There are two primary varieties of beets consumed in the US – sugar beets, which are mostly used to make table sugar, and table beets, which are the type you’re probably used to seeing at your farmer’s market or grocery store.
While table beets are high in sugar (they have more sugar than any other vegetable), they’re also packed with valuable nutrients and antioxidants. Most people can safely eat table beets a few times a week (and their greens in unlimited quantities), enjoying not only their sweet, earthy flavor but also their powerhouse nutrients that may improve your health.
Although table beets have been cultivated for thousands of years (both for the root and the greens), they are not widely grown in the US compared to other crops. Table beets generally account for 10,000 acres or less of US farmland (close to half of which is in Wisconsin).
The vast majority of table beets produced in the US are processed. If you’ve only tried jarred or canned beets in the past, pick up a fresh bunch the next time you see them.
You’ll be in for a pleasant surprise, as not only are beets easy to prepare (they can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, roasted, baked, or pickled), they’re incredibly delicious when eaten fresh.
Did You Know?
In this tasty beet salad, beets are combined with creamy goat cheese and arugula, then dressed with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing
Beets are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and essential minerals like potassium
Beets are a unique source of betaine, a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress
Because beets are high in sugar, it’s best to enjoy them in moderation
If you’re looking for a recipe to compliment the flavor of your fresh beets, try the Food Network’s take on beet salad below. The beets are combined with creamy goat cheese and arugula, then dressed with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing. Walnuts, another nutrition powerhouse, are added in for some crunch.
The recipe makes four servings – enough to feed your family for dinner or save for a quick lunch for the week.
2 bunches medium beets, (about 1 ½ pounds) tops trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup walnuts
1 bunch arugula, trimmed and torn
½ medium head escarole, torn
4 ounces goat cheese, (preferably aged goat cheese) crumbled
Put the beets in a saucepan with water to cover and season generously with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until fork tender, about 20 minutes. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them–the skins should slide right off with a bit of pressure from your fingers. If they don’t, use a paring knife to scrape off any bits that stick. Cut each beet into bite-sized wedges.
Whisk the vinegar with salt and pepper, to taste, in a large bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow steady stream to make a dressing. Toss the cut beets in the dressing; set aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and oven-toast, stirring once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Cool.
Toss the arugula and escarole with the beets and divide among 4 plates. Scatter the walnuts and goat cheese on top. Serve.
Beets Fight Chronic Disease, Including Inflammation
When inflammation runs rampant you are vulnerable to a plethora of chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other illnesses that are appearing at alarmingly high rates today.
Your diet plays a key role in either fighting or promoting inflammation, and this is one area where beets shine. Beets are a unique source of betaine, a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress.
It’s also known to help fight inflammation, protect internal organs, improve vascular risk factors, enhance performance, and likely help prevent numerous chronic diseases.3 As reported by the World’s Healthiest Foods:
“[Betaine’s] …presence in our diet has been associated with lower levels of several inflammatory markers, including C reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha.
As a group, the anti-inflammatory molecules found in beets may eventually be shown to provide cardiovascular benefits in large-scale human studies, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits for other body systems.”
The powerful phytonutrients that give beets their deep crimson color may even help to ward off cancer. Research has shown that beetroot extract reduced multi-organ tumor formations in various animal models when administered in drinking water, for instance, while beetroot extract is also being studied for use in treating human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.
Drinking beet juice may also help to lower blood pressure in a matter of hours. One study found that drinking one glass of beet juice lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4-5 points.
The benefit likely comes from the naturally occurring nitrates in beets, which are converted into nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide, in turn, helps to relax and dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow, and lowering blood pressure.
Beets Provide Valuable Fiber and Detoxification Support
If you eat a largely processed food diet, your body will be lacking in fiber and other nutrients it needs to function optimally. Beets, on the other hand, are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and essential minerals like potassium (essential for healthy nerve and muscle function) and manganese (which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas).
Beets also contain the B vitamin folate, which helps reduce the risk of birth defects. The betalin pigments in beets also support your body’s phase 2 detoxification process, which is when broken down toxins are bound to other molecules so they can be excreted from your body. Traditionally, beets are valued for their support in detoxification and helping to purify your blood and your liver.
Interesting Factoid: Beet Hemoglobin Might One Day Be Used as a Blood Substitute
Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. While you might assume this is a uniquely human protein, it’s actually found in plants, too, including sugar beets.
While complete blood is ultimately needed for blood transfusions, hemoglobin can be given in the first five hours following an accident to help oxygen circulate throughout the body.
The beet hemoglobin is, surprisingly, nearly identical to human hemoglobin, except for a small “surface detail” that Nélida Leiva, a doctoral student of applied biochemistry at Lund University, said extends the lifespan of the beet hemoglobin.
There are multiple types of hemoglobin in your body, including that in your blood as well as in your brain and testicles in men. The beet hemoglobin shares the most similarities with the brain hemoglobin.
More research is planned to determine if the sugar beet hemoglobin could one day be used as a blood substitute, but at least one expert is skeptical. Raúl Arredondo-Peter, who has studied the evolution of plant hemoglobins, believes the idea “is conceivable but far off because they do not carry and release oxygen at the same rates as human hemoglobins.”
Does Your Urine Turn Red When You Eat Beets?
Up to 15 percent of US adults experience a reddening of their urine (known as beeturia) after consuming beets. Although this might be disconcerting to see, it’s not intrinsically harmful. It might, however, signify an underlying health condition. People with iron deficiency, iron excess, or problems with iron metabolism are significantly more likely to experience beeturia.
If you’ve experienced beeturia after consuming beets, it might be a good idea to get checked out by a health care practitioner to rule out any potential problems related to your iron status.
How to Choose the Best Beets
Look for beets that are small in size with a smooth skin and deep color. You can cut off the majority of the green prior to storing them (in a plastic bag in your refrigerator), however leave about two to four inches of stems attached. Save the beet greens for later, they’re full of nutrition, too. By leaving several inches of stem attached, it will help prevent the beets from “bleeding.” After they’re cooked (you can try steaming them for 15 minutes or baking them, wrapped in foil, for about an hour), use a paper towel to rub off the skin.
If you choose small enough beets, you might not need to worry about peeling them at all. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling beets, as they can easily stain your fingers purple. One of the best ways to eat beets, however, is raw. Simply grate them over a salad, soup, casserole, or side dish to add both intense flavor and color.
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