Beet It

October 13/Chicago/Chicago Sun Times -- In two studies performed on 15 men, researchers at Exeter University found that cyclists who drank a half-liter (about a half-quart) of beet juice several hours before riding were able to ride 20% longer than those who drank a placebo. The researchers theorize that the high nitrate levels in beets allow muscles to work with less oxygen.

Yes, nitrates that are used to preserve meats such as hot dogs have a bad rep, but these are naturally occurring nitrates found in fruit and vegetables, not additives.

A runner from the U.K. also weighed in on beet juice, telling reporters that he won an ultra-marathon by running 148 miles in 24 hours, eight miles further than he had run the previous year. The only change in his training regimen, Chris Carver told the Associated Press, was adding beet juice to his diet.

When asked about beet juice, registered dietitian Sarah Gottlieb said the results of the studies sound promising, but more research needs to be done; 15 men is not a large pool, and about that liter of juice: "That's a lot of beet juice," Gottlieb said. "It has a really, really strong flavor, and you're not going to drink that much of it. I mix it with something -- carrots, apples, lemons -- to make it taste good. I don't think most people are going to drink beet juice to see a small increase in their performance. Maybe an Olympic athlete, where seconds could make a difference, but it probably won't be beneficial for the majority of people."

"This is definitely something worth studying further," she added.

Another recent study has shown that beet juice lowers blood pressure. Researchers at Queen Mary University found that people who drank one cup of beet juice saw their blood pressure lowered within 24 hours. The beets were just as effective in lowering blood pressure as prescription nitrate pills. The study was published in the American Heart Association Journal of Hypertension

From the October 18, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition