Diagnosis & Treatment Series II
In the second post of the Diagnosis & Treatment blog series, I want to discuss beets. This vegetable is currently in season and possesses a host of health benefits, but is also very useful diagnostically (you can engage in some diagnosis yourself at home with the information that follows (ideally confirmed by laboratory testing)…) Note that there are several varieties of beets (Red, Golden and Chioggia to name a few). For the purposes of this post, I will largely be referring to Red beets (and the beet root versus greens), as they are the richest in the compounds that confer the health and diagnostic benefits discussed herein.
Beets can be used to detect possible iron deficiency anemia and to determine the transit time of stool through the colon (a measure of colon health). Upon ingesting beets (the Red variety), the appearance of red or pink urine (known as ‘beeturia’) after ingestion of beets, may be a sign of iron deficiency. Beeturia has been shown to resolve with improvements in iron status following dietary changes &/supplementation, and so can be used to monitor one’s response to iron repletion therapy. For more on the role of iron in mental health, see my blog post entitled ‘Is low iron getting you down?’
To determine your colon transit time, consume a moderate serving (a half to ¾ cups of red beets), recording the date and time that this serving is consumed. Visually examine your stool each bowel movement thereafter and note when you first see redness in the stool (it may also color the water in the toilet bowl). Note the date and time. The time between when you first ingested the beets until you first see their color in your stool, is your colon transit time. A colon transit time between 12 and 24 hours is ideal. Longer colon transit times indicate suboptimal colon health and predispose an individual to a greater risk of toxicity (waste stays in the body longer and can be reabsorbed/exposed more to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (which can adversely affect GI and overall health)). More rapid transit times may indicate decreased absorption and assimilation of nutrients and fluids, predisposing one to nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies, dehydration and perturbations in GI flora (the microbiome). For more on the role of GI health in Mental health, see my blog posts entitled ‘Diet and Mental Health: Bridging the GAPS in understanding and treatment’ and ‘Gut Feelings‘.
Beets are nutrient dense; they are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin A, a good source of vitamin C, riboflavin and magnesium and also contain iron, copper, calcium, silicon, thiamin, vitamin B6, folic acid, zinc and niacin. Beets are also rich in phytonutrients: anthocyanins (compounds that are cardioprotective and that also protect the brain and reduce the risk of cancer) and quercitin and resveratrol (phytonutrients that contribute to the biogenesis of mitochondria (which are involved in energy metabolism in the cells).
Beets are rich in compounds called nitrates, which convert, through a series of reactions in your body, to nitric oxide, a compound that helps to dilate blood vessels; lowering blood pressure and reducing the amount of oxygen needed during exercise (thus enhancing athletic performance). Beets are considered a methylation ‘superfood’ by Kara Fitzgerald, ND & Romilly Hodges, MS, CNS, the authors of The Methylation Diet and Lifestyle e-book. (I frequently see imbalanced methylation in patients with depression and other mental health concerns.) Beets are a component of lipotropic supplements (which aid in breaking down ingested fat and limiting its deposition in the liver) and are a significant source of betaine, often combined with hydrochloric acid (in Betaine HCl supplements) to improve gastric pH (or acidity) so as to enhance nutrient absorption and overall digestive capacity.
In Chinese medicine and dietetics, beets are said to strengthen the heart, settle the spirit, improve circulation, purify the blood, optimize the health of the liver, moisten the intestines and promote menstruation.
Beets can be enjoyed in beet juice (sold widely in grocery stores or can be made at home with a juicer), or they can be steamed, roasted or consumed raw in salads. Beets can be made into soup (borscht), into chips (by baking thin slices of beet root in the oven), or fermented into the traditional Russian drink known as ‘Kvass’. Here are some links to recipes that you might enjoy:
A final note of caution, should you detect beeturia and be inclined to supplement with iron, I would strongly recommend that you have laboratory testing performed to confirm this diagnosis and to determine the extent and possible cause of iron deficiency. If iron is supplemented without being needed by the body, it can contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the GI tract and is a pro-oxidant – leading to oxidative damage in the body. And should you detect an abnormal transit time, it is best to get to the root cause of the imbalances in GI health and to address these whenever possible versus self-medicating with supplements to try to correct it (which often ends up being less cost effective and can potentially exacerbate imbalances that are present).
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Coleman, E. (2012, Feb.). Reap the Benefits of Beetroot Juice — Evidence Suggests It Improves Heart Health and Athletic Performance. Today’s Dietitician, 14(2), 48. Retrieved from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/020612p48.shtml
Fitzgerald, K. & Hodges, R. (2016). Methylation Diet & Lifestyle. Whole being support for healthy methylation and epigenetic expression. [e-book]. Retrieved from: http://www.drkarafitzgerald.com/product/methylation-diet-lifestyle-ebook/
Gaby, A. (2011). Nutritional Medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.
Ingroia, L. (Ed.). (2009). The visual food lover’s guide. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Institute for Functional Medicine (2016). Clinical Practice Toolkit. [Phytonutrient Spectrum – Comprehensive Guide]. Federal Way, WA: The Institute for Functional Medicine.
Institute for Functional Medicine (2016). Clinical Practice Toolkit. [Colon Transit Time]. Federal Way, WA: The Institute for Functional Medicine.
Pitchford, P. (1993). Healing with Whole Foods. Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.