What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of beets? I can remember my mom dumping them out of a can when I was a kid. I wanted nothing to do with them. The slimy, over-processed beets you might see at a salad bar give them a bad reputation. But, that was then. Prepared right, beets are absolutely delicious, and a highly nutritious additional to your diet.
Before I dive into how to prepare them, I have to share some history, and explain what those benefits are. If you’re anxious to get cooking, you can just scroll down to the recipe card below.
The History of Beets
Beets have provided nutritional, medicinal, and household benefits for thousands of years. Native to the Mediterranean, they have been around for centuries. They gained popularity and value in 19th century Europe during the reign of Napoleon, who declared beets as the primary source of sugar (a bit of food history for you!) Beets have also been used for centuries to dye clothing a deep red color. Today, beet powder and juice are used as one of the main coloring agents in foods such as jams and tomato sauces.
Aside from their dying properties, beet pigments provide us with many great health benefits. They are often known for being higher in sugar than other vegetables – just ½ cup of beets contains 4.6 grams of sugar, but their higher sugar content should not be a turn-off. Beets provide us with many phytonutrients and other nutritional benefits which deserve attention. Beets are loaded with vitamin C, folate, dietary fiber and antioxidants.
Aside from the daily nutrition they provide, there’s another reason to eat beets. Beets are one of the few plants which contain the phytonutrient pigment betalain. This compound is what gives them their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, along with their bright red color. According to a 2006 study comparing the nutrition of canned, processed beets to raw beets, canned beets lost over 40% of their pigments and health benefits during processing. So, while canned beets are still highly nutritious, I’d like to suggest a few other ways to prepare them that you might actually like.
Incorporating Beets Into Your Diet
Beet juice is one way to incorporate beets into your diet. Beet juice contains high levels of nitrate, which studies show may help lower blood pressure and the risks of cardiovascular disease. And, there is some promising science supporting the role of beetroot juice in athletic performance. One study showed that consumption of the nitrate-rich whole beet improved running performance in healthy adults.
If the idea of beetroot juice turns you off, don’t worry. There are many ways to eat beets! Another way is to steam the beet greens. They have similar taste to the bitterness of Swiss chard, and is a great way to retain nutrients.
Roasting beets is one of the easiest and most delicious (in my opinion) ways to cook them. They can be prepared diced, or sliced, making a colorful side dish or on top of a salad. If you leave your roasted sliced beets in the oven for an extra 10 minutes, you have nutritious snack – beet chips.
All of us can benefit from the nutrition that beets provide. If you’re ready to get cooking, this recipe for sliced roasted beets is a great place to start. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Do you have a favorite way to eat beets?