Should You Be Eating More Beets?


Let us begin with a little history about the root crop: Beets

Our farming ancestors began to cultivate beets about 6,000 years ago and for many of those years, people only ate the leaves, much like the way we consume the leaves of Swiss chard. Beet roots were used primarily as dyes, lipstick, poultices (healing of wounds/ inflammation), teas, and used to help aid an upset stomach.

It wasn’t until the Roman era, where they created beets with larger sweeter bulbs and people began to consume the bulbs along with its leaves. Beets continued to be used as a healing device and were used to revive sexual desire. It was discovered that the walls of Roman brothels were decorated with rows of beet roots.

Beets may indeed have aphrodisiac properties because they are rich in boron. The element boron is known for its bone-building properties. Also, research has been shown that boron “markedly elevates” testosterone in both women and in men. With higher testosterone levels, the greater sexual desire both sexes have. Beets show promise of being a veggie Viagra. Eating beets also relaxes and widens your blood vessels throughout your body which allows greater blood flow.

As farmers designed bigger and sweeter beet roots, the bulbs became the main course and the leaves were discarded. Today, consumers eat more beets that are canned rather than fresh ones. When beets are sold with their leaves attached, most people chop them off when they get home. Once again, our ancient ancestors had it right all along. We should not be throwing away the leaves. The leaves actually contain more antioxidants than the beet root itself.

Even without their green leaves, beets are still ranked one of the healthiest vegetables today. They taste sweet but surprisingly they have a low impact on your blood sugar levels. Beets are a goof source of folate, fiber and potassium.

  • Beets have more antioxidant properties than all other common vegetables in all grocery stores except for kale, red cabbage, artichokes, and bell peppers. They have 9 times more antioxidants than tomatoes and 50 times more than orange carrots.

The deep lush red color from beets come from phytonutrients called betalains. Betalains are known to be cancer fighters. Research has shown that people who eat more beets on a regular basis have a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and diseases of the digestive tract than people who don’t consume beets.

For Athletes: The nitrate in beets may enhance your performance in two different ways. (You may have heard that nitrates and nitrites added to processed meats have been linked to increase risk of cancer, sodium nitrate is a natural component in leafy green vegetables and beets.

It can have health-enhancing benefits if consumed in its organic form.) Now, that being said, 1) the nitrate can reduce your blood pressure, which increases blood flow to your muscles and 2) it reduces the amount of oxygen required by your muscles during exercise.

Are you a runner? In the summer 2012 Olympics, British athletes including Mohamed (Mo) Farah who won the gold medal for the men’s 5-and 10- kilometer races, drank beet juice rather than Gatorade before their events. Beets are not considered an illegal performance-enhancing drug.

A British study showed that fit men and women who had eaten a serving of whole beets daily for several days could run faster than they could when they had eaten a serving of other vegetables. This could make a difference between winning and losing a race. Juice Up.

How to Choose the Most Nutritious Beets in the Supermarket

In order to get the most nutrition out of your beets, you must choose the right varieties. Some beets in stores don’t contain betalain, which are responsible for decreasing your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It’s unfortunate that many stores will not list the types of beets on store so, you will need to choose them based on their color.

Take home the darkest red varieties. If the names are listed, look for Red Ace and Detroit Dark Red. If you come across Dark Red Bunch beets which are young beets that contain their leaves, you can also take those home. But, try to eat their leaves. Put them in your salad or smoothies to increase your antioxidant levels. Bunch beets are a seasonal vegetable in most areas of the country, so make a point to buy them whenever they are available.

Beets, like corn, do not lose their nutritional value when they are canned. As a mater of fact, beets become more nutritious. Canned beets are less flavorful, but they contain more antioxidants.

Beyond the Supermarket

It’s always recommended to shop at your local farmers’ market to buy your fruits and vegetables whenever possible. If you’re at a farmers’ market look for beets with the name Ox Blood, Red Ace, Bull’s Blood, or Early Wonder Tall Tops. Ox blood beets taste the best to me because of its’ rich flavor and sweetness.

The Best Way to Store Your Beets

For Bunch Beets: store the green tops and root separately. When you get home, cut off the green tops, rinse them, towel dry, and store them in a plastic pricked bag with tiny holes. Eat them within 2-3 days.

For all other variety of beets, store them in the crispier drawer of your fridge and eat them within a week or two.

The Best Way to Consume Beets

Beets become more beneficial when you steam, microwave or roast them. Before cooking them, scrub the beets well and leave the skins on. After your done cooking them, let them cool down before you peel their skins. If you don’t want purple hands, use gloves. Be cautious, beets stain easily especially wooden cutting boards. 

If You Don’t Like Beets: Here’s a Tip

You can tone down the earthy flavor of beets by complimenting them with the right condiments. One suggestion would be to use a dark balsamic vinegar over your beets. Mix your beets with other vegetables you like and create a salad with dark balsamic dressing as your condiment. You can also try beets with mustard or horseradish.

Last Note: Don’t be worried if your urine or stool are red: it’s a harmless side effect from eating beets.

Let’s Recap

  • Eat your beets and its’ leaves

Red beets are high in betalains, bio-nutrients that may help reduce your risk of cancer and other harmful diseases. Red beet juice can lead to better athletic performances (especially runners). Beet leaves have higher antioxidants than the actual beet bulb. So, try eating the leaves in your salads or smoothies. Steaming, roasting, or microwaving beets increases their nutritional value.  

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