Beets: Five things you’ve been missing

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The next time you pass over that bowl of borscht, think twice—Its main ingredient, beets (those blood-red veggies that probably scared you when you were a kid) are loaded with health benefits, history, and flavor. And they have other uses beyond the pink soup.

1. A rainbow superfood 

This often unloved veggie contains fiber and potassium, and it’s an excellent source of folate. Expectant mothers take note: Folic acid is good for both mommy and your developing baby’s brain, and just a half cup of cooked beets provides 17% of the recommended daily folate intake. 

Research shows the red pigments (called betacyanins) in beets may protect against cancer and play a role in reducing heart disease.

The lovely golden and yellow beets are not only heart healthy but excellent kidney and body cleansers. They’re high in powerful antioxidants, they lower blood pressure and cholesterol, they can treat anemia and fatigue, and more. Loaded with vitamins A and C, they are also good for your eyes and skin.

2. Literally sugar sweet

Ever heard of beet sugar? Napoleon made the vegetable famous in 19th-century France by capitalizing on the beets’ high sugar content— among the highest of all vegetables—and creating hundreds of refined sugar mills. Today, beets make up about 20% of commercial sugar production. So, look to beets the next time you’re trying to satisfy that sweet tooth. 

3. Beyond borscht

Though they’re delicious in the classic Eastern European soup, beets are satisfying all on their own. They can be steamed, boiled, pickled, roasted, juiced, or eaten raw. Because they contain more natural sugar than they do starch, they are particularly delicious roasted, which concentrates the sugar rather than leaching it into cooking liquid, as happens when they’re boiled.

Try wrapping them individually in foil and then roasting them at 375°F for an hour or more. Let them cool, and you’ll find the peel comes off easily when you remove the foil.

Toss cooked beets with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add some nuts, goat cheese, orange juice and zest or dried cranberries, and you’ll have a colorful side dish that can brighten any meal. 

4. Don’t throw away the greens!

Beet greens are loaded with nutrients, too. To prepare and cook them, strip the green leaves from their stems the way you would kale. Chop the leaves, and then saute them in olive oil with some garlic and sea salt.

Try adding beet greens along with the beet root to your morning juice. Beets are an excellent way to cleanse your body of toxins. Beet juice serves as a wonderful tonic for the liver and works as a purifier for the blood. Combine golden beets and their greens in a juice with carrots, lemons, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, pears, ginger, and mint. Mix and match to create a brightly colored power breakfast.

5. The secret to red velvet cake and more
Bakers in the American South traditionally used beet juice as food coloring to make the famous red velvet cake. These days, the store-bought variety usually gets its bright-red hue from artificial food dye, but you can easily make your own beet juice and use it to color anything from cake batter to Easter eggs. 

But beware. In many countries, beets are still used as a permanent dye for fabrics, rugs, and other textiles. So be careful when handling red beets, which can stain your hands and more! When you love the beet, you gotta love the gloves, too.