What food is a good source of fiber, provides both an edible top and root, is low in calories, and high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals? If you guessed beets, you aced the “functional food of the month” quiz.
A functional food is one that provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition and helps reduce the risk of certain health conditions or diseases. Thanks to their bioactive compounds, beets meet this definition by enhancing blood flow, lowering inflammation, fighting oxidation and reducing blood pressure. The National Cancer Institute defines bioactive compounds as plant-based substances that promote good health, particularly by preventing cancer, heart disease and other disorders. The bioactive compounds in beets include nitrates, polyphenols and carotenoids.
According to the USDA Food Composition Database, beetroots (known more commonly as beets, garden beets and table beets) also offer a rich supply of potassium, folate and manganese with a generous dose of vitamin C, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and dietary fiber. Beet greens are also nutritional hits, with large amounts of vitamins A and K.
Besides being nutritious, beets are also versatile. They can be microwaved, steamed, boiled, roasted or eaten raw. They can also be preserved by freezing, canning, pickling and drying; you will find extensive preservation information on the CSU Extension website.
I grew up knowing only boiled beets, doing whatever I could to avoid what I perceived as dirt-tasting red objects with the hairy tip. Fortunately, friends, coworkers and my favorite local restaurant have opened my eyes to delicious ways to appreciate a variety of colors and preparation methods (without the tip). Here are highlights of just a few of the many forms and benefits of beet intake!
Roasted beets are a flavorful dish, as roasting brings out their naturally sweet taste. Once cooked, enjoy with a dash of salt and pepper, slice them into salads, or toss them with tomatoes, vinegar and oil.
Pickled beets are a fermented food, making them a great source of probiotics. Probiotics support your immune system and digestion by boosting the beneficial bacteria in your gut. These are a great way to preserve your beets beyond the growing season.
Beet greens and stems provide a good substitute for other leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard. They can be steamed, added to soups or eaten raw. My favorite way to eat them is sautéed with chopped onion and garlic.
Beet juice is being studied as a therapeutic way to lower blood pressure and even enhance athletic performance. Because juice concentrates the nutrients into a smaller volume, it is easier to consume enough to make a difference in these areas; studies have shown two cups of beet juice provide functional food benefits for blood pressure and exercise stamina.
While I am not one to typically jump on food trend bandwagons, I think this one is worth considering. Whether you enjoy the beets, greens or juice, include them on a weekly basis for general health, and more often for their functional food effects.
As published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.