Saturday, February 5, 2011

The nutritional value of beets - Part 2

 Phyto-nutrients: betaine

Beets, the original source of betaine

In the USDA National Nutrient database it is found that 100 g. (about ½ cup) of fresh, raw beet root contains a generous amount of betaine: , 128.7 mg.

Why should you care? What's in it for you? And what is betaine anyhow? 

Betaine was first identified in sugar beets in the 1800s. It is an amino acid. The betaine about which I write, i.e., the one found in beets (often called beet root or red beets) is now usually called glycine betaine to distinguish it from all the other betaines subsequently found in other sources. For this article, I'm sticking with 'betaine' just to simplify matters.

The proper name of the betaine found in beets is trimethylglycine, indicating that it is formed of three methyl groups plus a sugar. It functions by donating a methyl group to another molecule during biosynthesis processes in our bodies, thereby becoming dimethylglycine.

Betaine is a critical factor enabling fundamental processes to function in our brains, processes that include the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as melatonin, dopamine and serotonin. Melatonin helps us to sleep. Dopamine, which is released from the hypothalamus, is an important regulator of basic biological needs. It is present in those areas of the brain that are related to motion, emotion and motivation; dopamine is believed to be essential to learning and behavioural adaptation. At the cellular level, serotonin helps wounds to heal and, in the nervous system, it creates feelings of well-being; it is sometimes called the 'happiness hormone.' These characteristics in themselves substantiate the elevated nutritional value of beets.

But wait. There's more.

Betaine also is active in our organs, specifically in the kidneys and liver where it enables the mobilization of fats. This is useful in the treatment of a condition that is known as fatty liver, a liver disease that is common to alcoholics (and those who aren't but who simply imbibe too much booze).

You're teetotal? Betaine will help you in other ways.

Betaine protects cells, enzymes, and proteins against damage from what might best be called environmental system conditions, such as too much salt, extremes of temperature, and too little water.

The health benefits of beets were indicated by a report on betaines in the journal of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences (133:1291-1295, May 2003) which documented the efficacy with which betaines inhibit inflammatory responses that can lead to heart, liver and vascular disease.

And that's why you should care.

Eat beets. Drink beet juice. And be merry.


Laurel said...

I knew beets were healthy, but I didn't realize they were THIS healthy. Very informative post!

June Adams said...

Who knew? I'm learning something useful every time I dig a little deeper into available research. I shall keep passing the good news forward.