Beets Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Cooking Tips
Get to Know Beets
Beets have long been recognized as an all-star vegetable, a superfood passed on from the ancient gardens of the Mediterranean region to our kitchens today. It’s called by different names – table beet, garden beet, red beet, beetroot (referring to the fleshly, edible root of the plant) and beet greens or beet tops (often used to call the leafy parts). It belongs to the Chenopodiaceous plant family together with other sought-after health foods like quinoa and spinach.
Originally, it grew abundantly during spring and fall along coastlines in North Africa, Asia and Europe. However, because of the high regard for its culinary and health value, agricultural methods were developed to make sure that beets are still available during the summer and even the cold months of winter. Overtime, horticulturists have also selected and developed variants of beets for specific purposes. Aside from the beetroots we know today as the red roots used for beet salad and other dishes, there are other variations developed such as the sugar beet grown for sugar extraction, fodder beet wurzel used for animal feed, and the beet greens which are used as a leaf vegetable. Nowadays, beetroot juice is also used in the food industry to add color.
Since the dawn of sugar extraction from beets, the by-products of this wonder food have been on the rise. Some of the known products are beet beer, tobacco and molasses. Sucrose from beets is a sustainable replacement for tropical sugar cane and popularly used to make refined sugar. Today, approximately 20% of the world’s sugar is from beets.
Beets Health Benefits
Beets Help Address Common Digestive Problems
Thanks to the vitamins and nutrients packed in beets like B vitamins, glycine, zinc and phosphorus, this vegetable can be a great help for common digestive problems like indigestion and diarrhea. Since it is also very rich in fiber, it can promote regular bowel movement and address constipation. Just don’t be surprised to see a differently-colored stool or urine ; it might be the reddish pigment in beets. If that persists when not eating beets, it will be best to consult your doctor.
Beets Support Normal Blood Pressure
The nitrates in beets help relax and dilate blood vessels, improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure. As a matter of fact, one glass of beetroot juice a day can already significantly help those with high blood pressure or heart disease. So if you feel like your blood pressure is shooting off the charts, having beet juice regularly might just be your lifesaver.
Beets Supports Overall Heart Health
Aside from lowering down blood pressure, beets support overall heart health by strengthening the cardiovascular muscles. Heart diseases can be accelerated by a number of things like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, all of which can be improved by including beets in your daily diet. In fact, a study published in 2011 showed that patients who suffered from peripheral arterial disease, the stiffening of the arteries impairing blood flow to the lower extremities, greatly benefited from beetroot supplementation. This is because of the presence of naturally-occurring nitrates in the vegetable. Betaine and choline found in beets also helps keep cholesterol levels in check. When cholesterol levels are normal, you will have a lower risk of heart attacks, atherosclerosis and other heart diseases.
Beets Support Active Lifestyle and Physical Exercise
Beets do not just benefit those who are ailing or at risk for diseases. It is now becoming a staple and a favorite among the strong and fit. Many competitive athletes swear by beets' ability to sustain their stamina and support their endurance during physical exercise. That’s why we see more beet juices and power snacks in health sections and nutrition stores.
In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, half a liter of beet juice proved to enhance exercise performance and duration in healthy subjects. A similar research in 2009 also showed the same benefit for athletes engaged in exercise at varied levels of intensity. Again, this is due to the nitrates present in beets which are converted to nitric oxide, reducing the oxygen cost during low-intensity exercise and building stamina for more strenuous exercises. Beets’ effect to muscle growth and repair also makes them great for upping athletic performance.
Beets Support Optimum Brain Function
Beets are laden with vitamins and minerals that can be beneficial for optimum brain performance. Vitamin B1 or thiamine plays a crucial role in transmission of nerve impulses and is found abundantly in the brain and nerve tissue. Folic acid found in beets also contributes in improving memory. Vitamin C, on the other hand, helps protect the brain from oxidative stress. Minerals like manganese, calcium, magnesium and zinc – all present in beets, also play an important role in the maintenance of normal brain function.
