by Staci O’Connor MS, RD, CLC, CDN
The white beet was developed in the 18th century and the colonists brought the red and sugar beets to America in the 19th century. Beets are now commercially grown in 31 states, California being the nation’s largest supplier. Beets can range in color from dark purple to bright red, yellow, and white. There is even a Chioggia beet which is red and white-striped and has the nickname “candy cane” beet.
Beets are a good source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and riboflavin. The beet greens, which are interchangeable with other mild-tasting greens like Swiss chard and spinach, are an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C as well as a good source of manganese, potassium and riboflavin.
Beets are rich in antioxidants and may boost stamina to assist in exercising longer by improving muscle oxygenation during exercise. Beets may also improve blood flow and may help lower blood pressure. Beets are rich in a natural chemical called nitrates; through a chain reaction, your body will change nitrates into nitric oxide, which may help with blood flow, lower blood pressure, and may help to fight heart disease. Beets also contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Finally, beets may help fight inflammation and the high fiber content of beets prevents constipation and promotes regularity.
When purchasing beets select red or white beets that are firm with smooth skins and non-wilted leaves. Keep in mind the smaller the beet the more tender it will be. Smaller beets (half-inch in diameter) are good for eating raw and medium to large-sized beets (more than three inches in diameter) are best for cooking. Cooking beets will bring out their natural sweetness, but they can also be consumed raw, peeled and grated on top of a salad and even juiced. You can also microwave beets. If you decide to microwave beets, rinse the beet and cut all but an inch of the stalks. Place the beet in a deep microwave-safe dish with about an inch of water on the bottom. Microwave the beets for 2-4 minutes. You will know if they are done when you pierce them with a fork, try not to overcook them! If you decide to roast them, first peel them and then slice on a cutting board that is covered with wax paper. Place the sliced beats on a foil lined baking dish and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Bake at 400 or 425 degrees F for 20-30 minutes. Stir them once or twice. (You can also include carrots and sweet potatoes if you want to incorporate other vegetables with the beets for variety.) Keep in mind you can also use the beet leaves as greens in a salad or you can cook them and add them to a side dish like cooked spinach.
Finally be aware that eating too many beets can turn your urine pink, which some may mistake for blood in the urine. Also, if you get kidney stones and if you are advised to cut down on oxalates in your diet, be aware that beets are high in oxalates.