Beets – those bright red root veggies you always walk by in the produce aisle because you're not quite sure what to do with them – are a superfood that deserve your attention. They're packed with nutrients and powerful antioxidants that have been shown to improve digestion, support heart and brain health, and lower inflammation.
Many of us have eaten beets and are familiar with their sweet, earthy, ruby-red flesh. However, you may not have realized that with each bite, you were getting essential nutrients like folate, manganese and potassium. You can find them in cans, but to really get the most out of it, head to the produce aisle or the farmers market, roll up your sleeves and get your hands, well, pink. This versatile veggie can be roasted, sautéed, puréed into sauces or even eaten raw. As a bonus, if you buy beets with their greens attached, you can wash the greens and eat them as well.
Beets are not only nutrient-dense, but also have lots of fiber to help digestion. The red pigmentation in beets is from a compound called betalain, a red, nitrogen-rich phyto-compound that may protect the liver, fight inflammation and have antioxidant activity. Studies have found that beets can lower blood pressure with their high nitrogen content, though this is a temporary effect that will reverse six hours after you've eaten them. Beetroot juice has also been shown to enhance athletic performance and increase blood flow to the brain.
As a root vegetable, beets are grown in the ground and will require washing to remove dirt, fertilizers and pesticides before you can consume them. It's best to remove the skin entirely before eating. Also, because of the high nitrogen content, people with low blood pressure or poor blood pressure regulation should be cautious when eating any amount of beets.
How to Use Them
With their rather unique flavor profile, beets can be either a hit or a miss for many. But these juicy, ruby-red veggies can be prepared to suit any palate. After peeling, beets can be chopped into half-inch cubes, tossed with olive oil and rosemary, and baked for 20 to 30 minutes for a great side dish or warm salad topper. They can also be cubed and added to a high-powered blender with some apples, oranges and walnuts to make a healthy, earthy, deep-pink smoothie. Beetroot juice can be used as a nutrient-packed natural food coloring to make pink pancakes, cakes, cookies and even frosting.
With a Ph.D. in pharmacology, Stacey Aggarwal writes about biology, health and nutrition while running a lavender farm in North Idaho.