Nutrition tip: Beetroot
Nutrition tip: Beetroot
Often simply referred to as beets, this vegetable has long been known for its use as a medicinal plant and colour pigment. But what are the latest findings regarding the local superfood?
Foto: ©fotolia/Daniel Vincek

The Mediterranean

Beetroot is probably descended from wild beets, which were already known 2,000 years ago in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, before they were brought to Europe by the Romans. The now evenly-red colour of beets is a result of selective breeding.


Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris (subsp.: botanically a subspecies) is a herbaceous biennial plant. It belongs to the Amaranthaceae family and is related to Swiss chard and sugar beet. During the first year, the beetroot is formed by a thickening of the sprout axis below the embryonic leaves. In the second year, a complete stem of up to 1.5 metres is formed. Varieties may be round, bulbous or cylindrical. Red beetroot is commercially available pickled, cooked or fresh, with the main harvest season being from May to late July.

Betanin colour

The rich red colour is largely due to the high concentration of the glycoside betanin. Since ancient times, beetroot has been used as a dye plant. Betanin is used as a natural food colourant (E162), but it is not very heat-resistant. Betanin and choline, an ammonium compound also found in large quantities in beetroot, help the liver in the breakdown of metabolic waste products. The liver is thus relieved and this, in turn, benefits the whole body. When larger quantities of the vegetable are consumed, urine or stools may turn reddish for a short time.


Beetroot is low in calories and has a high nutritional value. It is rich in minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus, as well as B vitamins, vitamin C and folic acid. This mix is important for the formation of blood, but it also protects the blood vessels from the build-up of deposits. Iron also supports the absorption of oxygen by the blood.

Oxalic acid

Beetroot contains relatively high amounts of oxalic acid, from which kidney stones can be formed. To be on the safe side, anyone who has already had kidney stones, or who may have a genetic predisposition for them, should limit the consumption of beetroot until further consultation with a medical practitioner.

Source of nitrats

Vegetables are our most important source of nitrates; in particular, root vegetables, such as beets and radishes, leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach, as well as the various types of cabbage are all packed full of nitrates. For a long time, nitrates in food had a bad reputation as the resultant nitric acid was thought to be carcinogenic. Clinical studies in recent years have, however, been unable to confirm this correlation in humans. In fact, quite in contrast, there are many studies that ascribe health benefits to these nitrates.

Impact on blood pressure

Researchers at the London School of Medicine discovered that half a litre of beetroot juice, ingested daily, lowers blood pressure significantly. The physicians gave healthy volunteers 500 ml of juice to drink and found that their blood pressure had already dropped measurably after an hour. The researchers reported in the medical journal Hypertension that, after about three hours, the systolic blood pressure had fallen by 10.4 mmHg and the diastolic by 8 mmHg. This effect is due to the fact that beetroot contains large amounts of nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide (NO). The nitric oxide is then used by the body to relax and dilate the walls of blood vessels (vasodilation).

Protect against tooth decay

As we know, plaque consists of a number of bacteria that feed on carbohydrates. Metabolic waste products include acids, which attack the tooth enamel and can cause tooth decay. When there is a sufficient quantity of nitrates in the food, a “nitrogen cycle” takes place in the mouth. This produces nitric oxide, which plays an essential role in combating lactic acid-producing bacteria, thus protecting against tooth decay.

Storage and preparation

When buying them, ensure that the beets are plump, juicy, undamaged and have a smooth, uniformly-coloured surface. Beetroot can be stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for one week. During preparation, the fresh tuber should be cleaned under running water and boiled whole. Depending on the size, this could take up to 60 minutes. When the beetroot is cooked, plunge it into cold water. Beets should only be peeled or cut after cooking. Once they are cooked, they spoil easily and should be used up quickly. In the kitchen, beets can be used in many ways: raw or cooked in salads, as a vegetable side dish or in soup, like the famous Russian dish, "Borschtsch".

If you would like to dig deeper into the world of beetroot, we recommend the following websites:

The Kornspitz team is always there for you. If you have any questions, requests, suggestions or tips, please send an email to

Mag. Gerda Reimann-Dorninger
Nutrition Scientist

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