I've been picking up fresh heirloom beets at the Farmer's Market from Red Wagon Organic Farm every week anticipating the delicious complex flavor they add to my smoothies (recipe coming soon!) and the boost in energy from the nitric oxide they can produce when consumed. So I thought I'd share with you some of the great benefits of this yummy root veggie.
Scientific Benefits of Beets
- Improve athletic performance. Pre-exercise consumption of nitrate rich beetroot juice (200gm) improved and enhanced running performance in this study. In another study, six days of 140ml of concentrated beetroot juice (loaded with nitrates) reduced pulmonary oxygen usage (VO₂) during cycling and improved performance in professional cyclists. And yet another study showed enhancement of muscle contraction after consumption of beetroot juice.
- Decrease oxidative stress. Beets contain a new class of antioxidants called Betalains, which decrease oxidative stress and aid in detoxification. Regular consumption of 300ML daily of red beet in this study showed decrease in oxidative stress markers and may prevent chronic degenerative diseases. Red Betalain pigment are not very heat stable so best if eaten raw or juiced. If you choose to cook your beets, steam them for less than 15minutes or roast them for less than 45minutes.
- Increase nitric oxide. Beets contain nitrates which are a precursor of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps our blood vessels dilate appropriately, improving vascular function in conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and erectile dysfunction. In this study, overweight men who drank beet juice had increases in nitric oxide levels after consumption.
- Prevent Cancer. Betalains, the antioxidant in beets, has been shown to have anti-cancer effects! This study showed the antioxidant from beets caused death of leukemia cells. And another study suggested beet juice consumption may prevent lung and skin cancers.
- Improve detoxification. Regular consumption of beets which contain betaine and polyphenols in this study enhanced the liver's ability to product glutathione and superoxide dismutase, both key factors in daily detoxification. Because of their powerful ability to enhance detoxification this study showed a protective benefit against toxic chemicals, like carcinogens.
Don't forget the greens!
The leafy greens attached to the beet roots are delicious and can be prepared like spinach. They are incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals as well as beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin.
Tips for storing and preparing
To clean, rinse gently under cool water and avoid tearing the skin which helps keep the health-promoting pigments inside.
Cut beets into quarters leaving 1-2 inches of root and a small bit of stem.
I like to throw them raw into green juices or smoothies for most nutritional benefit. However, if you cook them, I recommend lightly steaming or baking on low heat to maximize nutritional benefit. Steam for no more than 10-15min or until you can easily insert tip of fork into beet.
- Grate raw beets into salads or as garnish on main dish
- Marinate steamed beets with olive oil or ghee, sea salt and fresh basil and thyme
- Sauté beet greens like you would spinach or swiss chard or mix them all together for a fresh take on salad
Recipe from the Institute for Functional Medicine:
2 cups finely shredded cabbage 2 cups boiling water
½ cup chopped onion 2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp caraway seed 1 tsp honey, if desired
3 Tbsp lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound cooked small beets, peeled, chopped (save the cooking water)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (gluten-free)
Cook the cabbage for ten minutes in boiling, salted water. Cook the onion in the oil for a few minutes, without browning. Drain the beets, saving the cooking liquid, and finely chop. Add the chicken or vegetable stock to the onions. Upon boiling, add the cabbage and its cooking liquid back in. Add the beets, one cup of beet cooking liquid, caraway seeds, honey, and salt and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes, skimming carefully. Remove the soup from the heat. Add lemon juice and heat just to the boiling point. Serve with dill weed garnish. Eat soup hot or cold.