June 5, 2019
Beets – there’s something about them that people either loathe or love. However, don’t knock ‘em before you try ‘em! This purple root vegetable and its leafy greens offers a hefty dose of nutrition in a two-in-one package deal. Beets are thought to be native to the Mediterranean region in North Africa and parts of Italy. Originally, only the leaves were consumed since the bulbs were not as large as the ones grown today. However, as the Ancient Romans spread beet cultivation throughout Europe, the bulbs were eventually grown to be larger and were consumed in medicinal tinctures, boiled into soups, or simply eaten raw. Beets can be stored in a cool, dark place for months, and historically, they offered a nutritious alternative to potatoes, carrots, and other root veggies in the winter months.
The color of beets can range from deep purple and pink to orange and red. The bright pigments are thanks to an array of antioxidants that can help in cognitive functioning, cancer prevention, and lowering blood pressure. Beets are a rich source of dietary nitrates (not to be confused with the sodium nitrites in processed meat), which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Consuming nitrates not only widens blood vessels and helps lower blood pressure, but reduces oxygen demand in the muscles making oxygen use more efficient for endurance exercise. Beet juice is a popular supplement for endurance athletes looking to maximize performance to go longer and harder.
Don’t toss your beet greens! They are a rich source of folate, calcium, and iron. Try sautéing in olive oil with a little garlic, and adding a splash of lemon juice or red pepper flakes. Although beets are naturally higher in sodium than other vegetables (1 cup raw beets contains 106 mg), they are still considered a low sodium food and can help to lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. Plus, beets contain important vitamins and minerals needed for heart health!
Beets can be eaten raw, pickled, roasted, or boiled; added to salads, pureed into soups and dips, or even mashed as a swap for potatoes. Roasted beets with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper makes a wonderful side dish. Raw beets are also popular juicing veggies due to their sweet flavor (plus, they have a low glycemic index and high fiber content, so won’t cause a large blood sugar spike).
When dealing with beets, don’t let the fear of pink stains deter you. Simply wear gloves while cutting and preparing beets, or remove stains on your fingers with lemon juice or kosher salt.
Try this easy hummus recipe featuring beets:
Garlic Beet Hummus
- 1 cup sliced cooked beets (about 2 medium beets), previously roasted and cooled (see below)
- 1, 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 3 Tablespoons Tahini paste
- 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- 1/8 – ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Pulse all ingredients together with a food processor or immersion blender until a thick paste forms. Serve with crackers, veggies (like carrots, cucumber slices, or radish slices), or warmed pita bread.
Yield: Makes about 2 ½ cups of hummus. Will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 days.
Note: Beets can be prepared ahead of time by roasting in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until soft enough to be pierced with a fork. Wash beets well, slice off the leaves and root ends, and dice beets into 2” cubes. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wait until cooled to blend.
Article and recipe by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and food and health blogger. Follow her foodie adventures at www.plantasticeating.com.