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Can beetroot juice give you wings?

Beetroot is alleged to lower blood pressure, boost exercise and prevent dementia. But what does the evidence say?

Beetroot's deep, overpoweringly red juice has earned it the reputation as the most bossy of vegetables. 

Although the leaves have always been eaten, historically the beet root was generally used medicinally for a range of ailments, including fevers, constipation and skin problems.

Beetroot is a good source of iron and folate (naturally occurring folic acid). It also contains nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants (notably betacyanin).

More recent health claims suggest beetroot can help lower blood pressure, boost exercise performance and prevent dementia.

We've teamed up with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) to examine if beetroot health claims are supported by evidence.


The evidence on beetroot

Can beetroot lower blood pressure?

Beetroot is rich in nitrates. When ingested, scientists believe our body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a chemical thought to lower blood pressure. A well-conducted review of the current evidence from 2013 concluded that beetroot juice was associated with a modest reduction in blood pressure.

However further long-term trials would be needed and in people at greater risk of heart disease before we could say beetroot was clinically useful.

Does beetroot aid exercise performance?

Another well-conducted review from 2013 looked at research linking beetroot juice to improved exercise performance. The review found that inactive and recreationally active individuals saw "moderate improvements" in exercise performance from drinking beetroot juice. However, the review noted there was very little effect on elite athletes.

Can beetroot help prevent dementia?

A 2010 study suggested that a diet high in beetroot juice may increase blood flow to certain areas of the brain. However, this was a small and short-term study with several limitations and as such does not provide robust evidence that a diet high in nitrates aids cognitive function. Further research is needed in larger numbers of people over a longer period. 

2014 study looked at the effects of beetroot juice on cyclists, who were cycling in a chamber designed to mimic the effects of relatively high altitude (2,500 meters above sea level).

Researchers found that cyclists given the juice had a modest but significant increase in terms of their time trial scores; on average there was a 16 second improvement.


The dietitian's verdict on beetroot

Alison Hornby, a dietitian and BDA spokesperson, says: "Beetroot and beetroot juice, along with green leafy vegetables, cabbage and celery, are very useful as part of a balanced diet as their nitrate content may help to reduce blood pressure.

"Getting active, reducing the amount of salt in your diet and maintaining a healthy weight are also key strategies for getting your blood pressure under control."


More on superfoods

Check out the evidence behind the health claims about these other so-called superfoods:

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