By Katherine Ratliff, MS
Move over carrots, there is a new root in town. Packed full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients these ruby (and golden) gems are a wonderful addition to a heart healthy gluten-free diet. Need more convincing? Here are five reasons to love this humble root.
The days of beets being relegated to the salad bar are over. In fact, just like carrots you can enjoy beets both cooked and raw. An Eastern European staple, beets were traditionally pickled or incorporated into Borscht, a soup made by simmering beets and cabbage. However, these are not the only two ways to enjoy this delicious staple. Try roasting beets to create a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth treat. Using a food processor, quickly shred raw beets for use in smoothies, salads, and gluten-free vegetable burgers. Pureed beets can also add a burst of color, flavor, and nutrients to hummus, soups, sauces, and even baby food.
Most people think of beets as a winter vegetable, however their prime growing season is actually from June through October. This discrepancy in seasonality is largely due to their hardiness and ability to thrive through the winter season. Given their long availability, beets are an excellent choice for any season.
When purchasing beets, the smaller ones will be sweeter and more tender while larger beets tend to have a tough, woody center. Look for beets that are small and firm with intact skin and bright green leaves. Avoid any that contain noticeable spots, blemishes, or have wilted leaves. To store beets, trim the leaves, leaving 2-inches attached to the root. The greens should be consumed within 2-3 days or frozen. The root can be kept in the refrigerator crisper for up to 2-3 weeks.
This colorful, nutrient-rich powerhouse contains an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to promote optimal health. Betalain is a type of phytonutrient that gives beets its vibrant red or golden color. It also provides many of the health benefits associated with beets, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.
Beets are also a good source of nitrates. Within the body, dietary nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which help regulate blood flow and muscle contraction. Beetroot juice in particular may provide blood pressure and athletic performance benefits. In addition to beets, various other vegetables including leafy greens, leeks, and cabbage also provide dietary nitrates.
What about nitrates and nitrites found in processed meat? Bacon, sausage, and other processed meats often contain sodium nitrite, a synthetic additive used to prevent meat from going rancid. However, when meat containing sodium nitrite is exposed to high temperatures, such as with grilling and frying, the nitrites are converted to nitrosamines. It is the nitrosamines that are believed to pose a risk to human health. When we consume vegetables, such as beets and leafy greens, we are typically not heating these foods to such high temperatures, thus nitrosamine formation is not a concern.
Did you know that your body undergoes detoxification on a daily basis? In addition to the liver, our skin, kidneys, digestive system, and respiratory system all participate in filtering and eliminating unwanted waste and toxins. In fact, what we eat also plays a supportive role in these pathways. Beets, in addition to cruciferous (e.g. broccoli) and allium vegetables (e.g. garlic), contain phytonutrients that support our body’s natural detoxification pathways. Betalain pigments have been shown to support detoxification by activating enzymes involved in detoxification pathways in our liver, thus helping to neutralize and excrete toxins. Read about similar detoxification benefits of cabbage here.
It is important to mention that betalains are heat sensitive. Cooking beets at too high of a temperature for too long may reduce the betalain content. To preserve these beneficial compounds, it is recommended to keep cooking time and temperature low.
Don’t toss the greens! When you purchase beets, you are getting two different edible portions – the root and leaves. Did you know that beets and Swiss chard belong to the same plant family? In fact, if you were to compare Swiss chard and beet greens, you would notice more similarities than differences in terms of taste and texture. Beet greens are a wonderful source of concentrated vitamins and minerals, and also contain carotenoids, a powerful antioxidant phytonutrient. Prepare beet greens as you would spinach, or chard. Try steaming or sautéing; enjoy raw in a salad or as a wrap.
Have you ever noticed a pinkish tint to your urine? Fear not! Approximately 10-15% of US adults experience “beeturia” after eating beets. Although this condition is not harmful, in some individuals beeturia may also indicate an underlying issue with iron status. If you experience beeturia and have concerns about your iron levels, contact your healthcare provider for further follow-up.
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