A glass of beetroot juice a day to keep the doctors away?

That's what you may start to hear in schools after researchers found that drinking one cup (eight ounces) of beetroot juice every day can lead to a seven percent drop in blood pressure readings.

Experts believe that beetroot's naturally high levels of nitrate may be magical ingredient.

The study, published recently in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension, looked at a small group of eight women and seven men, all of whom had systolic pressure between 140 and 159 mm Hg. (The National Institutes of Health considers "high" blood pressure to be in the range of 140-159; normal is below 120.) The participants were given either beetroot juice or water tested to ensure very low nitrate levels. All the men and women had their blood pressure monitored for 24 hours.

Those drinking beetroot juice were able to cut their systolic pressure by 10 mm Hg; those drinking water so no change.

These results build on a previous study that also expounded the health benefits of nitrate. This study, however, produced even more striking results.

"We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect," said the study's lead author, Dr. Amrita Ahluwalia. "This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure."

The beetroot juice in the study contained only 0.2 grams of dietary nitrate. The same amount can be found in a large bowl of lettuce, or two beetroots.

Scientists are still not sure exactly how nitrates affect blood pressure, but it is becoming clearer and clearer that there is a positive benefit.

High blood pressure puts you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, the number one and two killers in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while one in every three Americans has high blood pressure, it is a treatable disease. Lowering sodium in your diet from 2,300 mg per day to 3,300 mg per day could be the difference between life and death.

Maybe adding beetroot juice to the equation could be, too.