Get back to your roots
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Beets aren't just for pickling anymore. They add a colourful nutritional boost to pasta, curry, fish and (beet) chips, and red velvet chocolate cake.
In many ways, beets are like the bassist of a rock and roll band—they rarely get the respect they deserve. Yet, since beets have such a high natural sugar content among vegetables, they can lend a satisfying sweetness to soups, salads, even desserts. Plus, the ultra-versatile root vegetable can be enjoyed raw, baked, steamed, or pickled. But what makes beets even sweeter is their cocktail of nutritional goodness.
The deep crimson that temporarily stains your cutting board comes courtesy of a group of phytonutrients called betalains. By helping to mop up cell-damaging free radicals, betalains such as betanin appear to help in the battle against cancer.
Beets are also a rich source of naturally occurring nitrates, which have been shown to assist in reducing blood pressure numbers. Athletes should take notice of recent research that suggests these same nitrates can fuel hard-charging muscles. Researchers surmise that the blood vessel-dilating powers of nitrates can increase oxygen delivery to our working muscles.
A world of beets
Not just red, beets come in a range of colours that can add visual flair and flavour nuances to your culinary creations.
The golden beet has a stunning deep yellow flesh and doesn’t bleed like the typical red variety. Many people find its flavour to be milder.
Chioggia beets are a heirloom beet that are also known as candy cane beets, as their flesh has fetching alternating red and white rings that are only upstaged by its earthy sweetness. It’s beautiful when shaved thinly and served raw in salads.
Perhaps the best way to coax out the most sweetness from beets is to roast them.
You can also steam beets, which will retain more of their bright colour, flavour, and nutrients than boiling them. Place trimmed beets in a steamer basket and steam until tender, about 40 minutes, depending on size of the roots. Be sure to place enough water, at least 2 in (5 cm), under the basket so that it does not all evaporate during steaming. To quicken the cooking time, you can cut the beets into halves or quarters before steaming.
With its greens attached, the beet becomes the perfect two-for-one vegetable. As with other leafy greens, beet greens pack a legitimate nutritional punch.
Namely, they are a good source of vitamins C and A, and provide a wallop of vitamin K. A study in the journal Diabetes Care found that higher intakes of vitamin K may help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Beet greens can be used in recipes calling for other greens, such as Swiss chard and kale. Or try a simple side of Lemony Beet Greens by sautéing a bunch of chopped beet greens with garlic and lemon juice until slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.