Just BEET It!

beets

What’s the deal with beet juice? It’s being used as an all natural exercise supplement over recent years, but why?

Beet juice is a great pre-workout drink because it’s ability to enhance oxygen flow to the muscles translates to enhanced fuel utilization through aerobic metabolism (which requires oxygen to break down food into energy that can be used by the body). Enhanced fuel utilization may delay feelings of fatigue, as well as lactic acid buildup (the burning sensation often felt during exercise as a result of anaerobic metabolism), which can lead to stronger workouts.

Nitrate can be converted to nitrite by bacteria located in saliva via the enzymes called nitrate reductases. Nitrite can then be reduced to nitric oxide (NO) by a variety of enzymes, which remain to be the subject of study (and still remain controversial). NO then enhances vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) through signaling via soluble guanylate cyclase, which ultimately allows for increased blood flow and increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles. It should be noted that the existence of oral bacteria is essential for this conversion to occur, and so the use of antibacterial dental products (such as mouthwash or antibacterial gum) is not recommended directly before consuming nitrate-rich foods and beverages.

How do beets (and other veggies) get their nitrates?

While plants may receive small amounts of nitrates from the air and water, the majority of nitrates are usually delivered to the plant from soil. Specifically, nitrogenous sources in the soil can be converted to ammonia, which can then be converted to nitrates by bacteria. The plant can then absorb the nitrates to use for development and growth. High-nitrogen soils now exist in order to enhance nitrate absorption by the plant. Since the majority of nitrates used by the plant come from the soil, fruits and vegetables that grow in the ground (like beets!) generally contain a higher amount of nitrates.

I thought nitrates were bad for me? I’m told to avoid them in meat…

The difference between nitrates in processed meats and those found in fruits and vegetables has to do with other existing compounds in the food. Nitrates can be converted to small amounts of nitrosamines (carcinogenic compounds) in the presence of protein and heat (>300oF). However, fruits and vegetables do not contain the amounts of protein required for this reaction to occur. Additionally, veggies can also be consumed raw, meaning heat is not present, either. Regardless, both protein and heat are required for nitrosamines to form, so nitrates in fruits and veggies are safe.

So how do I use beet juice to my benefit?

Beet juice is generally used as an ergogenic aid (or an exercise supplement) prior to aerobic exercise (running, biking, etc.). Ideally, beet juice should be consumed about 15-30 minutes before the event (whether it is a race or training). This allows time for vasodilation to occur throughout the beginning of the exercise. Always remember to check regulations of your sport if this is not for recreation, to ensure that beet juice is allowed. Also, remember that consumption of beet juice does not guarantee an improvement in training or time – rather, the literature to date suggests that it may benefit the production of nitric oxide, which in turn could promote vasodilation and may lead to less fatigue during a workout.

*beet photo courtesy of: http://www.elizabethrider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/benefits-of-beets.jpg

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Warm Kale, Beet and Feta Salad

Warm Kale, Beet and Feta Salad

This seasonal salad is packed with vitamins and minerals and will keep you warm in these chilly temperatures. Beets and kale are both vegetables that can be grown through the winter and bought at local farmer’s markets and grocery stores during this time when vegetables can seem scarce. The hearty, crisp taste of kale is balanced by the sweet taste of beets and creamy feta cheese in this warm salad, which is a cinch to make. As tasty as it is pretty, this winter-y salad will become your new favorite for entertaining – or just eating on your own!

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Ingredients (serves 4):

6 C kale, raw, chopped (wash thoroughly and remove large stems)

8 oz. baby beets (I like Melissa’s Ready-To-Eat Baby Beets, which are steamed, peeled and ready to eat. 1 package is 8 oz, which is about 5 baby beets. You can also roast your own beets! If you roast your own, you should do so before preparing this dish, as they should be ready to eat in this recipe).

1/4 C reduced- fat feta cheese, crumbledIMG_0567

1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon, freshly squeezed

1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 C water

Directions:

1. Heat olive oil in large pan over medium heat (I recommend using a pan with large sides, or a pot, as the kale starts out piled high in the pan before it cooks down).IMG_0566

2. Add kale to pan. Add water and cover. Allow kale to cook covered for approximately 5 minutes. The kale should be a bright green color and there should be some excess liquid when the cover is removed.

3. Remove cover and stir kale until it begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. The liquid should be mostly evaporated by now. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Cut beets into wedges and add to kale. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer from pan to serving dish. Top with feta cheese and serve warm. Enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 149 calories, Fat 8 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 6 mg, Carbohydrates 18 g, Fiber 4 g, Protein 6 g, Sodium 235 mg, Calcium 176 mg

I served it with butternut squash ravioli!

I served it with butternut squash ravioli!

Get Excited About Your Lunchtime Salad!

Beet and Goat Cheese Spinach Salad

Salad can sometimes sound like a snooze – shake things up with this plate of greens! Using spinach instead of lettuce pumps up the nutrient content of this salad, since spinach supplies vitamins A,K,C,E and many of the B vitamins, including folate. Also, spinach is a great source of iron and calcium! The sweet taste of beets with goat cheese and the filling protein in the soybeans make this salad extra satisfying! Also, walnuts offer way more than a satisfying crunch to this salad – walnuts are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation. Eat this salad to fuel your body with tons of nutritional goodness!

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Ingredients (serves 1):

2 C spinach

2 medium ready-to-serve beets (skinned, pre-cooked, refrigerated)

1 Tbsp walnuts

2 Tbsp edamame (out of pods, unsalted)

.5 oz chevre (goat cheese), crumbled

1 small cucumber, sliced

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Directions:

1. Place spinach on plate. Add edamame, cucumber slices, walnuts and goat cheese.

2. Dice beets. Add to salad.

3. Combine olive oil and vinegar in small cup. Pour over salad. Serve.

*Bringing this salad to work? No problem! Prevent soggyness by investing in a container that has a separate compartment for salad dressing. Just remember to store your lunch in the fridge!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 259 calories, Fat 16 g, Saturated Fat 4 g, Cholesterol 10 mg, Sodium 155 mg, Carbohydrates 21 g, Fiber 6 g, Sugar 11 g, Protein 12 g, Calcium 189 mg.