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Beets: Use THIS to Lower Blood Sugar and Strengthen Your Heart

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Posted Tuesday, Sep. 13th, 2016

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Root vegetables have gotten a bad name. Sure, some of them (like potatoes for example) will send your blood sugar and insulin through the roof. But others actually have a fairly low net carb count (I’ll explain what the is in a minute) which means they have almost zero effect on blood glucose and insulin levels—which, as you know, is a very good thing if you want to burn fat and stay healthy.

Not only that, but many of these buried treasures are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can protect you from a wide variety of chronic illnesses.

In my book there is one root vegetable that wins the prize for underappreciated superfood of the year.

Enter the humble beet.

A Better Red Dye?

Beets get their red color from a compound in them called betacyanin which is the messy stuff that stains your clothes and hands. According to Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa2, betacyanin is a potent cancer fighter, a theory I haven’t been able to confirm though I did find a study that showed that it definitely did not promote cancer and for that reason alone would make an excellent alternative to red dye.

Betacyanin also turns your urine red, so if you juice with beets, don’t be alarmed, you’re not bleeding internally!

Okay, enough with the fun facts. Let’s get down to business and talk about health benefits.

An Ancient Liver Tonic and Blood Purifier…

In many holistic, integrative and Eastern traditions, beets are believed to be an excellent liver tonic and blood purifier. They’re also a staple of the juicing crowd, for good reason (more in a moment).

Paul Pitchford, author of the classic Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, states that beets “tonify the Yin”.1 In Chinese Medicine deficient Yin is said to lead to a host of symptoms including dry skin, constipation, and sexual dysfunction. Tonifying the Yin is thought to reverse these maladies.

And according to yoga nutritional therapy, women can benefit from eating beets, because they help replenish iron lost in the blood during the menstrual cycle.

Interesting stuff for sure, but what does the science say? Are beets really the cure all the ancients believed them to be?

As it turns out beets have a ton of health benefits.

Good for Your Heart…

Beets are a good source of folate, a member of the B vitamin family which, among other things, helps lower a nasty heart-disease promoting blood chemical called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine make people more prone to endothelial injury and vascular inflammation—major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. So getting your homocysteine levels down is a good thing for sure.

They’re also loaded with potassium, a vitally important mineral for heart health.

In the “old days” our caveman ancestors consumed a diet high in potassium and low in sodium. A high potassium to sodium ratio is ideal for human health, but these days the ratio is reversed. The potassium in beets can help correct this imbalance.

Potassium is found in many fruits (like bananas) and vegetables; beets, weighing in at a whopping 528 mg of potassium for two beets, are an excellent source. They’ve also got magnesium and a tiny bit of vitamin C.

But the health benefits of this delicious root vegetable don’t end there…

Beets have a Bevy of Benefits…

Beets lower blood pressure by an average of 4-5 points.3

They also boost your endurance and stamina. In one study, drinking beet juice prior to exercise allowed participants to exercise for up to 16 percent longer.4

And beets are a great source of betaine, an important nutrient that helps protect cells from environmental stressors, enhances performance and improves vascular risk factors.5

And, if all that weren’t enough, beets help fight inflammation, a major promoter of every degenerative disease we know of.

So what’s the problem with beets? Why don’t they have the reputation for being a superfood they deserve? In a word: sugar.

High on the Glycemic Index, but No Effect on Blood Sugar?

For years, beets had a reputation (along with carrots) as being “high glycemic”, and therefore a really bad idea if you’re worried about raising your blood sugar. Remember, when blood sugar goes up, insulin—the fat making, fat storing hormone—goes into high alert, and when insulin is high, fat loss is next to impossible.

But as it turns out, there’s not nearly as much to worry about as we used to think.

See, the reputation of beets as being “high in sugar” comes from the fact that their glycemic index—like that of carrots—is relatively high (64). But the glycemic index is a misleading metric, as it applies only to a 50 gram net carb portion. To understand why this makes the glycemic index misleading, you need to know what net carbs are.

Net carbs are the only part of the carb count that really matter when it comes to measuring a good effect on your blood sugar. They are the carbohydrate content of food minus the fiber content and sugar alcohols. What’s left is the amount of carbs that may impact blood sugar, and these are the only ones worth counting.

One ounce of raw beets has only 3 grams of net carbs (and a ridiculously low 12 calories), while 1/2 cup of cooked sliced beets has 6 grams of net carbs, and ½ cup of canned beets (drained) has only 5 grams. This is a relatively miniscule amount of carbs, and certainly nothing to worry about.

A far more accurate measure of the effect of food on your blood sugar is glycemic load, which takes into account the actual amount of carbs you’re consuming, not the hypothetical “50 gram portion”. Glycemic loads of 1-10 are considered low, 10-20 is moderate and over 20 is high. The glycemic load of ½ cup of raw chopped beets is 2, which is about as low as you can go.6

So sure, if you’re worried about blood sugar and insulin, it’s probably not a great idea to down 16 ounces of mixed beet, carrot and apple juice.

But beets in their whole food form make a terrific addition to your menu. They can be baked, boiled, steamed or shredded raw and added to salads and slaws. Their leaves are even higher in nutritional value than the roots, especially in calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. So make a salad of beet greens with shredded beets on top to get even more bang for your buck.

In my book these wonderful roots are a superfood you can’t beet.

Naturally yours,

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

References

1 Pitchford, P. Healing with Whole Foods. 2002. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA.

2 Khalsa, D.S. Food as Medicine. 2004. Atria Books. New York

3 Coles, L.T. and Clifton, P.M. Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized placebo controlled trial. Nutr J. 2012. 11:106.

4 Bailey, S.J., et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances exercise tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009. 107(4): 1144–55.

5 Craig, S. Beatine in human health. Am J Clin Nutr. 80(3): 539–549.

6 http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/carbcounts/a/carbs-in-beets.htm

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