Making a loaf with the brightly colored root vegetable can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart.
Researchers from the University of Reading gave 24 participants with four slices (200g) of bread containing 100g of beetroot or a control bread with no beetroot added to it. They found the diastolic blood pressure of those who ate the "beetroot bread" was lowered by 7mmHg when compared to the control group, approximately three hours after consumption.
Diastolic blood pressure indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. A normal diastolic blood pressure number is 80 or less.
Evidence suggests a reduction in diastolic blood pressure of 5-6mmHg over a five-year period could reduce the chances of a stroke by 38% and coronary heart disease by 23%.
Prolonged blood pressure is an important risk factor for the development of heart disease, which is the biggest killer in the UK, causing nearly 179,000 deaths per year.
The component of beetroot bread thought to be responsible for the beneficial effects on blood vessel function and blood pressure is dietary nitrate. Dietary nitrate is a natural component of beetroot and a number of other vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and rocket.
When dietary nitrate is eaten it produces nitric oxide in the blood vessel wall which causes relaxation of the vessel and increased blood flow. This ultimately results in lowering of blood pressure and an improvement in blood vessel function.
Julie Lovegrove, professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Reading who led the study, said, “These exciting and novel findings show for the first time that bread containing beetroot improves blood vessel function. This is an important addition to the increasing body of evidence that suggests beneficial effects of dietary nitrate rich foods on the heart.
“This research also supports the findings of our previous study which was carried out last year and showed that beetroot in the form of juice or bread lowers blood pressure. Collectively, these studies suggest a potential role for foods rich in dietary nitrate in the management of high blood pressure," says Lovegrove, who is also Head of the Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition and the Deputy Director of the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research (ICMR).
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, was undertaken by Dr Ditte Hobbs in the University of Reading's Hugh Sinclair Human Nutrition Group, which has an international reputation for its research into the relationship between diet and the risk of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease and cancer.
Studies have also shown that drinking eight ounces of beetroot juice (around a cup) may also cut blood pressure by 7%.
Lifestyle changes such as exercise, cutting salt, giving up smoking, cutting back on alcohol and losing weight can help lower high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.