The cold weather can bring on some major comfort food cravings and there’s no better way to healthfully indulge than with warm root veggies, including beets!The wild beet dates back to prehistoric times in North Africa where, interestingly, only the greens were eaten—it wasn’t until later that people began eating the root as we know it today—but nowadays you can find beetroot at every trendy restaurant in town.Beets are enjoying increased popularity because they are not just tasty and make a beautiful presentation; they are tremendously good for you as well!
If the deep red color of beets reminds you of a heart, it’s for good reason. The unique nutrient content of beets provides specific support for the heart and cardiovascular system.
Beets are incredibly rich in nitrite and nitrate, two chemicals quickly and easily transformed in the body into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels, which promotes healthy blood pressure.1 Relaxed blood vessels allow blood and oxygen to flow smoothly throughout the body which keeps the heart from experiencing undue stress. In addition, this improved blood flow supports brain function, exercise stamina, and even increased quantities of healthier “brown fat” in the body.2 3 4
Beets also contain betalains and betaine. Betaine is specifically heart healthy because it reduces homocysteine, a metabolic byproduct implicated in heart disease and stroke.5 These nutrients also support liver health, detoxification, immune function, healthy insulin function, blood sugar balance, and also block some pro-inflammatory pathways in the body.
In addition to these unique nutrients, beets are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and bioflavonoids, potassium, manganese, and folate as well.
To entice you to eat the greens along with the roots, let us remind you they support bone health, cognitive function and healthy brain aging, stimulate production of antibodies and white blood cells, and support eye health. With more iron than spinach, along with magnesium, calcium, copper, potassium, lutein, and zeaxanthin, the greens are hard to beat!
Some of the pesticides used on conventionally grown beets have significant health effects on humans and animals, especially via environmental exposure. On average, forty-five different pesticides are used on beets, of which 14 are toxic to honey bees, 14 contaminate streams or groundwater, 39 are linked with chronic human health problems, and 40 are poisonous to wildlife.6 The best way to limit your exposure to pesticides, both in your food and in the environment, is to choose organic!
Beets are rich in geosmin, a compound which is produced by soil microbes. This imparts the earthy flavor that some love and some just love to hate. Along with the earthy notes of a freshly plowed field, beets are also quite sweet, especially when fresh. Pairing beets with flavors such as blue cheese, citrus, or dill will help bring out the sweetness while minimizing the earthy notes.
Beets are incredibly versatile; you can eat them raw, roasted, pickled, boiled, or steamed. Raw grated beets are a delicious addition to any salad with a citrus dressing.Roasted beets that have developed caramelization allow the sweet notes to shine. Pickled beets add an unexpected tangy sweetness to any meal, and steamed beets are wonderful when tossed with garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. We also have a delicious recipe that uses beet “noodles” on page six.No matter how you enjoy beets, make sure to keep the cooking time minimal to retain the nutrients and maximize the health benefits.
To make use of the whole plant and limit the amount of food in your trash bin, be sure to eat the greens. Beet greens are excellent when sautéed with garlic and butter, or boiled for about a minute and dressed with butter and balsamic vinegar.