Beets Support Detoxification
Beets are known to be natural antioxidants.They are packed with betalain, glycine, lutein and zeaxanthin, selenium, manganese, ascorbic acid and B vitamins. Beets are very effective in getting rid of our body’s toxins and free radicals to support our immune system. One of beets’ antioxidant benefit is keeping the skin looking young and healthy while improving our overall health. As part of its detoxifying ability, beets also help in purifying the blood and the liver, making it a key to optimal performance of the biliary and circulatory system.
Beets Support Immunity
Both beetroot and beet greens contribute to strengthening the immune system. These two stimulate the production of white blood cells and antibodies, warding off infection and sickness. With the immune system boosting capabilities of Vitamin C, zinc, selenium and B vitamins combined, beets can be hard to beat. Betalains, abundant in beets, also exhibit antiviral and antimicrobial effects. A strong immune system is also a result of beets’ ability to get rid of wastes and toxins.
Beets Support Normal Inflammatory Response
Speaking of immune system, inflammation is actually a manifestation of the body’s immune response. This is the body’s way to defend itself from foreign invaders. However, it can also play a role in the development of some chronic diseases. When this immune response goes wrong or overboard, it can cause a plethora of diseases like asthma, arthritis, IBS, ulcerative colitis, Chron’s disease and many more. It is in this area that beets can be of great help. Calcium, iron, vitamin C and betalains present in the beetroot and beet greens are potent staples in an anti-inflammatory diet.
Beets Are Good for the Eyes
There are so many vitamins and minerals present in beets that make it an eye-friendly vegetable. Beta-carotene is proven to prevent the development of cataracts as well as slowing down macular degeneration that often happens as we age. The phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin mostly found in beet greens also play an important role in ensuring eye health. Even beets’ anti-oxidant abilities contribute to eye care since free radicals contribute to aging which makes the body more vulnerable to numerous eye conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Beets May Improve Sex Drive
Since days of old, beets have been considered a natural aphrodisiac. They contain significant amounts of boron and aside from being a food source, beets have long been considered to increase libido and rouse passionate feelings. Ancient Romans believed it to be a potent aphrodisiac. This belief started because beets are naturally rich in tryptophan and betaine, two substances that are said to promote a feeling of well-being. High amounts of boron can also be found in the plant, a trace mineral that boosts the level of sex hormones in the body. This leads to increased fertility, improved libido and better sperm motility.
Beets Support Weight Management
From beets’ nutritional profile, you will know that it is a great food for weight management. It is packed with vitamins and minerals that the body needs yet it is low in calories and with no cholesterol. It also contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. All these make beets an essential part of your weight management program. They boost metabolism, fat burning and detoxification. Beets also help flush water from the body, preventing and reducing water retention that may cause feelings of bloating, lethargy and may contribute to excess weight. Although beets are known to be high in fructose, it can only do harm when consumed in large amounts. Unlike sugar derived from sodas or pastries, natural sugar is broken down more slowly by the body. In addition, beets are also high in fiber which leads to more stable blood sugar levels.
Beets Support Cancer Risk Reduction
As a result of beets’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, making them a part of your daily diet can support cancer risk reduction. Aside from the vitamins and minerals that give beets that effect, the pigment called betacyanin present in the vegetable, also helps protect from common carcinogens. Various studies involving beets have already proven that it is effective in reducing tumors and treating human prostate, breast, and pancreatic cancers.
Beets Keep Your Bones and Teeth Healthy
The significant presence of calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus in beets all help in building up and strengthening bones as well as improving overall dental health. Some studies have shown that beets help keep osteoporosis at bay by boosting bone strength.
Beets Support Wound Healing and Muscle Recovery
Even centuries ago, beets had been recognized as an effective agent for wound healing and muscle recovery. As a matter of fact, Hippocrates himself, the “father of medicine” advocated the use of beet greens as binding for wounds. This can be attributed to the presence of manganese and phosphorus in the plant. Both of these minerals speed up wound healing, support the formation of connective tissue and promote cell repair. For muscle recovery, choline, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc all work together to make muscles stronger and more resilient.
Beets’ Nutritional Profile:
Beets are not called superfood for nothing. They provide a wide variety of health benefits because of their nutritional content - including vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds. And remember, they arealso high in fiber as well as essential fatty acids. Although it contains no cholesterol and is very low in calories, the intake of beets should still be regulated since they have the highest sugar content among all vegetables. Here are the vitamins and minerals found in beets:
Betalain is a type of phytonutrient found in beets which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-protective benefits for the body. Betalains work especially well with glutathione as they facilitate the excretion of toxins from our system.
