What’s So Great About Beets?

What’s So Great About Beets?

You can’t really say that beets are a kids’ favourite.  Certainly there hasn’t been a bite of one that’s successfully made its way down the throat of either of my children. And you can’t exactly sneak a beet into a dish – there’s no way to mask its distinct flavour and it’ll turn everything purple.  But it’s just that beautiful purple colour that makes this root vegetable so nutritious. Even if your kids don’t like them, keep them in rotation and one blessed day, they might decide this is the day they eat a beet. They may be 22 when it happens, but it could happen.

Why bother? A lot of reasons: you can’t only prepare meals that the children like, you should challenge them once in a while, variety is the spice of life, etc. I’ve run out of clichés, but the list of health benefits of beets is exhaustive.


First, let’s talk about that colour! Beets get their brilliant hue from antioxidant carotenoids, (organic pigments found in plants) lutein and zeaxanthin and from the phytonutrient betalain. Lutein and zeaxanthin offer tremedous health benefits to your eyes and even more specifically to the macula and the retina. You probably already knew that carrots are good for  your eyes – this, because of the carotenoids beta carotene. Early research suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin may just outclass the carotenoid beta-carotin where your eyes are concerned. The colour continues to be significant when we look at betalain, which has been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxication support and to lessen tumor cell growth notably in colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicular tissue.

Beyond the rich colour of beet root, this vegetable has a high concentration of nitrates. Nitrates turn into nitrites when digested. Why do we need nitrites? Nitrites are known to decrease blood pressure, and increase blood flow. The theory goes that eating beets or drinking beet juice increases blood supply to the brain. This in turn keeps the brain healthy and may in fact promote good memory and  possibly stave off dementia. An article in the Huffington Post 8/3/11, “5 Ways to Stay Brain Fit,” cited a test conducted at Wake Forest University. The results? “Beet juice drinkers enjoyed a 21 % increased blood flow to the frontal lobes, sensitive areas of the brain vulnerable to the degeneration that leads to dementia.”  This admittedly is a hard sell on young people: they don’t fear losing their minds as we much as we might.

Need more reasons to get beets on the grocery list? They are high in fiber, Vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. But here’s another thing: the beet greens are nutritional powerhouses too. In fact, back in the day, the root was cast away in favour for the greens. According to Medicinal Food News: “The tops contain three times as much iron as the roots. The tops are also an excellent source of vitamin A. A comparison of the various nutrients found in beet root and beet tops shows that, on a per weight basis, the tops have a higher nutritional value than the roots.” Have a look at this nutritional comparison. It may just be that the best thing about the root is the green!

*Cooking note: Beets roots are not heat stable, nutritional values are reduced if over cooked. Steaming should be less than 15 minutes, and roasting under an hour. Best to cut them into small cubes or slices in order to reduce cooking time. Or, eat them raw – grate them into salads for a colourful punch.
As for the greens, treat them like swiss chard or spinach – lightly steam and you’re all set.

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1 Comment

  1. Javvamom
    November 15, 10:07 Reply

    While the farmer’s market was in full gear during the summer here in the Toronto region I found huge bright orange beets. They tasted very similar to the deep burgundy ones, but they didn’t bleed. Now I look for them in grocery stores, and have no luck. Which means, next year, I’ll plant them myself!

    My 6 year old won’t try the purple beets either, in salad, which is how I usually serve them (with arugula, and some feta cheese). When I chopped them into the quinoa salad along with other crunch veg (like fennel) he ate it up!

    Sneaky? Yes! But he ate beets! LOL

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