Beet is a flowering perennial plant that produces leaves and roots that are widely used as a food source in humans and animals. Beets are a source of vitamins A and C, iron, and other minerals, carotenoids, and dietary fiber.
Betalins are natural pigments (colors) in beets that account for the red color in beet stems and leaves. After eating beets, these pigments produce red or pink urine (called beeturia) in about 10%-14% of people.
Sugar has been extracted from beets and used as a sweetener since the 16th Century and is still widely used today.
Beet pulp, the remaining byproduct of beet juices and sugars extracted from the root, is widely used in animal feed as a source of dietary fiber in humans. It is also used as a biosorption matrix.
According to secondary sources, beetroot has been used since Roman times to treat various medical conditions, including fever, constipation, digestive illnesses, and blood conditions. In ancient Rome, it was also used as an aphrodisiac. Today, beetroot is still a popular medicinal tonic in Africa, where it is used in treatment of AIDS and other illnesses. Beet leaves also have a long history of use for medicinal purposes; it is alleged that Hippocrates promoted use of the leaves for treatment of wounds.
Human studies have tested the effects of beet on blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels. However, results are mixed. Early evidence suggests that it may be beneficial for inflammation of the abdomen and pelvic walls (called toxic peritonitis). Additional research is needed to determine if beet is effective for any medical condition.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved dehydrated beets and sugar beet extract flavor base as food additives or listed or affirmed them as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding feeding beets and other high-nitrate foods to infants younger than three months of age to avoid the risk of nitrate poisoning.
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These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
High blood pressure
Along with high blood sugar levels and high cholesterol, high blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart disease that may be improved with diet and lifestyle changes. Early evidence suggests that sugar beet fiber may modestly lower systolic blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes. Additional research is warranted.
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels)
Dietary fiber has been shown to help improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. However, it is unclear if beet fiber improves glucose metabolism or blood sugar control. Research results are mixed.
Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)
Eating a diet rich in fiber has been shown to help improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Beet pulp and pectin have been used as dietary fiber in humans. However, it is unclear if beet has cholesterol-lowering effects. Research results are mixed.
Early evidence suggests that a pectin medicine made from red beet may improve inflammation of the abdomen and pelvic walls (called toxic peritonitis). However, additional studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.
Type 2 diabetes (gastric hormone secretion)
It is unclear if sugar beet fiber improves the secretion of gastric hormones in patients with type 2 diabetes. Additional research is warranted.