeo, recommended taking garlic with beets, in order to nullify the former’s bad-breath effect.

In terms of industrial applications, beets are used by food industries as a colorant, usually to improve the flavor and color of foods like tomato paste, jams, ice creams, sauces, desserts, and other foods. This coloring ability has been attributed to a compound known as betanin, which is obtained from beet root.


Beets are not that so-rich in nutrients, with only manganese and folate contained in fairly rich amounts. Other nutrients are only present in reasonable amounts, and they include vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It contains sugars (carbohydrates) in about 7% of its total content. It also contains significant amount of dietary fiber, at about 2.8% of its content. Proteins are contained in little amounts, while fat is virtually present, at less that 1% of its content. The whole of beet is made up of water, representing about 88% of its total content.

8 Medicinal uses of beets
  1. Anti-anemic
  2. Prevents cancer
  3. Lowers cholesterol
  4. Improves heart health
  5. Fights constipation
  6. Prevents neural tube defects
  7. Boosts cognitive function
  8. Aids weight loss
  • Anti-anemic

The anti-anemic effects of beet is well known. It contains significant amounts of iron and vitamin C. Presence of Vitamin C in red beets facilitates the absorption of iron present in the same plant. As already known, iron is involved in the formation of new blood cells, and its absence can cause an iron-deficiency anemia. However, the iron content of beets is not sufficient enough to explain red beet’s anti-anemic effect, so, there is said to be probably some unidentified components in it that stimulates production of blood cells in the bone marrow.
In cases of anemia, drinking 50-100 ml of raw freshly prepared beet juice before meals twice a day provides the greatest anti-anemic effect. This is particularly indicated when a patient is not responding well to iron treatment, hypoplastic anemia. However, before adding beets to your diet, make sure you consult your doctor for permission and instructions.

  • Prevents cancer

Red beets are a great source of anticarcinogens. In some researches, the consumption of about 250 g of shredded beets or 500 ml of red beet juice has been shown to reduce or eliminate cancerous tumors. Even when the juice was boiled to make it more tolerable to the stomach, the same effects were observed. This shows that cancer-fighting substances present in beets is also resistant to heat.

Another research carried out on human cells, found beetroot extract which contains betalain pigments in high amounts to reduce the growth of prostrate and breast cancer cells (1).

As a great hypolipidemic, red beets contains significant amounts of vegetable fiber. This vegetable fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol level by reducing its absorption in the intestine. Apart from absorbing excess cholesterol, it helps in facilitating intestinal action.

  • Improves Heart health

Excess cholesterol in the body is a danger to heart health. But we have read above how beets can help lower cholesterol. Excess cholesterol can stick to the walls of our arteries and make them narrower, and even block blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain. This can eventually lead to conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

Apart from lowering cholesterol, beets also help reduce blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. In 2012, a research backed this claim by evaluating the effect of beetroot juice on blood pressure. The study found beetroot juice effective in lowering blood pressure when consumed as a part of a normal diet in free living healthy adults (2).

  • Constipation

As we have seen above, red beets contains vegetable fiber which improves intestinal function. This fiber gives it a mild laxative effect, which is effective in relieving an acute constipation. The fiber acts by stimulating peristaltic action in passing feces down the colon with ease, thus, preventing those small, dry, and hard to pass stool.

  • Prevents neural tube defects

As we have seen above, beets are a great source of folic acid, which plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects. To protect your baby from birth defects, folic acid is necessary, and of course, your table beets can provide the required folates in your diet.

It is important to note that neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly usually occur in the first month of pregnancy, in most cases even without the mother knowing about the pregnancy. This is the reason why expectant moms are advised to have enough folates in their body prior to conception.

  • Improves digestive function

Fiber is by far one of the most important components that ensures a healthy digestive system. It has been found to stimulate the production of digestive juices. Fiber as great laxative sees that stools are passed down the colon easily without strains. It add enough bulk to the stool, and also feeds the friendly gut-bacteria. All these, promote a healthy digestive system and prevents conditions such as constipation, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, and duodenal ulcer (3).

To add more fiber to your diet, vegetable such as beets are a good choice, which contains fiber in close to 3% of its total content. That’s a huge amount, considering the fact that about 88% of beet is water.

Another benefit of beets is that it helps serve as an aperitif, by increasing production of gastric juice, and tones the stomach.

  • Boost brain health

Cognitive decline is fairly proportional to age. As one ages, a level of mental or cognitive decline may be experienced. The decline may go as far as progressing into conditions like dementia. One of the causes of such conditions is a reduced blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain.

Interestingly, beets can help increase blood flow to the brain. Thanks to the nitrates they contain, which can promote the dilation of blood vessels and increase blood supply to the brain; an action that can promote a better cognitive function. A research showed high-nitrate diet such as beets to particularly improve blood flow to frontal lobe white matter of the brain, a region that is associated with executive functioning; a spot for higher level of thinking (4).

  • Aids weight loss

Beets are just perfect for those who want to shed off some weight. One, beets are low in calories. Two, beets are high in water. Three, beets contain significant amount of fiber. Four, beets contains virtually no fat. All these properties are essential for an effective weight loss.

As someone who wants to lose weight, you need little amount of calories and enough water intake. You must limit your intake of fats, and consume high fiber foods. A good quantity of fiber in your food provides a feeling of satiety and reduces appetite, which makes you to eat less amount of food.

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By Abbati

Abbati studied Biological sciences at Ahmadu Bello Univeristy, Zaria. He loves learning about the medicinal properties of foods, and the need to explore them!