Better living through nature
Although they may not be at the top of everyone’s favorite foods list, beets are a nutritional powerhouse and a worthy candidate of being added to any pantry. Available almost year-round, beets are at their best from June to October. Visit your local farmer’s market to take advantage of the nutritious root vegetable, and be sure to check out the recipes at the end of the post for a delicious way to bring beets to the table.
Health Benefits of Beets
Like all richly hued vegetables, beets are high in phytonutrients and antioxidants. What’s unusual about beets, however, are the nutrients that supply the antioxidants. While many vegetables contain carotenoids and beta-carotene, and most red vegetables derive their pigement from anthocyanins, beets get their color from a type of nutrient known as betalains. (Red-purple beets are colored by betacyanins, and yellow beets are colored by betanins.) In addition to betalains, beets also contain vitamin C and manganese, making this root vegetable a rich source of diversified antioxidants.
Betalains, along with other phytonutrients present in beets such as isobetanin and vulgaxanthin, possess anti-inflammatory properties, making them useful in helping to prevent conditions that are associated with chronic inflammation, such as heart disease and diabetes.
A recent study found that drinking beet juice improved blood flow to parts of the brain whose degeneration is associated with Alzeheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive impairment. Beets contain high levels of nitrates, which produce nitric oxide in the blood, causing blood vessels to widen and thereby deliver more oxygen to the brain.
Naturally, opening up the blood vessels is also good for heart health. In a study published in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension journal, researchers found that drinking just one glass of beet juice significantly lowered blood pressure in patients within just 24 hours. Another study at the William Harvey Research Institute in London found that beet juice lowered blood pressure as effectively as nitrate pills.
Beets help the body’s natural detox process in several ways. First, the betalains in beets trigger the production of a family of enzymes known as glutathione-S-transferase, which attach free toxins in the body to glutathione for removal from the body. Second, beets are high in fiber, which is important for keeping food and waste products moving through and out of the gastrointestinal tract. (Discover six more cleansing foods for a natural detox.)
Beets are rich in folate, good for heart health and recommend for pregnant women to help prevent neural tube defects in developing children; magnesium, which helps regulate vitamin D in the body and can help relax the nervous system; potassium, essential to heart function; iron; and other essential minerals.
Cut off all but 1 inch of the beet top to prevent moisture loss from the roots. Washed and trimmed, beets will keep up for several months in the refrigerator or the root cellar. (Untrimmed beets have a shorter shelf life.) Beets can be boiled, steamed, roasted or eaten raw.
Try these recipes for beets for a delicious way to protect your heart, boost your brain and get an ample supply of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+.