Why fermented beet juice is hard to beat

Everyone knows that vegetables and fruits are good for health, but some are better for you than others, especially in case of fermented beet juice.

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) has attracted much attention as one of those vegetables with out-of-this-world health benefits, able to replace medications in cases of high blood pressure.

Beetroot juice is a concentrated form of all the health goodness; fermented beet juice takes that one step further.

Long before beetroot juice became popular in North America, people in Eastern Europe were enjoying the fermented version called beet kvass, which originated in Ukraine.

Most research has focused on beetroot juice, but fermenting it really brings out the good and reduces the bad. Let’s discover how it doesn’t this.

Beetroot benefits

Beetroot has nutritive and non-nutritive benefits that explain why people are purchasing beetroot supplements or drinking beetroot juice (more on that later).

Nutrition

Nutritionally, beets supply many minerals in small quantities, especially iron, magnesium, and potassium.

In contrast, a small beet provides a much larger amount of folate – just under a quarter of an adult’s daily folate requirements. This B-vitamin is needed for DNA, preventing birth defects, and promoting heart health among other benefits.

As with other vegetables, it contributes fibre, which helps to blunt the rise in blood sugar after consuming carbohydrate-rich foods.

Although beets are sweeter than green vegetables like broccoli or lettuce, its glycemic load is low. Glycemic load measures the rise in blood sugar taking into account the food AND the amount you eat. For a serving size of one small beet, the glycemic load is 4 (1).

Betalains

Most of the health benefits linked to beets are owing to betalains, the reddish-violet or yellow-orange pigment that gives beets their colour. There are two categories of betalains: red betacyanins and yellow betaxanthins.

Betalains are what we call bioactive compounds. They are found in small amounts in plants or animals and have health benefits beyond those of nutrients. Beetroots have bioactive compounds other than betalain, but this one is the most researched.

Betalains in beetroots are known for the following actions:

Anti-inflammatory

Chronic inflammation is a known trigger for obesity, liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. Provided the dose of betalains is adequate, they serve as a natural way to lower inflammation without the side effects of drugs (2). One study showed that taking a betalain-rich supplement for 10 days alleviated inflammation and pain in osteoarthritic patients (3).

Antioxidant

Without antioxidants, too much oxidative stress damages fats, proteins, DNA, and, ultimately, contributes to cancer, heart diseases, aging, and other degenerative diseases. Fortunately, test tube studies show that betalains are potent antioxidants (4,5,6). Evidence is still lacking on human studies, but the existing results on antioxidant strength from beetroot look convincing.

Anticancer

Betalains stimulate cell death of cancer cells and reduces replication of cancer cells. Taking beetroot juice with toxic chemotherapy drugs was shown to protect non-cancerous cells from toxic damage, which still effectively treating cancer (7).

Although betalains are the spotlight health feature of beets, let’s not forget about their other good compounds. Phenolics, especially rutin, epicatechin and caffeic acid, are highly bioactive compounds and known to be excellent antioxidants. (Rutin is what buckwheat is praised for and the reason why I love Sprouted Buckwheat Porridge.)

Nitrate

Initially, nitrates associated with health benefits may seem confusing, since we are told that nitrate-rich foods like bacon, salami, and other cured meats can lead to cancer.

Nitrates in beets, however, are a little different.

In the body nitrates from beets convert to nitrites by bacteria in the mouth. Nitrites then convert to nitric oxide, or NO, in the stomach. This final compound stimulates blood vessel walls to relax. As they relax, they dilate and allow more blood flow through.

Dilated blood vessels have the following benefits:

  • decreases blood pressure
  • healthier circulatory system
  • promotes better oxygen deliver to muscles.

Beets are one of the richest sources of nitrates that contribute around 60% to 80% of total nitrates we get from fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens and celery are other nitrate-rich sources. But don’t worry. These foods won’t cause cancer like cured and preserved meat.

As such, beetroot juice has caught the attention of athletes and people with high blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular issues.

Athletes

Studies in athletes also show benefits from beetroot juice.

A 2017 study with 32 soccer players given 140mL of beetroot juice for six consecutive days showed improvements in high-intensity intermittent-type running performance and lower heart rate (7).

