Research using animals has previously shown that nitrates can turn white fat storage cells into brown fat cells which are easier to burn off.
But now a team from the University of Portsmouth and Bournemouth University will looking at the effects of drinking nitrate-rich beetroot juice on humans.
They are currently looking to recruit volunteers with type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition which stops the body regulating blood sugar levels.
Dr Ant Shepherd, from the University of Portsmouth’s school of sport, health and exercise science, said: ‘Imaging brown fat is particularly difficult, but if we can assess the effect of nitrates on brown fat activity in humans, we’re a step closer to understanding the impact of nutrition on health and disease.’
Participants in the trial will be asked to drink half a glass juice every day for two separate periods of 14 days.
For one period this will be beetroot juice, for the other it will be a placebo that tastes the same.
After each two-week period, they will visit Bournemouth University’s research facilities for an MRI scan to see how much brown fat is in their bodies.
Dr Rebecca Neal, at Bournemouth University, said: ‘We’re hoping that this research could show that consuming nitrates will lead to small amounts of weight loss and improved type 2 diabetes outcomes over time.’
According to Diabetes UK, more than 4.9 million people in the UK have the condition and treatment costs the NHS £10 billion a year with these numbers expected to keep increasing.
Dr Neal added: ‘Our hope is to show that beetroot juice could be a low-cost, non-invasive alternative to drug treatment, leading to a better quality of life for people with type 2 diabetes.’