So you either love or seriously despise this round little root vegetable. If you are like me, immediate flashbacks of school lunches run through your mind- and that bright reddish-purple juice is staining the rest of the food on your lunch tray all over again. Those limp and floppy, tin-can scented round disks were disgusting! But the tragedy in this memory is the fact that beets are truly a delicious and highly nutritious food, once the canning process is taken out of the equation.
That deep red color is created by a group of phytonutrients and antioxidants called betalins. They assist in the detoxification process of our bodies by stimulating an antioxidant called glutathione. Toxic materials attach to glutathione and are neutralized immediately. Betalins contribute an anti-inflammatory effect that may decrease our risk of elevated LDL (the bad cholesterol). They are also sold commercially as food dye. Recent research has supported beets’ cancer-fighting and protection benefits. Betanin from beets, a member of the betalin family, may actually slow cancer cell growth of the colon, prostate, stomach, lung, and breast. These robust benefits are damaged if beets are cooked to death so it is recommended that they be steamed no longer than 15 minutes and roasted no longer than 45-60 minutes.
Beets are a great source of folate, a B vitamin. Increased consumption of foods rich in folate have shown to decrease the levels of homocysteine in the body. High levels of homocysteine are consistent with vascular damage and atherosclerosis. Folate is thought to play a role in the aging process as lower levels of folate may be correlated with atrophy of the brain’s cerebral cortex, Alzheimer’s disease, and hearing loss. There is also a connection between lower concentrations of folate in the body and cancer growth. Appropriate folate levels during early pregnancy help decrease the risk of neural tube defects in newborns. Oh and just an FYI, alcohol consumption is known to LOWER levels of folate in the body, so control yourself!
Also rich in potassium, manganese, vitamin C, and magnesium, beets support a healthy, functioning immune system. So eat up as flu season nears! Their high fiber content aids in digestion and supports the excretion of excess cholesterol from the body. The fiber in this low calorie veggie keeps us feeling fuller longer. What more can you want!?
When prepared correctly, beets are a delicious addition to any diet. With their rich, buttery flesh and earthy flavor, you can’t go wrong. I like to steam them whole with the skin on for 15 minutes. If they are huge, I cut them in half. When they are soft, I use a spoon to scrape off the skin. Do not attempt to remove the skin with a sharp knife before cooking them. I chop them up and put them on salads with goat cheese and walnuts. I also like them sliced thin, added to red onions and tossed with vinaigrette as a simple side or on top of fish. There is truly an endless variety of recipes out there.
Lastly, I cannot forget to mention the benefits held in those bright leaves attached to the beets. These beet greens are a great source of lutein, a nutrient that supports eye health as it may decrease the risk of macular degeneration. They also contain high levels of iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. A word of caution, beet greens contain oxalates, a molecule that attaches to calcium. For this reason, those with a history of kidney stones should avoid over consuming them. They are great added to salad greens, sautéed in garlic and olive oil, or blended in a smoothie.
So join me, and Don’t Stop the Beet! What is your favorite beet dish?
Harvard Health http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Fabulous_Folate.htm
American Optometric Association http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/
Worlds Healthiest Foods: http://www.WHfoods.com
BBC GoodFood http://www.bbcgoodfood.com