Some studies have failed to duplicate these results (8). Timing for taking beetroot juice, the amount taken, and individual variables such as conditioning, arginine status, exercise duration, and intensity of exercise may explain these differences between studies.

This is great for elite athletes, but for the average person just wanting to keep healthy through exercise and diet, beetroot juice may make exercise more enjoyable.

Blood pressure

The health benefits are real. A study gave 3 different nitrate-rich vegetable drinks to healthy adults at separate times. All three drinks – beetroot juice, rocket salad beverage, and spinach beverage – had the same amount of nitrate.

After two hours, systolic blood pressure declined the most from beetroot juice. It took longer for spinach to reduce blood pressure, but all nitrate-rich beverages increased NO concentrations and lowered blood pressure (9).

Types of beets

Not all beets are the same. They come in different colours, and it’s the colour that conveys health benefits. Moreover, beetroot are vastly different than sugar beets.

Only beetroots that are red or yellow have betalains; sugar beets do not. Additionally, it’s only the red beets that have betanin, the most abundant betalain found in beetroot and the most studied betalain for its powerful antioxidant activity (10).

Beetroots with that interesting candy-cane pattern likely have some betalains from the red strips.

Sugar beets are entirely different. They are:

  • without betalains,
  • high in sugar,
  • larger than beets, and
  • look like a white turnip

You won’t find them in typical grocery stores in their raw form. Instead sugar beets are processing into refined white sugar. You may find sugar beets in your grocery store in the baking aisle.

Beetroot juice benefits

Beet root juice is sought after by people wanting to do the following for the reasons highlighted for beetroot.

  • improve athletic performance
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduce inflammation
  • combat or prevent cancer
  • age better without degenerative diseases

Actually, most human studies investigating the benefits of betalains or nitrates in beetroot use beetroot juice or beetroot powder. These forms concentrate beetroot compounds in doses high enough for therapeutic effects.

You would need to eat beet after beet after beet to get the amount of betalains or nitrate for therapeutic effects. Realistically, you’d either be sick of beats or extremely full before achieving the therapeutic dose.

That’s where beetroot juice comes it. Its a convenient form of the best compounds and nutrients in beetroot.

Squeezing and pressing beetroot extracts compounds and nutrients while leaving the fibre. Breaking down the fibre structure also makes bioactive compounds and nutrients better available for absorption and transport to the cells that need it (11).

The only downside to beet juice is its high oxalate level. Beetroots to begin with are very high in oxalates, about 275 mg of oxalic acid (12). You can easily go overboard on oxalate by drinking beet juice, which can contain 800-1000mg of oxalates.

Benefits of fermented beet juice

Fermented beet juice is made by adding a starter culture to fresh beetroot juice.

Alternatively, beet kvass is another type of fermented beetroot juice made from fermenting cubed beets in a brine. After fermentation, beets are strained and the brine is bottled for drinking. The brine is commonly referred to as beet kvass.

1. Degrades oxalate

Beetroot are high in oxalate, on average 275 mg in every 100 mg of beetroots. The leaves are even higher at 610 mg of oxalates, which is also true of other dark leafy vegetables like spinach and sorrel (13).

As such, juicing beetroots yields a juice that is very concentrated in oxalate, about 800-1000 mg per 100 mL beetroot juice (14). The average English diet contributes between 70 and 150 mg of oxalates (13). In contrast, a low oxalate diet limits oxalates to 40-50 mg each day.

If not sufficiently broken down in the gut by oxalate-degrading bacteria, oxalate can disrupt cell function or bind with calcium to form calcium oxalate crystals.

These crystals can lodge into the urinary tract and form kidney stones. They also lodge into other tissues throughout the body, causing tremendous pain and other high oxalate symptoms.

Fermentation can reduce oxalates by 51-66% in flour-based ferments (15, 16) and fermented vegetables (17). Therefore, fermentation is a valuable method for reducing oxalates in foods. It enables people with oxalate restrictions to enjoy smaller portions of otherwise high oxalate foods while reaping the numerous health benefits.

