Kidneys make life possible. Can beet juice harm them?
Humans are born with a pair of bean-shaped kidneys that sit symmetrically on either side of the spine, slightly below the rib cage. When functioning properly, kidneys filter blood, create urine, and maintain a healthy ratio of water, minerals, and salts within the body. Kidneys also secrete hormones that regulate blood pressure and sustain the production of red blood cells.
Kidneys that don't work right can signify other health problems, including high blood pressure or diabetes. Another common issue with kidneys is kidney stones, which are composed of calcium and oxalate. Persons prone to oxalate stones are advised to regulate their intake of high-oxalate foods, including beets.
Oxalate, also known as oxalic acid, is a natural substance that does not typically present a problem for healthy individuals. Too much of it can, however, lead to the formation of kidney stones in susceptible persons.
To decrease the chances of developing painful kidney stones, experts recommend staying hydrated, eating less salt, limiting protein intake, skipping vitamin C supplements, and limiting the following foods:
Almonds and almond milk
Beets and beet juice
Nuts and nut products
Peanuts and peanut products
Rhubarb and rhubarb juice
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The American Urological Association does not recommend completely cutting beets and other high-oxalate foods from one's diet. However, they suggest limiting oxalate intake to no more than 75 to 100g per day.
Although kidney stones contain a fair amount of calcium, it is still a crucial dietary element. When eaten with foods rich in oxalic acid, calcium actually binds with the oxalate in the digestive system. This makes it easier for the body to eliminate excess oxalate instead of turning it into kidney stones.
During the initial stages of kidney disease, the problem is easily overlooked. In fact, many people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are not aware until dangerous levels of fluid waste have built up in the body.
As CKD progresses, one or more of the following symptoms may become apparent:
Decreased mental acuity
Hard-to-control high blood pressure
Increased or decreased urination
Itchy, dry skin
Shortness of breath
Sleep issues, including insomnia
Swelling of the ankles and feet
In addition to causing kidney stones in susceptible individuals, the oxalic acid found in beets can cause uric acid levels to rise, triggering a painful joint condition called gout.
Caused by excessive consumption of beets, beeturia presents as pink to red-colored urine and stools. This condition is not at all dangerous but goes away once beet-eating is discontinued.
When calcium levels are low, it is less able to bind with oxalate in the intestines and be excreted in the urine. To reduce this risk, incorporate calcium-rich foods into any meal that contains oxalate.
Serve beets with cottage cheese, crumble feta cheese onto spinach salad, or enjoy a cheese sandwich with beet juice. Add a dollop of sour cream to your bowl of borscht, or arrange beet slices atop cheesy pizza.
Soaking and cooking beets can leach away some of their oxalate content. Occasional consumption of high-oxalate foods such as spinach, rhubarb, and beets does not usually pose a problem, as long as plenty of calcium is consumed.
If you've had a kidney stone or your doctor suspects you have high levels of oxalic acid, they may order a 24-hour urine test.
Simple and painless, the test involves collecting your urine output all day and night. Even though your collection will be refrigerated, you may be required to add a preservative to the container. Similar to standard urinalysis, the 24-hour oxalate test also monitors urine for citrate, calcium, urea nitrogen, and sodium.
Actually, it's not. Unless a person is at risk for kidney stones, beets may be key to reducing the risk of renal (kidney) failure during and after a heart x-ray. Coronary angiography is a specialized test allowing doctors to view the heart's blood vessels in action.
Done after injecting contrast dye into the bloodstream, angiography is used to diagnose several heart and lung conditions, including stenosis and aneurysms.
Although a very useful diagnostic tool, coronary angiography is not without its problems. One is a condition called contrast-induced nephropathy (CIN), wherein nitric oxide levels are adversely affected by the dye.
Inorganic nitrate in beetroot could be turned into a pill to prevent acute kidney damage triggered by contrast dyes. This has yet to be proven, however.
Beetroot juice lowers blood pressure, according to a study¹ published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.
Another study² published by the American Heart Institute (AHA) revealed that fortifying salty foods with small amounts of inorganic nitrites, such as that found in beets and other root vegetables, may significantly reduce the risk of sodium-induced hypertension.
The study also highlighted the effectiveness of beetroot juice as nitrite capsules in lowering too-high blood pressure, and only a small amount is needed to produce positive results.
Studies³ reported by the National Library of Medicine shows that athletes who drink beet juice experience a significant boost in stamina and performance. Nitrite compounds in beet juice may also lower blood pressure by widening and relaxing blood vessels.
Chock-full of vitamins, iron, and calcium, beets are a non-fat, high-fiber food that delivers around 74 calories, 16 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of protein per one-cup serving. Every part of the beet plant, including stem, leaves, bulb, and skin, are edible.
Beet juice, bulbs, and greens deliver a load of nutrients, including:
As a rule of thumb, the smaller the beet, the sweeter. Look for beets with crisp greens, smooth skin, and firm bulbs. Cut off the greens, leaving an inch or two of the stem attached to prevent juice stains. Wash and dry bulbs and leaves separately. Fresh beets wrapped in plastic can last up to 10 days in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Similarly, stored greens are good for a couple of days.
Wash, trim, and chop beets. Add to the juicer. Toss in apple slices, plums, citrus wedges, or grapes to add flavor and dilute oxalic acid levels in your raw beetroot juice.
Beets are naturally sweet, but you can add honey if you like sweeter juice. Add a piece of ginger root for an extra-invigorating start to your day.
You can enjoy the flavor and health benefits of beet juice, even if you don't have access to a juicer.
Start by scrubbing beets to remove dirt and grit. Trim away the bottom tip and chop off the leaves. Roast in a 400-degree oven for around an hour or until fork-tender. Plop the roasted beets into a blender, make sure the top's on tight, and pulse until smooth.
Most people prefer to chill and strain before serving, but that's entirely up to you.
If you are prone to kidney stones, it’s best to avoid beet juice or whole beets. If you aren't susceptible to this ailment, it's fine to enjoy a few cups of beet juice once in a while. Just be sure that you combine your beet juices with foods that are high in calcium or dairy products to balance oxalic acid. It's also a good idea to stay hydrated to keep your kidneys healthy.
Medical management of kidney stones (2019) | American Urological Association
Oxalate values for foods | Kidney C.O.P.