Beets are also rich in choline, a macronutrient essential for optimum brain development, muscle movement, nerve function, and liver performance. They also support metabolism and cardiovascular health.
The body needs calcium for a number of functions. This essential mineral is popularly known for its role in building and maintaining strong teeth and bones. However, it does so more than that. It is cruciall for the optimum function of heart, muscles and nerves. And calcium also plays a role in weight management.
This is the most abundant vitamin present in beets and it’s what makes the vegetable a great food choice for pregnant or expectant women. Folate supports normal fetal development, provides neurological and cardiac support and helps in perinatal mood management. For males, folate can help in boosting sperm motility.
Glycine is an amino acid critical for various muscular, cognitive and metabolic functions. Because of the numerous effects it has on the body, glycine is deemed to be a significant contributor to a strong digestive, immune and nervous system.
Iron is a non-negotiable requirement of our everyday diet as it facilitates protein metabolism and plays a crucial role in carrying oxygen to the red blood cells and from one body cell to another. More than the beetroot, the beet greens contain the higher amount of iron.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin
These two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are sought after for their contribution to eye health. They are so effective that high amounts of these two can stop existing eye damage from progressing. But aside from being eye-friendly, these two are also considered effective antioxidants for a healthy skin. The body cannot produce lutein and zeaxanthin so it is important to be able to get it from food sources like beets.
Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in adults. This can lead to kidney and liver damage, cardiovascular disease, muscle weakness, and bone degeneration among others. With magnesium, we can achieve normal muscle and nerve function, maintain a healthy heart, boost our immune system, and keep our bones strong.
Manganese is the most abundant mineral in beets. It contributes to our body’s calcium absorption, metabolism and the regulation of blood sugar. It also helps in wound healing, formation of connective tissue, and proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
Similar to calcium and vitamin D, phosphorous is also crucial for bone formation and dental health. Aside from that, it also contributes to a healthy digestion, energy balance, cellular repair, nutrient utilization and detoxification.
If you are looking for a mineral that would help boost your cardiovascular health while enhancing muscle strength, improving metabolism and taking care of your nervous system, potassium might just be the one you are looking for. Beets are made up of approximately 13% potassium, a significant amount to complete your recommended daily allowance.
Selenium, although available in small percentage in beets, is a very potent antioxidant. It has the ability to reduce free radicals in the body, thus fighting the aging process. This essential trace mineral is also important for the immune system and cognitive function.
- Vitamin A
This fat-soluble vitamin is most famous for its effect on eye health but it also has antioxidant and immune system-boosting abilities.
- B Vitamins
B vitamins have a plethora of benefits for the body. For a complete list of what B vitamins can do for you, click here.
- Vitamin C
Probably the most popular vitamin, Vitamin C is crucial for a strong immune system. It also protects us from cardiovascular problems, eye disease, prenatal health conditions and even cancer. Oftentimes, people think this vitamin is only present in citrus foods but beets have it too!
Zinc completes the roster of minerals available in beets. It is beneficial for the digestive system as it speeds up metabolism, increases insulin sensitivity and aids in nutrient absorption. Aside from that, zinc also supports liver health, muscle growth and repair, cardiovascular function and fertility.
When choosing beets, just like any other produce nowadays, it is best to get certified organically grown foods. This lessens your risk of getting exposed to harmful chemicals and heavy metals that might be used for treating and growing mass-produced vegetables . You also get significantly more nutrients in organic produce than commercial. Better yet, if you have the time and space, grow your own beets and be sure that you’re getting the best product possible.
If you are buying beets from farmer’s markets or the supermarket, look for small or medium-sized beet roots and take note of their skin. It needs to be smooth and evenly-colored. Whether it is red, pink, purple or golden, there shouldn’t be spots, bruises or wet areas. Otherwise, it may mean you are getting a spoiled veggie.
Smaller and younger beets are easier to cook. Peeling may not be necessary too, if the beetroot is tender enough or if you are preparing organic beets. A lot of nutrients are in the skin but it should definitely be removed if you only have access to commercial beets as this is where pesticides accumulate. Aged beets would be tough and fibrous and would look shrivelled or squishy .
