Aren't beets beautiful? The striking colors of the different varieties from the crimson red to hues of gold to the striped candy cane version are due to their unique composition of phytonutrients, and are not only beautiful to look at and to taste, but may also provide beautiful information to our cells. Phytonutrients are certain molecules found in plants that promote health. These molecules are things like the polyphenols and carotenoids, that you have probably heard of, and there are many, many others, so eating from the rainbow can provide a variety of these important health promoting nutrients. Beets get their colors from the betalain molecules, which are comprised of the betacyanins responsible for the red pigments, and the betaxanthins, responsible for the yellow pigments. These pigments function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules and along with the other nutrients in beets, may play a role in the many health promoting benefits of beets, that include:
- Promoting phase 2 liver detoxification processes by boosting the removal of toxins via the important glutathione pathway
- Having anticancer properties due to the antioxidant, betacyanin, and their fiber content, namely pectin, may also contribute to their protective role
- Beet fiber having a positive effect on bowel function
- Being a source of betaine, which has anti-inflammatory properties and may be supportive of heart health
- Beet greens may support eye health as they are concentrated sources of the carotenoid molecules: lutein and zeaxanthin that are found in the macula of the eye and provide antioxidant activity. Yellow fleshed beets may also be nice sources of lutein.
Nutritional Benefits ~
In addition to the phytonutrients mentioned above, beets are sources of nutrients like folate (vitamin B9), fiber, manganese and potassium, as well as magnesium, phosphorous, iron (non-heme) and vitamin B6. Beet greens taste like chard (but stronger), and actually contain more calcium and iron than the roots.
History and Fun Facts ~
Beets are in the same botanical family (Chenopodiaceae) as chard, spinach and quinoa. The wild beet originated in North Africa and grew along the seashores of Asia and Europe, and at that time, people only at the beet greens. Beet roots were first cultivated by the ancient Romans. In the 19th century it was discovered that they could be converted to sugar and when the British restricted access to sugarcane, Napolean made the beet the primary source of sugar. Around this time, beets were brought to the US. Sugar beets are white in color and a lot of them are genetically modified, so I am not referring to those beets here. The beets we find in the stores today, and that are highlighted here, include red, gold, or candy cane.
Tips and Ideas for Use~
- Beets can stain, so you may want to wear gloves, and if you get some beet juice on your skin, use lemon juice to remove the stain
- Raw beets do not freeze well, but cooked beets do
- For storage, cut the majority of the stems off the root, leaving about 2 inches of stems attached; store the greens separate from the roots
- A serving size of beets is 1 cup of the roots or 1/2 cup of cooked greens
- Grate raw beets into salads (my picky daughter will eat slices of raw beets, but will not eat them roasted)
- Throw some peeled beets into a smoothie
- Roast (with skins on to retain nutrients) for salads
- Steamed for 15 minutes is a great way to retain the phytonutrients that can get diminished with prolonged heat
- Beet greens can be sauteed in a healthy cooking fat and served as a side, can be steamed, or can be added to soups or stews
- Beet kvass is a way to get the nutrients from beet roots as well as a source of healthy ferments
- Borscht is a wonderful way to enjoy beets on a cool fall or winter day!
Side note: Red beets can be used for doing a home test to check bowel transit time (a measurement of how long it takes the food we eat to pass through our digestive system). Ideal transit time is between 18 and 24 hours, so after eating around a cup of red beets (not the canned kind), you can time how long it takes to see the pinkish/reddish color appear in your stool and that can give you an idea of how long your transit time is. Uh, how did we get on the subject of poop??? I know it sounds strange, and maybe even a little gross, but your poop can provide valuable information about your digestion, which plays a critical role in health. If you find that your transit time is too fast, you may not be absorbing all of the nutrients from your food, or if it is too slow, you may be re-absorbing toxins that were meant for elimination. Either way, you may want to explore further, as in order to benefit from the health promoting properties of your food, you need to have optimal digestion.
I am not suggesting to eat beets every day, but rather as another option to consider including in your rotation of nutrient dense foods.
Please note: if you are on a low oxalate diet (which is a topic for a whole other post), beets and their greens are probably not for you.
Murray, Michael, ND, Pizzorno, Joseph, ND, Pizzorno, Laura, MA, LMT. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Wood, Rebecca. (2010). The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. Penguin Books: New York, NY.
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