It's that time of year again! The leaves are beginning to change and the air is becoming chilly. The seasons are changing. Like the seasons, our meals should be changing too. The fall season is one of my favorite produce seasons as we celebrate the harvest of our long season vegetables like winter squashes and re-plant cold weather crops like greens. I am in love with all of the fall flavors, but one of the most under appreciated vegetables of the season is the beet. With it's long list of health benefits, it is time to bring the beet into the spotlight!
Beets are absolutely fun to play with in the kitchen! Their vibrant colors can make any dish pop with excitement. Beets are root vegetables that grow in any season and generally harvested June-October. Beets are native to the Mediterranean area. The most common beet grown in the U.S. is the ruby red, however they can range in colors from white to gold. They are unique crops because the entire plant is edible - leaves, stems, and root! Fun fact: the ancient Greeks only ate the beet leaves as the bulb was considered medicinal.
Beetroot was historically documented to be medicinal. Today, we know that this sweet root is rich in antioxidants, phenols, vitamins and minerals making them a staple to every healthy kitchen.
Beets are rich in a unique antioxidant called betalains. Betalains are the phytonutrient that gives that rich red and gold hue to the root. They have strong free-radical scavenging properties, meaning the search out oxidative damage and prevent damage from occurring (3).
Betalains are powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients and have been demonstrated to reduce inflammatory bio-markers (3).
Betalains support the phase 2 detoxification system that takes place in the liver making beets a great addition to any detox (3).
It is suggested that betanins have the ability to reduce tumors and pre-cancer cells. Many studies have indicated a reduction in the incidence of cancer when beetroot pigment was added (3).
Beetroot contains minerals like manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, and copper and vitamins such as folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C (2). Beet greens are a great source of vitamin K, iron and B6.
Beets are a dietary source of natural nitrates that reduce to nitric oxide during the digestive process. In studies, the nitric oxide produced after eating beets plays a helpful role in regulating and lowering blood pressure (1).
Beets in the Kitchen
Cooking with beets can be fun! They can be eaten raw, roasted, fermented, steamed, or juiced. The greens can be sauteed or put in salads. The roots have an earthy sweet taste to them that becomes sweeter when cooked. If you don't plan on cooking your beets immediately after buying them, separate the greens from the tops to keep the moisture from being pulled out of the root. Leave about 1 or 2 inches of stalk on the top to prevent the beet from bleeding out (if you ever cooked with beets, you know the struggle). Unwashed beets can be stored in fridge for up to four weeks.
The vibrant red pigment of the beet juice is commonly used as a natural dye and can stain porous surfaces and hands! Here are a few kitchen tricks to know when working with beets:
Don't worry about peeling the beets until after you have cooked them. This prevents the beet juice from staining everything. Once they are cooked, the peeling just falls off. Or just eat it! There is a lot of fiber and added nutrients in the peel. Make sure you wash it thoroughly first and use a scrub brush.
Don't add salt until after you are done cooking. This will allow the beet to keep it's bright color through the cooking phase.
Did your hands get stained? Wash them with salt and lemon juice.
To avoid bleeding color, add beets to other vegetables last.
Recipe calling for cups? One pound of fresh beetroot is equivalent to roughly 2 cups chopped.
Just Can't Beet It
Functional foods are a classification for foods that provide many health benefits as well as dietary needs. Beets fall into this category with all of the nutrients they provide. They are a wholesome treat to add to any diet, but extremely beneficial for cardiovascular support, detoxification, and overall health maintenance. Take some time to explore beets this season. Beets pair well with citrus, thyme, cumin, garlic, dill, and cloves. They make great salad toppers, side dishes, snacks, and more! Have some fun and be creative - you just can't beet them!
(1)Clifford, T., Howatson, G., West, D. J., & Stevenson, E. J. (2015, April 14). The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients, Vol. 7, pp. 2801–2822. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7042801
(2)Ingle, M., Thorat, S. S., Kotecha, P. M., & Nimbalkar, C. A. (2016). Nutritional assessment of beetroot (Beta vulgaris L.) powder cookies. https://doi.org/10.18805/ajdfr.v36i03.8963
(3)Lechner, J. F., & Stoner, G. D. (2019, April 23). Red beetroot and betalains as cancer chemopreventative agents. Molecules. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24081602