The deep, red-purple colour of beets is due to a powerful nutrient called betacyanin. Several studies have shown that this natural plant compound helps to both fight and prevent various types of cancer, especially colon cancer. Beets are an excellent remedy for constipation. Among many ancient medicinal purposes, the beet has been long valued as a friend to the liver, which is why it earned its reputation as a superior vegetable for cleansing the body. Health experts also recommend the beet for kidney, gallbladder, stomach, and intestinal problems.

The blood-red beet is also a good tonic for the blood, providing rich amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Perhaps this is why beets are thought to strengthen the heart. With a wealth of vitamin C, carotene, and B vitamins, beets may nourish the nerves, aid lymphatic function, and increase energy. Beets and carrots together are said to help balance hormones.

Aside from the many healing properties beets have to offer, they simply taste great.

Buying Beets

Small to medium beets are the sweetest. No matter what their size, beets should be smooth and hard. When possible, buy beets that still have their leaves. If the leaves are wilted, check the beet bulb to make sure it is still hard. Once home, remove the beet leaves, leaving about one inch of stem at the top of the beet bulb. Place the bulbs, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator where they will keep for three weeks or longer. When it’s time to prepare the beets, wash them carefully so as not to break the skin, thereby allowing the colour–and nutrition–to leak out. Beet leaves can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in the refrigerator crisper.

A quick wash or wipe will take care of any of the brightly coloured juice that has stained skin, cutting boards, or counters. On the other hand, many a health-conscious woman has chosen beet juice to stain her lips a ruby red.

Eat Your Beets

Grate raw beets into a salad, or juice a small beet for a richer and more colourful morning carrot juice. While beets are delicious eaten raw with all of their nutrients and live enzymes, they are also good steamed, baked, pickled, or made into the favourite Russian-style soup known as Borscht. Cubed beets are also delicious in soups and stews.

One of the most nutritious ways to cook your beets is to bake them slowly. Simply wash (do not peel or cut), place in a baking dish, and bake at 250 F for approximately two hours. You may serve whole or peeled (peel after baking) and sliced. Steaming beets cooks them more quickly, but valuable nutrients, such as vitamin A, C, and B-complex, are lost in the high heat.

If you want to freeze your beets, cook them first since raw beets don’t freeze well.

If adding healthful beets to your diet puts you in the pink, don’t be concerned. It is perfectly normal, and in no way harmful to have pink urine or stools after eating beets. In fact, it’s a great way to tell how efficient your digestion is.

Tips for Tops

Beet tops are a nutritious complement to their sweet bulbs. These greens have a high carotenoid content, a nutritious boost to maintaining health and preventing disease. Juice the leaves or steam them until wilted, then enjoy with a bit of organic butter and garlic. The green tops contain a lot of oxalic acid, which can inhibit calcium absorption, so they should not be eaten in excess. The roots on your beet bulbs can also be eaten or juiced with the green tops.

About the Author

Sandra Tonn, RHN, is a registered holistic nutritionist, freelance writer, and natural health educator in Vancouver, BC. Email: sandra_tonn@telus.net.