When I was sick with angina I used to wear nitroglycerin patches to increase the amount of nitric oxide in my blood. Nitric oxide is is such a wonderful and necessary molecule it was named “molecule of the year” in 1992. It acts to signal the muscles lining our arteries to relax, thus opening the arteries and allowing blood to flow where needed. When you wear nitro patches you have the extra vasodilation all the time and in all of your blood vessels. This causes wicked headaches and low blood pressure when you stand up. You feel a specific kind of crappy until you get used to it. About a week after I started eating the whole food, plant-based diet I got that crappy feeling again – as if I had increased my nitro dose. And that is exactly what happened. By eating plenty of nitrate rich vegetables, my body now was making plenty of nitric oxide on its own and I had too much. As soon as I reduced the number of patches I was wearing, the crappy feeling went away. Every week for about 4 weeks I would notice this feeling again and fixed it by reducing the nitro dose until I didn’t need it at all anymore. It felt like magic.
It wasn’t magic, though. It was science. Our bodies take nitrates from food and convert it to nitrites and then nitric oxide. If we have too many free radicals in our body, they gobble up the nitric oxide and also the enzyme that makes it. They can even hijack the enzyme and force it to make more free radicals instead of nitric oxide. A double whammy. Then the arteries fail to relax properly and become stiffened and atherosclerotic. A diet rich in antioxidants, like those found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, cleans up the free radicals so our arteries can make use of nitric oxide and we feel healthy again.
Let Dr. Greger from NutritionFacts.org explain this much better than I can, in The Power of NO.
In addition to curing angina, nitrate-rich vegetables have been shown to improve athletic performance. Something I’m far more concerned about now and way more badass.
I’d like to take this opportunity to get on my soapbox and rant a bit about how every doctor should be prescribing beets and greens to their angina patients before offering medication that doesn’t work very well and has unpleasant side effects, or dangerous procedures or surgeries that may or may not work to alleviate chest pain and fatigue, but carry huge risks to the patient. Informed consent, people! A diet change to whole plant foods has been shown to reverse heart disease (which is actually artery disease), while having zero negative side effects and the potential to add decades of healthy life. The medical interventions are all palliative, meaning they do not address the root cause of the disease, they merely help to alleviate the symptoms, but the disease progresses. *steps down from soapbox*
I eat greens every day, in smoothies, salads and cooked. But what’s an easy way to prepare beets? I used to be so intimidated at the thought of peeling them I rarely ever made them. Now I make them every week and keep them in the fridge to add to salads, bowls and wraps. Here’s how I do it:
Scrub about 2 pounds of beets. If they’re from the garden this may take some elbow grease, but if they are bagged beets, they’ve been washed pretty thoroughly and only require a good rinsing. Do not trim the beets except to remove the tops.
Place them in a casserole dish in a single layer. Pour about an inch of water into the dish, or about half way up the beets.
Cover and bake in a 400F oven for 1 hour. Check to make sure they’re tender by piercing them with a knife, but unless your beets are extremely large, they should be.
Drain the beets and let them cool enough to handle.
This is where every recipe I’ve ever seen will tell you the peels will slip off easily and you should remove the peels. They fail to mention that this rarely works easily and by the time you have removed the peels you will look like you are trying to clean up a murder scene. Ignore those beet peelers and do it the easy way.
Don’t peel the beets, just trim them and cut them into bite size pieces. I promise you will never notice the peels. And you will feel pretty renegade for it. Place them in a container and add a good amount of unseasoned rice vinegar. Experiment with other vinegars if you like. I sometimes use apple cider vinegar if I don’t have rice vinegar. These last in the fridge at least a week and probably more, but they get eaten before that in my house.
One huge caveat: the first morning after you’ve eaten a generous serving of beets, you may find yourself staring into the toilet bowl wondering how on earth you could feel so normal while internally hemorrhaging. Calm down, you’re fine. If your pee or poo turn red you have what’s called beeturia, a harmless condition that seems to have a genetic component (not everyone gets it) and has to do with the breakdown of the beet pigments in your body.