In South Africa, there was a Minister of Health (in the recent past) who was often ridiculed by others for promoting beetroot and other vegetables as a treatment for HIV/AIDS. The press nicknamed her Dr. Beetroot. Strangely enough, she was not too far wrong with her assessment of the health benefits of the beetroot which has been cultivated for thousands of years.
In ancient Greece, beets were considered so valuable that one was offered on a silver platter to Apollo at Delphi.
These days, beets grow in many regions of the world. Called beets in the US (and beetroot in many other countries) the beet-producing regions of the US are California, Colorado, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas. Depending on the heat of the summers, the beet is sown at different times of the year so they are available fresh all year round.
So what are the benefits to our health from the humble beet?
Beet greens are a very good source of calcium, iron, vitamins A and C while the beets are particularly rich in vitamin C and calcium.
- Beets provide a good source of anthocyanadins or natural antioxidants.
- Regular consumption can help prevent varicose veins.
Gout is another disease that can be greatly helped by the cleansing properties that beets offer.
- With its iron, beetroot is a blood building food as well as having liver, spleen, gal bladder and kidney cleansing properties.
- Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid as well as being a very good source of fiber, manganese and potassium.
- Beet greens and beetroot provide phosphorus, magnesium, iron and vitamin B6 while betacyanin is the pigment that gives beetroot its color, and has powerful antioxidant properties. The iron is organic, non irritating and will not cause any constipation.
- Beetroot contains silica – vital for healthy skin, fingernails, ligaments, tendons and bones.
- Beets have the power to raise the good cholesterol and lower the bad cholesterol levels while beetroot juice has been shown to lower blood pressure with its nitrate content.
- Betaine, which is another nutrient found in beets, lowers plasma homocysteine, a possible risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Betaine supplements are manufactured as a byproduct of sugar beet processing but isn't it better to get your betaine direct from the beets themselves? Betaine gives beetroot its rich red color and also supports healthy liver function leading to the efficient breaking down of fats, helping with weight loss and preventing fatigue and nausea.
- Current studies suggest that beetroot ingestion can be a useful means to help prevent cancer.
Just two words of warning about beets
Firstly, those with kidney stones containing oxalate should avoid beetroot and particularly the greens because they contain high levels of oxalate.
Secondly, don't leave cooked beets standing at room temperature – rather eat or place in the refrigerator. This is because beets contains nitrates which microorganisms can convert to nitrites which can then multiply. Nitrites can combine with amines in the stomach to form nitrosamines, some of which are known carcinogens.
When buying beets, look for firm, clean globe shaped vegetables with no soft wet areas. If still attached, the leaves should be fresh and clean. The leaves can be eaten too.
How to prepare beets
I cut off the tops, put them in a pot of boiling water and simmer for about 40 minutes or until you can easily insert a knife (depending on the size). Let them cool a bit before peeling. Either serve hot or cold whole, or slice and put in a bowl. If the latter, add a couple of teaspoons of sugar (if required) plus equal amounts of red wine vinegar and regular vinegar to almost cover the beetroot. Store in the refrigerator as a salad until ready to eat with your meal.
Use the washed cut-off tops chopped up in salads or lightly steam and served as you would spinach. Some people grate beets and eat raw, bake in the oven for a couple of hours or if very small, preserve in vinegar and use in making pickles.
Give beets a try and you will grow to enjoy them. It is time for beets to become mainstream veggies! I have been eating them all my life and have always loved their taste and texture.