Summer is almost over, with fall close ahead. We’ve harvested our bounty and more crops are springing up. One crop that stands out among many, and is a favorite of mine, is the beet. Many of us have been raised on canned beets, but once you taste the juicy earthy sweetness of fresh beets you may never choose canned beets again.
Besides the taste, beets provide us an abundance of nutrients and health benefits: antioxidants, phytonutrients, anti-inflammatories, minerals, fiber, and detoxification enhancement to name a few.
We’re used to hearing about vegetables being rich in antioxidant carotenoids, and in particular, beta-carotene, as well as the antioxidant vitamin C2, so just what are antioxidants? These are substances that are capable of counteracting the damaging, but normal, effects of the physiological process of oxidation in tissue. Oxidative stress occurs when the production of harmful molecules called free radicals is beyond the protective capability of our antioxidant defenses.
Free radicals are chemically active atoms or molecular fragments that have a charge due to an excess or deficient number of electrons. Because they have one or more unpaired electrons, free radicals are highly unstable,and in the process they damage cells, proteins, and DNA (genetic material). Antioxidants scavenge your body to grab or donate electrons. The same oxidative process also causes oils to become rancid, peeled apples to turn brown, and iron to rust.
Beets are loaded with beta-carotene, as evidenced by their deep rich red color, and are powerful antioxidants. Having an abundance of antioxidants, the body can neutralize your free radical load.
Phytonutrients are plant nutrients such as carotenoids, ellagic acid, and flavonoids.These chemicals help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats.They help protect the body from toxins. Lutein is a phytonutrient, which helps reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Itcontributes to the yellow color of vegetables, such as yellow carrots or yellow beets,whichoften contain more lutein than orange or red versions of these foods. Zeaxanthin, another carotenoid phytonutrient, also plays an important role in eye health. Beet greens are usually a valuable source of lutein/zeaxanthin. One cup of raw beet greens may contain over 275 micrograms of lutein!
One caveat to note is that individuals with iron deficiency, iron excess, or specific problems with iron metabolism, are much more likely to experience beeturia (red urine after consuming beets) than individuals with healthy iron metabolism. If you experience beeturia and have any reason to suspect iron-related problems, it is recommendedyou get a healthcare consultation to follow-up on possible issues related to iron status.3
Beets are also an unusual source of betaine,a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress.Betaine is a key body nutrient made from the B-complex vitamin, choline. In and of itself, choline is a key vitamin for helping regulate inflammation in the cardiovascular system since adequate choline is important for preventing unwanted build-up of homocysteine. As reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and World’s Healthiest Foods, elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with unwanted inflammation and risk of cardiovascular problems.5,6
Beet fiber (along with carrot fiber) are two specific types of food fiber that may provide special health benefits, particularly with respect to the health of our digestive tract (including prevention of colon cancer) and our cardiovascular system.Some of this fiber may be due to the pectin polysaccharides in the beets.1Beets provide 13.6% of our daily value of fiber.
The betalin pigments in beets support the body’s Phase 2 detoxification process, which is when toxins are broken down into water soluble form and are bound to other moleculesso they can be excreted from the body. Traditionally, beets are valued for their support in detoxification and helping to purify the blood and liver.7
Beets (notably beet greens) are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. According to the Cleveland Clinic, large dosages of ascorbic acid may increase oxalates in urine, increasing kidney stone risk.For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating beet greens or taking supplemental ascorbic acid.
Laboratory studies have shown that oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. Yet, in peer-reviewed research studies, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is relatively small and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium to the meal plan.
If your digestive tract is healthy, and you do a good job of chewing and relaxing while you enjoy your meals, you will get significant benefits—including absorption of calcium—from calcium-rich foods, plant foods that also contain oxalic acid. Ordinarily, a healthcare practitioner would not discourage a person focused on ensuring that they are meeting their calcium requirements from eating these nutrient-rich foods because of their oxalate content.4Cooking or steaming oxalate foods also lowers the oxalate levels.
Beets are packed full of vital minerals and vitamins as shown in the chart below.
Minerals and Vitaminsof Beets (per daily value)
- Folate 34% (helps reduce the risk of birth defects)
- Manganese 27.5% (good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas)
- Potassium 14.8% (essential for healthy nerve and muscle function)
- Magnesium 9.7% (creation of ATP, proper formation of bones and teeth, relaxation of blood vessels, action of your heart muscle, promotion of proper bowel function, regulation of blood sugar levels)
- Phosphorus 9.2% (essential for bone health)
- Calcium 2% (essential for bone health)
- Copper 4% (essential for bone formation, healing, energy, hair, and skin)
- Iron 7.4% (essential for blood hemoglobin, energy)
- Vitamin B6 6.4% (essential for protein metabolism, red blood cell production, nerve and muscle cells)
- Vitamin C 8.1% (essential for blood clotting, cell membrane function, nerve impulse transmission, immune support)
For an antioxidant power lunch or dinner, try my Beet and Cabbage Slaw!
Beet and Cabbage Slaw
From Christine Andrew, CNC, CTT
1 raw beet, chopped
1-1/2 cup slivered red cabbage
½ cup red onion, chopped
2 Teaspoons dill weed
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/8 Teaspoon ginger spice
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve chilled. Serves 2
- Bobek P, Galbavy S, Mariassyova M. The effect of red beet (Beta vulgaris var. rubra) fiber on alimentary hypercholesterolemia and chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in rats. Nahrung 2000 Jun;44(3):184-7. 2000.
- Song W, Derito CM, Liu MK et al. Cellular antioxidant activity of common vegetables. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Jun 9;58(11):6621-9. 2010.
- Beeturia: A Sign of Iron Deficiency Walter W. Tunnessen, MD; Charles Smith, MD; Frank A. Oski, MD Am J Dis Child. 1969;117(4):424-426. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1969.02100030426006.
- Am J Clin Nutr September 2004, Vol. 80 no. 3 539-549
- Mercola, Joseph, MD. Benefits ofBeets.January 25, 2014
Christine Andrew, CNC, CTT is a certified nutrition consultant, certified thermography technician, a functional medicine practitioner, and author of the book, Food Isn’t What It Used to Be. She operates a holistic healthcare practice, Center for Holistic Health and Nutrition, at 348 Cernon St. Ste A in Vacaville. She can be reached at www.individualizedwellness.net.