No longer are beets relegated to Grandma’s borscht or the sad corner of the salad bar. From hummus to juice, the often-overlooked bulb is now taking center stage in the health community—and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve got an earthiness that complements veggies and a sweetness that adds depth to desserts.
The beetroot’s nutritional profile is also pretty impressive—the humble roots are packed with fibre, vitamins, and nutrients. Beetroot is technically ‘in season’ through autumn and winter, says Abby Langer, a registered dietician, but since they store incredibly well, they crop up in supermarkets all year-round.
So yes, we love our beetroot. But there’s a red elephant in the room. Many people will notice something strange going down in the toilet after they eat them. First off, you’re not bleeding. “It’s just the natural colours coming out,” says Langer. “Don’t be alarmed. It’s completely normal to have your urine and stool dyed red by the colour in beetroot after you eat them.” Glad that’s cleared up…
Cooked vegetables may be easier to digest than raw, Langer says, but at the end of the day, “it’s whatever you prefer.” No matter how you slice ‘em—steamed, pickled, raw, dehydrated into chips, or roasted to unearth their sweetness – beetroots are more versatile than we give them credit for. “I’ve actually made a chocolate beetroot cake, which was incredible,” she says.
We’re all for marching to the beet of our own drum, but try giving them a shot this winter. You’ll see why we’re obsessed.
They’re low in cals but high in nutrients.
One cup of beetroot contains 119 calories, according to the USDA. And with that cup, you’ll also score two grams of protein, nearly four grams of fibre, nine grams of sugar, and 13 grams of carbohydrates. To really paint the picture, you should know that a cup of turnips, also root veggies, only has one gram of protein and two grams of fibre. (Not to hate on turnips, of course, because they also have some stellar properties like being rich in vitamin A). Anyway, back to beetroot. These bad boys are also fat-free and a good source of folate, manganese, muscle-helping potassium, and immune-boosting vitamin C. And their impressive resume doesn’t stop there…
They’re anti-inflammatory and may prevent heart disease.
Research, such as that from Nutrition Journal, suggests that beets are a serious powerhouse when it comes to lowering blood pressure. That’s because they’re high in nitrates, which gets converted into nitric oxide—a gas that actually relaxes and widens your blood vessels, thereby aiding healthy blood flow throughout your body, explains Sydney Greene, a dietitian in New York City. “Essentially, this means more oxygen is being circulated, increasing your levels of alertness and energy.”
While lower BP (thanks again, nitrates!) definitely helps reduce the risk of heart disease, antioxidants such as betalains also play a role. “In general, antioxidants work in the body to scavenge free radicals that can cause damage to cells anywhere in the body,” Green says. “The betalains are potent antioxidants that can prevent heart disease as they help decrease inflammation.”
They can help boost your workout—and digestion.
Given what you know thus far, it’s no shock that beetroot is also known to help you kill it at the gym and, get this, live longer. “The nitrates in beetroot have been shown to positively affect exercise endurance,” Langer says. One possible reason? Research suggests that the nitrates actually improve the function of mitochondria, which are the powerhouses for your cells and muscles—essentially, they’re what provides them with energy.
And last but certainly not least, fiber-rich beets can help aid your digestion, keeping your system a-go and you regular.
There are three main varieties of beetroot.
Red: They boast a brownish-red exterior and burst with crimson goodness inside. They are pretty sweet and FYI: Their bright-red colour tends to bleed, so don’t wear white when cooking with it.
Coral on the outside and vibrant yellowy-orange inside. They are slightly less sweet than red beetroot, with an earthier taste. They also don’t have the same color-bleeding problems that red varieties do.
Chioggia: Also known as candy-cane beetroot, this pretty variety is striped and swirled with red and white on the inside. For best results, keep them raw since cooking fades their colour and design. They are super sweet.
The best beetroot might be a little dirty.
Don’t be turned off by a little mud. Most beetroots tend to be dirty, and that’s normal (hello, they’re called “root” veggies after all!), but make sure they’re firm, Langer says. Pay close attention to the beet greens as well – they too should be firm and the darker they are, the more nutrients are packed inside.
They’re best when kept in the fridge.
When you get home, remove the greens, leaving around two inches of stem to prevent colour bleeding. Don’t throw out the greens—they’re edible and have lots of vitamins and minerals, too. More specifically, the leaves are super high in vitamin K, which supports bone strength, and vitamin A, which can contribute to glowing skin, Greene explains. Her advice? Either use them right away or wrap in a damp cloth and store in the fridge for 1-2 days, just as you would with kale, chard, and other leafy greens.
As for the bulbs, it’s okay to leave ’em dirty until you’re ready to chow down. If you do wash before storing, however, Green says to make sure they’re dried thoroughly. Pop the beets in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer for max freshness or up to two weeks. Pro tip: don’t store with fruits, as this can speed up spoilage.
They don’t have to be peeled to eat.
We all know keeping the peel intact generally preserves produce’s nutrients. But sometimes, you just want to preserve your sanity, too. “I personally don’t peel beets because it’s such a mess. That juice stains. I just trim off the taproot and greens, scrub them well, and cut them for cooking,” Langer says.
Whatever way you go about prepping beetroot, wearing gloves is a bright idea. Sure, looking like Mr Clean is fun, but steering clear of staining your fingers is what you really want. Another smart choice? Using a plastic cutting board instead of a wood one, which is porous and might soak up even more of the beet juice that (reminder!) stains…big time.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za
Image credit: iStock
Marissa Miller and Elizabeth Bacharach