The humble beet, steamed, boiled, roasted, pickled, borscht’ed—but especially served raw—has emerged as a nutrient-dense food considered especially beneficial for health. If you’ve never considered beets for breakfast, snacks, or potluck food, these facts may spark your imagination:
• Research has demonstrated that eating beets, especially raw, or drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, and improve both exercise performance and blood flow to the brain—probably because of the high concentration of nitrates in beets. Our bodies eventually convert nitrates to nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes and opens blood vessels.
• Research suggests that the red and yellow pigments found in beets (betalains) may help fight arthritis, several cancers, neurogenerative diseases, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease.
• Heat destroys betalain pigments. To preserve the maximum health benefits, grate raw beets into salads, process them into smoothies, or steam/roast beets just long enough to tenderize them. Here’s a recipe for quick-cooking, delicious beet salad.
• Beet greens are highly nutritious and delicious raw in salads or lightly steamed. They also contain the carotenoid pigments beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, important for eye health.
If you have even a little space, beets are easy to grow, even in containers. They attract few pests or diseases, grow quickly, and come in many shades of red, pink, striped, and yellow.
Note: The betalain pigments in raw or cooked red beets may cause the urine or stool to turn pink or even bright red for a day or two. The amount of excreted pigment depends on the pH of the stomach and how long the food remained there.