The heart beats approximately 70 times a minute and with each beat the heart pumps out 60-90 ml of blood. It can move 5-7 litres of blood in one minute and 7600 litres per day. In a lifetime, it beats over 2.5 billion times and pumps over 200 million litres of blood. What a strong mighty organ! The heart is able to function at this level because it is a muscle. However muscletissue can also be quite fragile. Unlike many cells in our bodies, muscle cells do not divide and so they cannot regenerate when damaged. When the heart is injured during a heart attack, part of the muscle dies and is replaced with a fibrous tissue. The good news is that heart disease can be prevented through mindfulness: exercise, diet and nutrition, and proper management of stress.
This week we are going to discuss a little vegetable that is often forgotten but can be so important in the prevention of heart disease – the mighty beetroot. Why these are special is because beetroot contain nitrates which the body converts into nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator believed to be as important to the respiration cycle as oxygen or carbon dioxide. Nitric oxide causes the blood vessels to widen and blood pressure to drop, taking a lot of strain off the heart. This widening of blood vessels also increases oxygen supply throughout the body, not only to heart muscle but to skeletal muscle as well. This increases performance in athletes too. Nitric oxide deficiency can be due to aging, inactivity, smoking, high cholesterol and high fat diets. In our bodies, the interior surface of our arteries produce nitric oxide naturally. However when fatty plaques build up in arteries due to high cholesterol or high fat diets, the capacity to produce nitric oxide is decreased which is why some doctors prescribe nitroglycerin for their heart and stroke patients.
So should we have our beets raw or cooked? Previous research suggests that cooking will significantly reduce the available nitrates in vegetables. This is why juicing beets or using a concentrate is the preferred method for ingesting it. The exception to this is light steaming, which may actually make the nutrients more available to the body. Other herbs and veggies that are high in nitrates are rocket, spinach, lettuce, radish and bok choy. It is important to remember the nitrates in red meat are not the same as those which are naturally occurring in vegetables! In meat it is generally sodium nitrate that is added as a preservative.
So whether you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, an athlete wanting to get that O2 pumping or even for you every day folk just remember to go with the Beet.