Beets (Beta vulgaris) are a biennial vegetable, edible from root to leaf. The fleshy, purplish-red tap root with a sweet, earthy taste is not frequently seen served up in American cuisine but both beetroot and beet greens are absolutely deserving of a spot in the annals of medicinal superfoods.
8 Health Benefits Of Eating Beets
Here are some incredible reasons to eat your beets:
1. Beets Provide a Broad Spectrum of Nutrients
The humble beet is a good source of practically all the vitamins and minerals you need:
|Per Cup of Beets, Raw||% of DV|
|Vitamin A||44.9 IU||1%|
|Vitamin C||6.7 mg||11%|
|Vitamin B6||0.1 mg||5%|
|Pantothenic Acid||0.2 mg||2%|
Beetroot is often packaged and sold with their leafy greens still attached. Don’t toss these delectable bits – they are even higher in vitamins than their roots. Young beet leaves can be served raw or lightly steamed while more mature greens are usually stir fried or boiled, much like spinach.
2. Beets are an Unique Source of Betalains
Betalains are a class of phytonutrient pigments, responsible for giving certain fruits, flowers, and foliage their vibrant red to violet and yellow to orange hues. They are exclusive to plants within the Caryophyllales family, and red and yellow beets are among the few foods that contain it. Other sources of betalains include beet greens, prickly pear, Swiss chard, and cactus fruits.
Though chemically and structurally different, betalains are similar to anthocyanins in that they are both colorants that possess strong antioxidant properties.
According to a study published in Food Additives and Contaminants, betalains – and specifically betanin pigments found in red beets – have exceptionally high free radical scavenging activity. While anthocyanins’ antioxidant capacity is highest in acidic pH and degrades in alkaline pH environments, betanin is most effective as an electron donor when pH is higher than 4. Including both betalains and anthocyanins in the foods you eat means you can increase the bioavailability of these antioxidants because the human body varies widely in pH of the mouth, stomach, blood, and intestine.
In addition to betalains, beets also contain other important antioxidants such as rutin, caffeic acid, epicatechin, flavonoids, and carotenoids that work in synergy to help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, and other age-related diseases.
3. Beets Reduce Blood Pressure
Keeping your blood pressure in check is one of the ways you can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other heart diseases.
Nitrates, which are found naturally in many vegetables, have a blood pressure lowering effect when regularly consumed. Nitrates convert into nitric oxide after ingestion, a signalling molecule that tells the muscles in the arteries to relax.
Beets are among the richest sources of dietary nitrates, and as such, has been studied for its impact on heart health. In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial published in Nutrition Journal, healthy volunteers who drank beetroot juice had lower systolic blood pressure levels just six hours after drinking it. In another study, eating beetroot bread helped reduce diastolic blood pressure in healthy men.
The cardioprotective properties of beets work best when eaten raw rather than cooked. And because the blood pressure lowering effect of beets only last so long, so you’ll need to eat plenty of beets to achieve long lasting results.
4. Beets Enhance Athletic Performance
Dietary nitrates also interact with the vast network of mitochondrial cells found throughout the body.
Mitochondria are responsible for producing and converting energy to living cells, and consuming nitrates has been found to make mitochondrial function more efficient by reducing the oxygen cost of rigorous physical activity. This means that the less oxygen used during exercise, the greater the endurance.
In a 2009 study published in Applied Physiology, supplementing with 500 ml of beetroot juice per day for six days increased the time to exhaustion during intense exercise by 15% to 25%.
5. Beets Help Fight Chronic Inflammation
Betalains have shown a lot of promise as a novel anti-inflammatory that could be used to treat many types of disease.
Several animal studies have shown that betalains derived from beetroot have a therapeutic effect on various forms of inflammation. In one, it slowed the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes such as tumor necrosis factor, interleukin, and superoxide anion. In another, it helped to improve physical injuries, while also suppressing the expression of nitric oxide, cyclooxygenase, nuclear factor kappa B, and other inflammatory processes. And lastly, beet root extract helped to alleviate damage caused by oxidative stress, inflammation, and cell death.
6. Beets are Brain Food
Cognitive function deteriorates as we age. One of the key factors that precedes this decline is reduced blood flow in the brain.
However, older adults who consumed a high nitrate diet – which included a daily 16 ounce serving of beetroot juice – had increased cerebral blood flow in a 2011 study. Specifically, nitrates helped improve blood flow in the frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for memory, language, problem solving, and emotional expression.
