Do We Need to Be Concerned About Sugar in Beets?

Beets, like other root vegetables, are sometimes become maligned for their carbohydrate content. Low carb zealots will chuck beets and yams into the same camp as white bread and licorice whips, as though the sugar content in beets was equivalent to candy. This is utter nonsense!

Looking simply at total carbohydrate or even Glycemic Index misses the nuance of our foods. Just as you would be insulted if someone took a single aspect of your personality and used it to completely define you, so too do I imagine these vegetables slighted when they get blanketly demonized. Focusing solely on total carbohydrate or even the Glycemic Index of any food is like judging a book by its cover.

nobody wants sad beets

Beyond Glycemic Index: The Nuances of Glycemic Load

The Glycemic Index, or GI, rates how quickly a specific food can spike your blood sugar. It was created in 1980 as a measurement of comparing the same quantity of different foods and their impact on glucose levels. This was done by calculating the two-hour blood glucose response curve to this set amount of food, and here’s the scoop—this happens after a 12-hour fasting stint, followed by consuming a fixed amount of carbs, typically around 50 grams. Foods are ranked on a scale from 0 to 100, with high-GI foods causing a rapid spike and low-GI foods providing a slower, more sustained release of energy.

While Glycemic index was an initially helpful tool to assess the impact of carbohydrates, it was far too simplistic to be realistically applicable. Not all foods are consumed in the same serving size, nor are they eaten in solitude, nor are they typically consumed after fasting for 12 hours. While a handy tool in its time, the Glycemic Index lacks the depth we need to truly understand our foods. Enter Glycemic Load – a more applicable metric that considers portion size.

Glycemic Load considers not just the speed but also the quantity of carbohydrates in a standard serving. It’s a more realistic measure, accounting for portion size commonly eaten and revealing the true impact on blood sugar. A low-GI food might have a high GL if you consume a hefty portion, and vice versa. When it comes to the glycemic index of beetroot and the sugar in beets, this makes all the difference.

In essence, GI tells us how fast the sugar hits, and GL gives us the full picture by factoring in how much sugar is actually in the food. Understanding this difference helps us navigate the complex world of carbs and make informed choices for a balanced blood sugar.

A medium-high Glycemic Index of 65 might sound alarming for beets, but fear not! It would take about 4 cups of diced, cooked beets to have a significant impact on your glucose levels. Now, who’s eating that much in one sitting? A standard serving of 1/2 cup of cooked beets, with a low Glycemic Load of 6, is a more realistic scenario.

How Much Sugar is in Beets? 

Per serving, beets don’t contain a lot of sugar (6 grams, to be precise), and the fiber helps mitigate the rise in blood sugar that would occur if you consumed the same amount in pure cane sugar. Fiber can be thought of as nature’s own built-in sugar regulator in foods. Even though the glycemic index of beetroot is medium-high, the total impact of raw or cooked beet, with fiber intact, does not have the same impact on blood sugar as soda, another medium-high GI food with a glycemic index of 59. If we rely upon glycemic index only, we will be misled and think the sugar content in beets puts it on par with soda. This is where our misguided low-carb friends fall short.

Blood Sugar Helpers: Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Nitric Oxide

Additionally, beets contain Alpha-lipoic acid and induce nitric oxide, both of which appear to have a positive impact on blood sugar regulation in a way that really turns the notion that only carbs matter upside its head!

Now, Alpha-Lipoic Acid isn’t just a mouthful to say—it’s a powerhouse antioxidant that moonlights as a blood sugar guardian. Cell and animal studies show that alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) can increase the ability of glucose to get into the cell, alleviating the negative impact of insulin resistance in diabetic animals (4). Picture it as a friendly escort helping glucose find its way into a cellular VIP lounge, minimizing the negative impacts of insulin resistance.

A meta-analysis indicates ALA supplementation can reduce fasting glucose and insulin levels (2). It’s important to note, however, that many supplements contain far more ALA than one would get from eating beets. I was unable to find a source indicating how much ALA one can expect to consume in a normal dose of beets.

