Nutritionally, Beets Can’t be Beat. But here’s some tips if you want to try…
Beets are one of those vegetables that really divides people – you’ve got the sincere beet lovers, and the extreme beet haters. I think it has to do with whether or not you grew up eating these bright, sweet, robust-tasting, crimson colored roots. If you love them, then you are lucky! Beets are one of the most uniquely nutritious vegetables. If you don’t love them, read on for some other vegetables to choose from to get similar health benefits.
Beets are a rich source of everyday nutrients like folate, potassium, iron and other essential vitamins and minerals – but their most significant health benefits come from betalains (guess where that word comes from?) and other phytonutrients that support blood detoxification, fight cancer cells, lower blood pressure and even support athletic performance.
Many shoppers are only familiar with the iconic red beets, but you can also find gold, orange, and even multi-color striped beets certain times of the year. Gold colored beets are much milder and mellower tasting than the deep red beets, while still providing the same nutritional benefits.
Beet greens (tops) are an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin (as are those mellow gold beets), and these carotenes are important for maintaining healthy eyes. Cook beet greens just like you would prepare Swiss chard or spinach. Here’s a simple recipe for beet greens, from the NYTimes … I also love Mark Bittman’s simple recipes for cooking all types of greens – no surprise he’s been called a “leafy green revolutionary.”
Fun fact: when I worked as a grocery cashier – shoppers would ask me to remove the beet greens for them, as they only wanted to take home the roots….so I would get to take home free greens for dinner! I would most often prepare a recipe from Bittman’s “Leafy Greens” such as Steamed Beet Greens with Oregano…I ended up loving these “greens” so much that I found myself buying bunches of beets, just to have the greens!!
One of the most exciting areas of research for beets is their ability to increase the amount of oxygen carried in the blood, and there is evidence that beets (and beet greens) can improve athletic performance by increasing the availability of oxygen during exercise. Beets’ high concentration of nitrates contributes to vasodilation – a relaxation of the blood vessels that also supports blood pressure and heart health, in addition to benefiting athletic performance.
Not a beet lover?
I grew up eating my Mom’s boiled beets, so I enjoy the robust flavors of all types of beets, but I know that many other people don’t share my appreciation for these radical roots. If you’ve tried beets (even those mellow, gold beets), and don’t love them – then here are some other foods to provide similar health benefits:
Most green leafy veggies and some root vegetables are rich in the same nitrates found in beets (to support blood pressure, heart health, and athletic performance). Top sources of plant nitrates include: arugula, basil, celery, collards, lettuce, parsley, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, and Swiss chard.
Botanically, beets are members of a small family whose members all produce betalains (which support detoxification, and inflammation). Other betalain-rich foods include Swiss chard, spinach, rhubarb, quinoa, and amaranth.
Beet lovers and beet haters can all harmonize with the King of Pop’s message – “it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or who’s right…” we can all find healthy foods to “show how funky and strong is your fight…” For the Beet lovers looking for seasonal veggies this month – “Just Beet it!”
Mark Bittman’s Steamed Beet Greens with Oregano:
- About a pound of beet greens (washed & trimmed)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fruity olive oil (I like California Olive Ranch)
- 1 Tbls fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
- Salt n Peppa to taste
Steam greens until tender, then rinse under cold water, and press out as much moisture as possible. Chop finely.
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt/pepper, season to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Source: Leafy Greens: an A to Z guide to 30 types of greens plus more than 120 delicious recipes. Mark Bittman