7. Beets Support Digestive Health
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that isn’t broken down by digestive enzymes, passing through the body undigested. In addition to adding bulk to stool, fiber alters the contents of the digestive system by changing how nutrients are absorbed.
Eating a diet rich in fiber also helps reduce the risk of developing several kinds of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Beets are a good source of dietary fiber, with each cup containing 3.8 grams.
8. Beets Can Help You Lose Weight
Because beets are high in fiber and low in calories, they can be useful for assisting with weight loss.
Eating a high fiber diet has been shown to help make you feel fuller for longer and reduce hunger pangs throughout the day. Without any changes to their regular diets, consuming an additional 14 grams of fiber per day resulted in healthy individuals eating 10% less food each day with 4.2 pounds of weight loss over 3.8 months. The effect of dietary fiber in heavier participants was even more dramatic: daily caloric intake was reduced by 18% with 5.3 pounds of weight loss over the same period.
12 Yummy Beet Recipes
Beets are very versatile and can be eaten boiled, roasted, steamed, pickled, or raw:
Incorporating both the roots and the greens, this fresh salad is tossed in an orange mustard dressing and topped with walnuts and feta cheese.
Get the recipe from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
A fermented beverage originating in Baltic and Slavic countries, this recipe for kvass uses beets instead of the traditional rye bread to create an earthy, salty, sweet, and sour probiotic beverage.
Get the recipe from The Kitchn.
Add them to a fresh salad or eat them straight out of the jar, pickled beets only get better with age and will last for up to a year.
Get the recipe from The Daring Gourmet.
The Ukrainian specialty, borscht soup is a medley of beets, carrots, onions, and cabbage with a squirt of lemon juice and garnished with sour cream.
Get the recipe from Taste of Home.
For those who love a chilled soup on a hot day, chlodnik is a cold Polish beet soup made with cucumbers, radishes, dill, onions, yogurt, kefir, and sour cream, garnished with chopped boiled eggs.
Get the recipe from Polish Housewife.
Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Beets & Eggs
This Pennsylvania Dutch recipe involves first hard boiling the eggs and then curing them in beet brine, which gives them their amazing bright pink coloring.
Get the recipe from All Recipes.
Roasted Beet Hummus
This hot pink hummus melds together beets, chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon, and olive oil for a kid-friendly appetizer, served with pita and veggies.
Get the recipe from Minimalist Baker.
A sweet, refreshing, and healthful bevvie, process beetroot, apples, celery, carrots, and ginger in the juicer. Finished with freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.
Get the recipe from Food Viva.
Toss beets, blueberries, coconut water, and Greek yogurt in the blender for a quick boost of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Get the recipe from Epicurious.
Sautéed Beet Greens
Another way to enjoy beet greens – as a tender, garlicky, lemony side dish!
Get the recipe from Spend With Pennies.
Beetroot Bread With Nuts
Never knew you needed pink bread? This vibrant loaf is so hued due to the blending in of beetroot puree with the flour and nuts.
Get the recipe from Akis Petretzikis.
Beets are excellent for making spiralized veggie noodles in lieu of wheat pasta. In this recipe, beet noodles are complemented with garlic, fresh dill, and plain yogurt.
Get the recipe from Feasting At Home.
You can also find many inspired and modern beet recipes at Love Beets.
Final Thoughts on Beets
The rich, earthy flavor of beets is due to the presence of geosmin, an organic compound produced by certain microbes in the soil. Geosmin is the reason why the air smells so good after a rainfall and the scent of a freshly plowed field. It emits its distinct aroma whenever the earth is disturbed.
There are a number of varieties of beets to try. Detroit Dark Red are the most common variety, sweet and with a striking deep red color. Golden cultivars are yellow fleshed and mild in flavor. Chioggia is an Italian heirloom with concentric inner rings of white and violet. Cylindra beetroots are oblong in shape, excellent for slicing and pickling. If you want more beet greens, Lutz Green Leaf produces tender beetroots with large leaves.
And just like with some other brightly colored foods, eating beets can result in red or pink urine and stools – a condition called beeturia. Caused by unmetabolized betalain pigments, beeturia itself is harmless but may be indicative of an iron deficiency, so talk to your doctor if this discoloration is occurring frequently.