Beets for Heart Health
The naturally occurring nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide within the body. The effect? This causes your blood vessels to relax, improving blood flow and lowering overall blood pressure. Furthermore, beets are a natural source of betaine, a cardio-protective nutrient that reduces inflammation is associated with reduced risk of chronic disease.
Beets for Athletic Performance
During my dietetic internship, I learned more about the benefits of beets from a performance standpoint. More and more research studies are pointing to beets as an effective ergogenic aid. Why? The nitrates contained within beets are converted to nitric oxide within the body which then functions to relax and widen blood vessels. Wider blood vessels mean improved blood flow to working muscles during exercise, reduced blood pressure and the ability to perform at a higher level without increases in perceived exertion. These benefits can be found in any food containing nitrates, including celery, lettuce, radishes, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, kale and chard.
While I don't consume a source of beets prior to every workout or race, I do try to incorporate beets into my diet prior to specific workouts or races (like tomorrow's half marathon!!).
How to Prepare
After learning more about the performance benefits of beets, I was determined to give them a second go. I received a recipe for "Beet Soup" from a dietitian preceptor and immediately whipped it up and served it for dinner that night. The soup was delicious, but I learned an important lesson! High intakes of beets or beet juice while dye anything you excrete a beautiful shade of purple-red, so don't be alarmed if this happens to you :) Now I have branched out and enjoy beets in many different forms! One of my favorites is roasted beets because the roasting seems to really bring out their natural flavor.
While I first and foremost recommend cooking and consuming beets in their freshest form, there are a lot of products out there to choose from. I have a stash of beet juice powder (available at nutrition specialty shops) that I add to smoothies. More recently, I roasted a bunch of vegetables (including beets), then used the leftovers in creating this new and different pizza combo. Simply cut off the stems, clean well, dice and lay out on an oven-safe baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and bake (see below). If you are baking just the beets, you can wrap them individually in foil like a potato.
First, prepare your roasted vegetables: Preheat your oven to 450F. Wash your beets and carrots (I left the skin on my carrots and did not peel). Roughly dice your beets, squash and carrots into 1" chunks. Slice onion. Roughly dice your garlic. Combine all veggies in a medium bowl with the olive oil and mix to blend well. Transfer to an over safe sheet pan (flat stoneware works well too) and bake for 30 minutes at 450F. Turn your veggies once or twice while cooking so as to help them cook evenly thorough. Remove from the oven and sprinkle to salt to taste. I added a dash of cinnamon too!
Second, prepare your sauce: Add olive oil to a medium-sized pot heated to medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until translucent (2-3 minutes). Be sure to stir to coat with olive oil and prevent burning. Next, add your remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a slow simmer. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to heat thoroughly and allow the flavors to combine.
Finally, assemble your pizza: Roll out your crust (whether homemade or store bought) on a pizza stone or appropriate oven-safe pan. Coat the crust with sauce, then a light layer of cheese. Next, add your roasted vegetables (once fully cooked) and then a second layer of cheese. Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes until crust is golden and cheese bubbly! Allow to cool 2-3 minutes before consuming... it will be hot!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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