The seductive, deep red beet is a beautifully delicious vegetable. Boiled or baked, these rock-hard root vegetables turn soft and savory – a complete transformation.
Not to mention their green tops, which are packed full of flavor and nutrition, much the same as their bulbous root. Chard is part of the chenopod family – home to chard, spinach, and others – so their greens offer much of the same health benefits as these.
Enjoy a helping of beets a week, and experience all the health benefits that it can provide. Not only will you feel better and more energized, but it will surely expand your culinary vocabulary, as the beet is a notoriously underutilized vegetable.
Beet History and Culture
The beet was initially cultivated around 2,000 BC in the Mediterranean region. It spread to Babylonia in the 8th century and made a slow expansion east, when it met China around 850 AD. Beet greens were primarily used during the early days of beet cultivation. It was only later, in the early 1800’s that beetroot was intentionally cultivated. Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that beet schools be opened for the study of the beet plant, and devoted 70,000 acres to its production. This was largely a way to mitigate the risk of sugar shortages, imposed by blockades during times of war. This way, France could produce its own sugar derived from beets, rather than depending on foreign sources.
Today, beets are cultivated for sugar, leafy greens, as a root vegetable, or for animal fodder. Beets have large, green, crumpled leaves supported by vibrant stalks. These stalks are connected to the beet bulb, which is only partially submerged in the soil. When harvested, the entirety of the plant is edible, from the tips of its leaves, down to its long tap root.
Health Benefits of Beets
Beets are rich in antioxidants, which help fight all sorts of cancers. What makes beets unique in this capacity, is the type of antioxidants it contains. The unique and highly varied phytochemicals provide the body with hard to come by antioxidants that may increase eye health, as well as nerve tissue health.
Beets have also been shown to support the detoxification process in the body. The betalin compound found in beets (and giving them their red color) helps to capture pesky toxins, and flush them out of the system through the urinary tract. Being high in fiber, it’s known for its overall cleansing and diuretic properties.
Studies have shown that the high levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammitory agents found in beets contribute to a reduction in the risk of all sorts of cancers. A study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2005) studied the effects of beet nutrients (such as betanin) on human tumor cells, and while preliminary, it supports beet’s anti-cancer properties. High levels of beet fiber – which are unique to other forms of fiber – may also be linked to reducing the risk of colon cancer.
Eating More Beets
Beets can be locally sourced through much of the year, roughly from April through December in most parts of the country. Getting fresh, locally grown beets is the best way to ensure they are at their peak flavor and nutritional content. Buy one bunch of beets a week, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying all the benefits that go along with a beet-filled diet.
When selecting beets at the grocery store, make sure to pick out beets that are small to medium sized. Excessively large beets will, logically, have excessively thick skins that eat away at their tender hearts. They are also more difficult to cut and take longer to cook. Make sure the beets are firm – they should not give much when squeezed firmly. Also make sure the greens look healthy and green – not wilted. Although it doesn’t really affect the bulb, you’ll want to cook up the highly nutritious and tasty greens – you might as well get the most for your money!
Chop the greens off the beets in the kitchen. This will extend the life of the beet bulbs, and retain as much nutritional value as possible. Pack the greens in a plastic bag and store your refrigerator’s crisper. Wrap the beets up in a plastic bag, refrigerate, and they should be good for 2- 3 weeks.
Beets are most commonly boiled or baked. They are notorious for taking a long time to cook, but if you cut them down to a smaller size before cooking them, they will cook quicker. Another tip: try grating raw beets to add to any salad. It will add beautiful color, as well as an extra subtle crunch.