As part of the strategy to break the negative, addictive feedback of the modern Western diet, my program incorporates the concept of juicing. I am often asked if there are any particular fruits or vegetables which may be more beneficial than others. Recent research from the Queen Mary University of London would suggest that for those with high blood pressure, daily incorporation of beets into the regimen may yield additional benefits.
Researchers monitored the consumptive effects of 250 mL (approximately one US cup) daily of beet juice on patients suffering from hypertension. On average, the systolic blood pressure (the top number) decreased 8 mmHg. The diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) was also significantly reduced by about 4 mmHg. The magnitude of these effects are comparable to those achieved with prescription pharmaceuticals where the average reduction in blood pressure is 9 mmHg for systolic and 5 mmHg for diastolic. In fact, the effects from beet juice were so pronounced that by clinical definition, many of these patients no longer suffered from hypertension; their resting blood pressures were now in the normal range.
Several previous studies have documented similar findings. As in previous studies, there was an increase in the capacity of the blood vessels to dilate and a reduction in their stiffness. Such effects have been shown to correlate with significant reductions in cardiovascular disease. Observational data suggests that the decrease achieved from 1 cup of daily beetroot juice consumption could reduce the risk of death from heart attack by 28% and the risk of stroke by a whopping 40%.
However compared to some other previous studies, this study was of longer duration. The 64 patients included ranged in age from 18 to 85 years. Roughly half of the patients were already on antihypertensive medication, but their blood pressure was not adequately controlled. The remainder had high blood pressure, but were not yet on pharmacological therapy.
The participants within provided a daily 250 mL beetroot juice supplement. Half the participants received a beetroot juice supplement which had the naturally occurring nitrates removed. Blood pressures were measured for two weeks prior, four weeks during the beetroot juice supplementation, and for two weeks after the supplement was discontinued. The total study duration was eight weeks; with a four-week period of intervention (for discussion on nitrates see my recent article on bacon here: Bacon; The Whole Slab). In those patients who received the beetroot juice without the naturally occurring nitrates, there were no changes to blood pressure, vasodilatory capacity or arterial stiffness. The beneficial effects were only seen in the group that received the unadulterated beetroot juice, complete with naturally occurring nitrates. There were no adverse side effects observed with consumption of daily dietary nitrate. When the participants who had been consuming the nitrate rich beetroot juice discontinued their daily intake, their blood pressure returned to its previous high levels. Such findings suggest that the beneficial effect seen with the daily beetroot juice is due to its naturally high levels of inorganic nitrates. Other vegetables rich in such compounds include lettuce, cabbage, carrots, green beans, spinach, parsley, radishes, collard greens and celery. Fruits tend to have less nitrates, but strawberries, currents, gooseberries, raspberries and cherries are reasonable sources.
Professor Amrita Ahluwalia, the study’s lead author, summarizes:
“Diseases of the heart and blood vessels – which can cause heart attacks and strokes – remain the biggest cause of death worldwide. However, unlike some other serious illnesses, we are fortunate in that we can make certain lifestyle changes which dramatically improve our heart and blood vessel health. This research has proven that a daily inorganic nitrate dose can be as effective as medical intervention in reducing blood pressure and the best part is we can get it from beetroot and other leafy green vegetables.
These findings are exciting because we’ve now tested the effectiveness of dietary nitrate in reducing blood pressure in 64 patients, over a sustained period of time, and found it works. Plus it’s so easy for patients to work this into their daily lives and see a positive benefit.
It is hugely beneficial for people to be able to take steps in controlling their blood pressure through non-clinical means such as eating vegetables. We know many people don’t like taking drugs life-long when they feel ok, and because of this, medication compliance is a big issue.
For those looking to work dietary nitrate into their daily diets, the trick is not to boil the vegetables – as dietary nitrate is water soluble – but steaming, roasting or drinking in a juice all has a positive effect.”