BEETROOT and Beet Greens
Nutritional and Health Benefits*
If you are looking for a food that tastes great and has nutritional and health benefits, try one of nature’s super-foods, beetroot.
The beets belong to the same family as chard and spinach. Beetroot, also known as table beet or red beet, or simply as ‘beet’, is one of the many cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris.
Betacyanin is the phytochemical in beetroot that gives it the rich colour typical of this vegetable.
The garden beet has been cultivated for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, beets were so highly valued that, according to myth, a beet was offered on a silver platter to Apollo at Delphi.
The beet is a cool-weather plant cultivated as an annual. It is not harmed by frost. Fresh beets are available all year.
The most well-known uses are as a root vegetable. The usually deep-red roots of beetroot are eaten boiled, either as a hot cooked vegetable or cold in a salad. It can be eaten raw and shredded, either alone or combined with any salad vegetable. It can be juiced. Beet soup, such as cold borscht, is a popular dish in Eastern Europe.
However, the green leafy portion of the beet is also edible, and is known as beet greens. It is most commonly served boiled or steamed, in which case it has a taste and texture similar to spinach. It can be eaten raw, in which case the beet leaves have a bitter taste like chard. Although bitter, the greens have a higher nutritional value than its roots.
Nutritional Benefits of Beets
Beet greens are a very good source of calcium, magnesium and iron. The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They also have a high level of vitamins A and C. The beet root has the same minerals as in the greens to a lesser degree, but they are an excellent source of folic acid and fibre. The betacyanin pigment of the root has powerful antioxidant properties. The carbohydrates of the root are in the form of natural digestible sugars.
100 gram of beetroot has about 180 kJ (43 kcal) and thus is a low calorie food. The energy comes mainly from carbohydrates, 9.56g. There is minimal fat, 0.17g, and a small amount of protein, 1.61g.
Health Benefits of Beets
· Beetroots and beet greens are a rich source of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect against free radical damage. See my January 2007 newsletter Free Radicals - Antioxidants.
· Beets are highly alkali-forming in the body. Thus they assist in maintaining the correct acid/alkali balance in the body. See my September 2005 newsletter Acid/Alkali Balance - The Ideal Diet.
· The high content of iron assists in preventing the development of iron deficiency anaemia.
· Beet fibre has been shown to have cholesterol lowering capabilities. In a study in rats with induced high blood cholesterol, a red beet fibre diet caused a reduction of serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 30% and 40% respectively. Water soluble fibre binds bile salts so that they are excreted and the liver has to manufacture further bile salts which it does from cholesterol.
· Beetroot juice has been shown to lower blood pressure and thus help prevent cardiovascular problems. Research published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension (2008, 51 (3): 784-790) showed that drinking 500ml of beetroot juice led to a reduction in blood pressure within one hour. The reduction was more marked after three to four hours, and was measurable up to 24 hours after drinking the juice. This effect is attributed to the high nitrite content of the juice.
· Betaine, a nutrient found in beets, lowers plasma homocysteine, regarded as a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Homocysteine can be harmful to blood vessels and thus contribute to the development of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
· Betaine also supports healthy liver function. This has been confirmed in preliminary studies on both rats and humans. It protects against the build-up of fatty deposits in the liver caused by alcohol abuse, protein deficiency or diabetes.
· Other studies have found that beetroot juice can have a positive effect on human exercise and performance. In studies conducted by the Exeter University, scientists found that cyclists who drank 500ml of beetroot juice several hours before starting were able to ride up to 20% longer than those who drank a placebo juice.
Betanin (a betacyanin pigment), obtained from the roots, is used as a food colourant. It is not broken down in the body, and in higher concentration can temporarily cause urine to assume a reddish colour (beeturia), not to be confused with haematuria, and the stool likewise to take on a reddish colour. Colouration of urine and stool from beetroot is not a concern.
The glycaemic index of beetroot is 64.
Beetroot, and especially beet greens, contain high levels of oxalate, and thus should be avoided by individuals with kidney stones containing oxalate.
As beetroot juice is potent, start with a small amount and gradually increase the volume.
*Copyright 2011: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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