It seems a nutritional star is born every day. Lately, beet juice is in the limelight. 

Why? For starters, the vegetable it comes from, beetroot, is an excellent source of folate (a B vitamin), potassium (great for healthy blood pressure), vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

Now a growing body of research suggests that sipping the sweet-and-savory juice can yield impressive health benefits.

Why you should pick up the beet

Beets are blood pressure-friendly because they're loaded with nitrates, explains Charmaine Jones, MS, RDN, LDN and founder of Food Jonezi.

“In the body, naturally occurring nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels,” Jones says. “This allows blood to flow more easily.” The magic happens before you even swallow, when nitrates mingle with beneficial bacteria in the mouth. Studies have shown that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure significantly.

Downing the red stuff also has been found to boost brain function in older adults. In one study, people who drank 16 ounces of beet juice at breakfast had increased blood flow to areas of the brain associated with dementia-causing degeneration.

Related: An Anti-Alzheimer's Diet?

But wait — aren’t nitrates bad? “There’s a difference between the natural nitrates in beetroot and other vegetables and the sodium nitrate that’s added to cured meats like hot dogs,” Jones explains. The latter is a chemical preservative that helps retain color and prevent spoilage. Too much sodium nitrate in the diet has been linked to certain cancers. This has led the Food and Drug Administration to create specific guidelines about how much sodium nitrate can be safely added to foods.

“Sodium nitrate also potentially increases the risk of heart disease by damaging blood vessels,” Jones says. 

Getting the dose down

Studies looking at beet juice largely have been based on relatively high doses of it. Jones recommends downing eight ounces a day to get the health perks.

But drinking beet juice straight isn’t the only way to enjoy — and benefit — from it. If you like beets, by all means eat them as a side dish or chopped into a salad (because they’re sweet, beets are especially delicious paired with something tart, like goat cheese). If you hate beets, or don’t love them enough to eat them often, you can get nitrates from other vegetables. These include Chinese cabbage (bok choy), celery, watercress, lettuce, spinach, arugula, endive, fennel, leeks and parsley, Jones says.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Your Greens Even Healthier

You also can add beets to smoothies (see Jones’ favorite recipe, below). Include the stems and you’ll get some extra fiber. Although fresh beet juice is ideal, store-bought  juice is fine as long as it’s labeled 100 percent juice and has no preservatives, says Jones.

One thing you should know: Once you start adding beet juice to your diet, you’ll be seeing red — in the potty. “Beets turn pee and poop a reddish or pinkish hue,” says Jones.

Related: 4 Foods that Could Lower Your Blood Pressure

Jones’ favorite beet smoothie

  • 1 stalk fresh beets
  • ½ cup of raspberries
  • ½ cup of strawberries
  • ½ banana
  • 2 cups filtered water or coconut water
  • 1–inch piece of peeled fresh ginger (optional)

Remove the bulbs from the beet stems. (When you purchase fresh beets, you usually remove the bulbs at the roots of the beets and keep the red stems with the leaves.)

Remove leaves from stems. (This is optional. If you do this, save the leaves and add them to a salad or an entrée because they're packed with nutrients.)

Cut the stems into small pieces or run them through a juicer. Blend or juice until liquified.

Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. 

Amy Roberts is a certified personal trainer. She writes about fitness, health and a variety of other topics for many well-known publications.