Beet greens can be damaged more quickly than the beet root. But don’t let that fool you. Although the leaves may appear to be beat up, the beetroots themselves are usually just fine If you are going to eat the beet greens,(recommended for liver and gallbladder especially) it is easy to spot greens that are still fresh and tender.
The sooner you can eat the beets after harvest or upon purchase, the better. This is because some vitamins may be lost during storage. However, if you really must delay consumption, be very careful in storing your produce to retain as many nutrients as possible.
For short term storage, separate the beet greens from the beet root. The greens must be removed, leaving about two inches of stem still attached to the root. The leaves should then be washed, air dried, wrapped in a paper towel and stored in an airtight container or plastic bag. When done properly, this can prolong the freshness of the beet greens to about 2 to 5 days.
Beetroots, on the other hand, can last up to 3 weeks if stored correctly. With the two inch stem still attached, place the beetroots in an airtight container or plastic bag before putting it in the refrigerator. Make sure that the beetroots are completely dried and that the container is devoid of moisture. They are not ideal to freeze though as they becomes soggy when thawed.
For long term storage of a sizable beets’ harvest, you can use a root cellar to keep the vegetables for as long as 2-3 months. However, the temperature and humidity of the area should be properly controlled and the containers with sawdust, sand or peat moss should be damp. This storage scheme only works with the beetroots and not the greens, of course.
Although freezing is not the most ideal way of storing beets for short term use, it can be done for long-term storage. If done correctly, beets can last up to 12 months. Before putting in freezer bags, beetroots should be boiled, peeled and sliced.
Preservation of beets by pickling or canning is also possible. This can make your beets available for consumption even a year later.
Tips for Preparing and Cooking Beets
Depending on your recipe, the following tips can help you as you work with beets:
Be conscious of stains. If you don’t want your hands to turn purple, wear gloves. Even your kitchen utensils, mats and surfaces can be stained by beets during preparation so be ready with your wipes as you do it. For any color run, try using lemon juice or vinegar to remove the stain.
When washing the beets, be careful not to tear the skin. Otherwise, some nutrients from the rich-colored pigment may be lost.
To preserve as many vitamins and minerals as possible, try to minimize your cooking time and limit temperature. If you want to get the most out of them, you can eat them raw!
Sample Beets Recipes for a Healthy Gallbladder
Beets are good for the health of the bile, the gallbladder and the liver regardless of how they are prepared. However, this Beet Recipe with just a little bit of oil plus a little lemon to cut the oil, has an affect on the gallbladder of moving the bile gently and relieving pressure.
Beet Recipe for Gallbladder Pain
- 1 Large Organic Beet - raw, washed and grated
- Lemon juice
- Flax or olive oil to taste (1/2 Tbsp to 1 Tbsp)
Take one teaspoon of mixture every hour throughout the day. For a three day fast on this recipe, you can eat ¼ to ½ cup of beets for your three meals. And take one teaspoon to one tablespoon each hour. Drink lots of water.
After the three days, break your fast by adding salad to your beets, rather than beets to your salad. In other words, use the same dressing but begin by adding other raw vegetables to it. Lettuce, parsley, cilantro, basil, tomatoes, carrots, etc. After a day or two, make this mixture to add to your salads frequently or eat alone as above 2 or 3 times a week. This will keep the bile thin and moving. Beets in any form are an excellent food for both the liver and the gallbladder .
Steamed Whole Beets
Healthy food doesn’t have to be complicated. If you are short of time and ingredients, plain beets would do. Just steam organic beets in a covered pot for 45 minutes. Once done, you can readily eat it with skin. (Remember to peel if you have commercially-sold beets) If you want to make it a bit fancier, you can also slice and squeeze lemon or lime and trickle a little olive oil over it.
Sharmila’s Beet Freak Juice Recipe
- 1 Large Organic Beet - raw, washed
- ¼ Lemon with a bit of the peel
- 1 Apple
- Fresh ginger
- (Optional) Fresh turmeric
This recipe is so easy to do and refreshing to drink. Just add all the ingredients together in a blender or juicer, mix them and voila! you have this outrageously nutritious and delicious juice!