2. Stabilizes betacyanins to keep levels high

Betacyanins in beetroot juice are unstable, especially as storage time increases.

Lactic acid fermentation provides a convenient way of preserving betacyanins, since research shows that they stabilize in acidic pH (18, 19). The pH of beet kvass is 4.0 and below.

Compared to non-fermented beetroot juice, betacyanin levels in fermented beetroot juice stay stable for about 30 days in an airtight swing top bottle (20).

3. Boosts levels of betacyanins

Fermenting beetroot juice also creates other types of betacyanins, betanidin and isobetanidin, unique to fermented beets (21). Essentially, these new betacyanins add more antioxidant potential in every shot you drink. Because acidity stabilizes these compounds during storage, you receive more antioxidant benefits than you would by drinking non-fermented beetroot juice (22).

4. Drops carbohydrate levels

Those who are watching their blood sugar-levels and carbohydrate intake need not worry about sugar in fermented beetroot juice.

While 100 mL (3.5 oz) of beetroot juice provides 7 grams of carbohydrates (23), 100 mL of fermented beetroot juice has only 2 grams (24). Lactic acid bacteria consume sugars for fuel and convert them to acids and carbon dioxide by fermentation.

Thanks to these bacteria, fermented beetroot juice becomes suitable for people following a diabetic-, paleo-, and keto-friendly.

5. Preserves vitamin C

Furthermore, regular beetroot juice often has lemon or apple juice added to preserve vitamin C. As you could imagine, this increases total sugar content. Lacto-fermentation naturally preserves vitamin C, so adding lemon and apple juice is not needed (25).

6. Produces short-chain fatty acids

If that wasn’t enough, here’s another reason for drinking fermented beetroot juice: lactic acid bacteria in beet kvass produce acids, among which are short-chain fatty acids: propionate, butyrate, and acetate. These fatty acids maintain healthy colon cells, reduce cholesterol, and decreasing substances known to promote tumours in the intestine.

7. Increases bioavailability of minerals

Oxalic acid is a magnet for calcium, iron, and magnesium. Binding to calcium forms calcium oxalate crystals, which form around 80% of kidney stones.

Any mineral bound to oxalate can’t be absorbed in the gut. This means people consuming the recommended amount of calcium or iron may not reap the benefits. Rather than going towards building strong bones, in the case of calcium, or healthy red blood cells, in the case of iron, it will be actually be getting what they think they are.

8. Adds good microbes

Unlike fresh beet juice, fermented beet juice contains Lactobacillus species bacteria – the same species from which we get many different kinds of probiotics. Regular intake of fermented beetroot juice can help stabilize microbial ecosystem in the gut.

Actually, a study in rats feed fermented beetroot juice for 4 weeks found a significant reduction in bad bacteria like Salmonella, Escherichia coli. In fact, the decrease grew in proportion to the volume of the fermented juice: the more they consumed, the greater the reduction in bad bacteria (26).

Raw beets have a low number of lactic acid bacteria, but fermentation with a starter culture grew those numbers as high as 109 CFU/mL (similar to probiotic requirement) (27). Other starter cultures were not as stable after fermentation.

Be aware, cell count always decreased the longer it is stored in refrigeration (28). Again, the strains in the starter culture matter, and some remain as high as 108 CFU/mL (29).

9. Naturally dairy- and lactose-free

Most probiotic drinks or foods are dairy-based. Fermented beetroot juice is a perfect microbial-rich alternative chalk full of nutrients and bioactive compounds for people who are lactose intolerant, allergic to milk proteins, or, simply, people who simply don’t like milk products.

Bottom line

Beetroots are one of those foods you just can’t pass up. Beetroot juice provides a concentrated form of betalains and nitrate in therapeutic amounts.

Fermented beet juice takes this one step further by preserving these compounds through storage, adding gut-boosting microbes, and removing the dark side of beets, oxalates. Now everyone can reap the benefits without any long-term side effects.

If you are seeking natural ways to lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, or just wanting to make exercise easier, start a batch of beet kvass.

Compared to beetroot juice, fermented beet juice has way more benefits like degrading oxalates and adding good microbes while preserving good compounds for at least 1 month of storage.

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