To the uninitiated, beets can be intimidating. They’re knobby, blood-red and give off a rich, earthy aroma. But it’s certainly worth the effort to get to know this nutritionally dense root vegetable.
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“Beets are unique for their cardiovascular and heart health benefits,” says registered dietitian Sarah Thomsen Ferreira, RD. “Due to a combination of compounds found in beets, they are able to enhance blood flow, improve the health of arteries, support lower homocysteine levels and reduce LDL cholesterol.”
And, with the right preparation, they can be surprisingly delicious!
Are beets healthy?
What makes beets such gems? It turns out that the same thing that makes these root vegetables so colorful also gives you plenty of nutrients. Beets get their jewel-like hue from betalains, a type of natural plant pigment that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ready to start adding beets to your salad or soup? Here are some of the reasons why beets are a great addition to your plate:
Plenty of nutritional benefits
If you’re looking for something that’s low in calories but high in nutrients, look no further than the humble beet. Adding beets into your salads, soups and other daily meals can be a good way to enhance a balanced diet.
Plus — like other purple-colored fruits and veggies — beets are an excellent source of antioxidants. These natural compounds protect your cells from damage and may even lower the risk of diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Ongoing inflammation in the body is linked to several diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and obesity. Luckily, beets have a number of anti-inflammatory benefits, thanks to their high content of betalains.
You can maximize getting all this goodness by consuming beets in juice form. Trust us, it’s tastier than you think.
Studies have shown that beet juice reduces inflammation across your whole body. One study in 2014 found that betalain capsules with beetroot extract helped relieve joint pain due to osteoarthritis. However, more research is needed to know the full impact of betalain capsules on osteoarthritis.
High in fiber
Working beets into your diet is a great way to boost your fiber intake. Just one cup of beetroot contains 3.8 grams of fiber.
And the health benefits of fiber are plentiful. Fiber can help you control blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight, lower your cholesterol and stay regular. Plus, a balanced diet of fiber could reduce your risk for conditions like colon cancer, heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).
High in nitrates
“Beets contain nitrates, which help to open blood vessels,” Thomsen Ferreira explains. “That can help with blood pressure and may also improve athletic performance and brain function.”
Research has shown that drinking beet juice before exercising will increase your cardiorespiratory endurance — allowing you to exercise for longer. This is because the nitrates found in beets are turned into nitric acid in your body, which in turn increases blood flow. This improves lung function and also strengthens muscle contraction.
The nitrates in beets are also to thank for helping lower blood pressure if you have hypertension, according to more research on this mighty vegetable. Indeed, beet juice has been shown in studies to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Plus, a nitrate-rich diet has also been linked to improved brain function. Because nitrates widen blood vessels, this allows for an increased flow of blood to the brain, which is beneficial to cognitive function.
Great source of potassium
“Beets — and beet greens — are a good source of potassium,” Thomsen Ferreira says. Potassium helps create more flexible blood vessels for lower blood pressure, adding another benefit for cardiovascular and heart health benefits. All of these are critical for good health — and all well-sourced from beets!
Beet benefits from their color
A healthy diet is a colorful diet. Different plant colors mean different plant nutrients. As mentioned, beets are one of the few sources of betalains, unique plant compounds that are found in a mini-rainbow of options.
- Red and purple beets are especially high in a type of betalain called betacyanins.
- Yellow or golden beets are packed with a different group of betalain, called betaxanthins. (FYI: Red beets can turn your urine red — if that freaks you out, these yellow or golden ones are your go-to beets!)
- Beet greens are a deep, rich green — a sign they’re full of good stuff. “They’re a really terrific source of beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin for eye and vision health and definitely not something to be wasted,” Thomsen Ferreira says. Whether sautéed or tossed in a salad, think about ways to use the whole beet!
How to eat beets
Now you know why beets reign supreme, here are more ways you add them to your diet:
Crank your can opener
Canned beets are as easy as it gets. Slice them up for a salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Or blend them with hummus for a pretty pink dip. Plus, if you’re not a fan of the flavor of beets, blending them into a smoothie can help mellow it out if you mix it with other ingredients. Try to go for canned beets that don’t have added salt, either.
Preheat your oven
Roasting beets brings out their earthy-sweet goodness. Even better: Try slicing them into thin pieces and popping them in the oven to make crunchy beet chips.
Grab a glass
Beet juice doesn’t contain the fiber of whole beets. But juice can be a good way to kick up the beets if you’re using them for a brain boost or athletic enhancement, Thomsen Ferreira notes. Most grocery stores carry beet juice. You can even find powdered beet juice supplements in the fitness section of groceries or vitamin stores.
Do beets have a downside?
Before you start beet-loading, a word of caution: Beets are rich in oxalates, which can contribute to kidney stones. If you have kidney stones, it’s best to enjoy beetroots and beet greens in moderation.
For most healthy people, though, oxalates aren’t an issue. As part of a balanced, varied diet, you simply can’t beat beets.