Nitric Oxide has its own bag of tricks, especially when it comes to insulin resistance (3). Sipping on beet juice has been shown to induce Nitric Oxide production, creating a ripple effect of benefits. Paradoxically, some studies even showed that consuming beet juice with glucose reduced the severity of the blood sugar response compared to glucose alone (1, 5). It’s like beet juice whispers to Nitric Oxide, saying, “Hey, let’s tone down the sugar surge, shall we?”

It was postulated that the increase in nitric oxide availability from nitrate-rich beet juice may play a role in increasing insulin’s effectiveness, at least in the obese individuals studied.

1 serving of beets contain 6 grams of sugar, folate, potassium iron, and fiber and help regulate blood sugar with alpha lipoic acid and nitric oxide induction

Given that beets contain a low glycemic load, induce nitric oxide synthesis and contain some alpha-lipoic acid, there is no reason to fear consuming them. If you have diabetes, you can always test your individual reaction to beets by using your glucometer after a beet-rich meal to see precisely how your body responds to beets. Ideally, any meal or snack you eat won’t increase your blood sugar more than 30 points, and it will return to your pre-meal baseline within 2 hours. If you’ve been worried the glycemic index of beetroot means you need to abstain from this delicious root veg, rest assured it can be incorporated into a healthy diet without concern for exacerbating health conditions.

Beets can be just one ingredient in a vegetable-rich diet, which is a foundation for diabetes prevention and proper blood sugar management. Despite being the cornerstone of a healthy diet, most people struggle to get enough vegetables daily. To learn more about creating a plate that supports a stable blood sugar, click here.

You can also download my free guide, 5 Ways to 5 a Day in 15 Minutes or Less to effortlessly increase your produce consumption today!

Resources:

1) Beals, J. W., Binns, S. E., Davis, J. L., Giordano, G. R., Klochak, A. L., Paris, H. L., … & Bell, C. (2017). Concurrent beet juice and carbohydrate ingestion: influence on glucose tolerance in obese and nonobese adults. Journal of nutrition and metabolism2017.

2) Akbari, M., Ostadmohammadi, V., Lankarani, K. B., Tabrizi, R., Kolahdooz, F., Khatibi, S. R., & Asemi, Z. (2018). The effects of alpha-lipoic acid supplementation on glucose control and lipid profiles among patients with metabolic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Metabolism87, 56-69.

3) Sansbury, B. E., & Hill, B. G. (2014). Regulation of obesity and insulin resistance by nitric oxide. Free radical biology and medicine73, 383-399.

4) Rochette, L., Ghibu, S., Muresan, A., & Vergely, C. (2015). Alpha-lipoic acid: molecular mechanisms and therapeutic potential in diabetes. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 93(12), 1021–1027. doi:10.1139/cjpp-2014-0353

5) Mirmiran, Parvin et al. “Functional properties of beetroot (Beta vulgaris) in management of cardio-metabolic diseases.” Nutrition & metabolism vol. 17 3. 7 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1186/s12986-019-0421-0

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2 Comments

  1. Hello,I am middle aged and going to eat beetroot even though I was told it isn’t good ,for you.Unfortunately I am diabetic type two and given no medicine ,for it and told to diet.I am not obese,and my foot has gone number,my fingers are sorry and the pain in large toe has started (neuropathy).I have had one months supply of nefedpine in the past and I turned yellow,but I wasn’t diabetic the..
    Looking for recipes that don’t spike blood sugar that are quick and easy to make.
    Lastly my number is 4.8 ,but something is wrong as toe number.I took fengreek,dill,Organo to lower blood sugar,which I found great ,but something has gone wrong.
    Thank You

    1. I recommend you reach out to a medical doctor about the challenges you report here and he or she can best guide you. If you go to the yellow box in this post you can download my recipe book for several easy recipes that will not spike blood sugar in Type 2 Diabetes.

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