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Can beets make you feel sick?

Beets are a popular root vegetable packed with valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, some people report feeling nauseous or experiencing indigestion after eating beets. This article explores whether beets can really make you feel sick and the potential causes behind these adverse reactions.

What Are Beets?

Beets, also known as beetroot, are the taproot portion of the beet plant (Beta vulgaris). They come in a variety of colors including red, purple, yellow, white and striped. Red beets are the most common variety.

Beets have an earthy, rich and sweet flavor. They can be enjoyed raw, cooked, pickled or juiced. Before cooking, the outer layer of the beet should be peeled off and the greens removed from the top.

Here are some of the ways beets are commonly consumed:

  • Roasted beets
  • Pickled beets
  • Raw beet salad
  • Borscht soup
  • Beet juice

Beets are highly nutritious, providing fiber, folate (vitamin B9), manganese, potassium, iron and vitamin C. Beetroots also contain pigments called betalains which give them their rich color and act as antioxidants in the body.

Do Beets Make Some People Feel Sick?

While beets are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, some individuals experience gastrointestinal discomfort or nausea after eating them. So can beets really make you feel sick?

The answer seems to be yes for a small subset of people. In one survey study, around 8% of people reported some type of intolerance to beetroot and other red/purple foods like berries and wine. The most common symptoms were digestive issues, hives and headache.

There are also numerous anecdotal reports online of people feeling nauseous, vomiting or having painful indigestion after eating beets.

However, it’s important to note that most people can eat beets without any issues. Any unpleasant reactions are usually mild and often temporary.

Why Do Beets Make Some People Sick?

There are a few possible reasons why some people may feel sick after eating beets:

High Fiber Content

Beets are a good source of fiber, providing 2-3 grams per cooked beet. While fiber is extremely healthy, increasing your intake too quickly can overwhelm the digestive system.

This may result in gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort in sensitive individuals. Introducing high fiber foods like beets gradually may help minimize these symptoms.

Pesticide Residues

Non-organic beets may contain traces of pesticides that they were sprayed with during growth. Some people could be sensitive to these chemicals and experience nausea after ingesting them.

Washing and peeling beets thoroughly before eating may help, but choosing organic beets is a better option to minimize pesticide exposure.

Oxalates

Beets are a moderately high source of oxalates, compounds that can bind to calcium and cause kidney stones in those predisposed to them. High oxalate foods may also aggravate existing kidney or gallbladder conditions.

While oxalates themselves do not cause gastrointestinal issues, individuals with malabsorption, IBS or Crohn’s disease may be more sensitive to their effects.

Histamine Intolerance

Some people have difficulty breaking down histamine and other biogenic amines found in foods like beets. Excess histamine can provoke allergy-like reactions including diarrhea, headache, itching and congestion.

However, the histamine content of beets is relatively low compared to other culprits like aged cheeses, smoked fish, fermented foods and cured meats.

FODMAPs

Beets contain small amounts of FODMAPs, which are certain types of carbohydrates that can trigger digestive problems in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

However, beets are not considered a high FODMAP food. Any gastrointestinal reactions are likely dose-dependent and mild.

Nitrates

Beets naturally contain nitrates, compounds converted into nitrites by bacteria in your mouth. Nitrites can form nitrosamines, which are potential carcinogens if consumed in large amounts.

However, the amount of nitrates found in beets and other vegetables is generally not a health concern. In fact, nitrates may have some cardiovascular benefits.

A very small subset of people may experience headaches or flushing from nitrates. But there are few reports of nitrate-related gastrointestinal issues.

Individual Sensitivity

Some individuals may have a food sensitivity or allergy to beets specifically. However, beet allergies are considered rare.

Certain compounds in beets like histamines, oxalates and nitrates could provoke reactions in those with sensitivities. It’s also possible to have an intolerance to other family plants like chard, spinach and quinoa.

Tips to Prevent Beet-Induced Discomfort

Here are some tips to help prevent or minimize any unpleasant reactions to eating beets:

  • Introduce beets slowly – Eat small amounts at first to assess tolerance.
  • Try different cooking methods – Roasting, boiling, pickling may affect digestibility.
  • Peel and slice thinly – Peeling and chopping into small pieces can improve digestion.
  • Chewing thoroughly – Chew each bite well to facilitate the breakdown process.
  • Cook beet greens separately – Greens contain more oxalates than the roots.
  • Choose young beets – Younger beets tend to be lower in fiber content.
  • Avoid eating beets on an empty stomach – Having food in your system helps buffer digestive effects.
  • Take a digestive enzyme or probiotic – Can help support digestion of beet fiber and nutrients.

Pay attention to how your body responds and avoid eating large portions of beets if they consistently make you feel unwell. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience severe or persistent issues after eating beets.

Most People Tolerate Beets Well

The majority of people can eat beets safely with no adverse reactions. However, beets may provoke unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea in some individuals.

Potential triggers include high fiber content, pesticides, oxalates, histamine intolerance, FODMAPs and nitrates. Those with underlying digestive issues are most at risk of discomfort.

Modifying preparation methods, cooking beet greens separately, introducing beets gradually and taking digestive aids can help improve tolerance. But some may need to further limit beet intake or avoid them altogether if problems persist.

Overall, beets are a very healthy food that should not be avoided without good reason. But it’s important to listen to your body’s signals and discontinue foods that cause persistent negative reactions.

The Nutrition Profile of Beets

Here is an overview of the nutrition found in 1 cooked beet (136g):

Nutrient Amount % Daily Value
Calories 59 3%
Fat 0.2g 0%
Carbohydrates 13g 5%
Fiber 2.4g 10%
Sugar 8.9g
Protein 1.9g 4%
Manganese 18% DV
Folate 17% DV
Potassium 13% DV
Magnesium 7% DV
Vitamin C 6% DV
Iron 6% DV

Beets provide good amounts of fiber, folate, potassium, manganese and vitamin C. They are also high in beneficial plant compounds called betalains.

Precautions for Sensitive Groups

Certain individuals should take extra precautions when eating beets, including:

  • Those with kidney problems – Oxalates in beets may contribute to kidney stones in susceptible people.
  • Individuals with gout – High purine content of beets may exacerbate gout symptoms.
  • Pregnant women – Should limit nitrate intake from beets and other foods.
  • People with gallbladder issues – Oxalates in beets may cause discomfort.
  • Anyone on blood thinning medication – Beets contain vitamin K which can interfere with these drugs.

Speak with your healthcare provider to see if dietary modifications, like limiting beet intake, are recommended.

Conclusion

Beets are packed with important nutrients like folate, manganese and vitamin C. The majority of people can consume beets safely and reap their nutritional benefits.

However, beets may provoke gastrointestinal distress in a small subset of individuals. Potential irritants include fiber, pesticides, oxalates, histamine and nitrates.

Modifying preparation methods, introducing beets gradually, drinking plenty of fluids and taking digestive aids can improve tolerance. But some may need to further limit or avoid beets if adverse reactions persist.

Overall, beets are a healthy food that should be included as part of a varied, vegetable-rich diet by most people. But it’s also important to discontinue any food that consistently makes you feel unwell.