Cooking curiosity: Why are beets good for you?

 Why are beets good for youImage credit: Beet it by darwin Bell, on Flickr. CC BY 2.0. (modified)

What is a beet?

A beet is a root vegetable–like carrots, turnips and radishes–that is quick growing and is quite tolerant of cold growing conditions, which is why you see it on spring and winter menus. It comes in red, gold, white and one variety–the chioggia–has a red and white striped root that looks very pretty when sliced.

Red beets are also used in food production as natural colorant for products such as tomato paste, jam and once I saw it as an ingredient in my strawberry yogurt!

What do beets taste like?

Growing up, I didn’t think I liked beets. I had it served to me one time–it came from a can; it was waxy and tasty odd and I and refused to try it again. My family didn’t have a cultural tradition of eating beet-centric dishes, so I never had the chance to learn what was so wonderful about beets.

That is, until I met my boyfriend.

At the time, he was running a small commercial produce farm that sold heirloom tomatoes, fingerling potatoes and beets to local restaurants. He dazzled me with the tomatoes (my favorite summer treat), but when he gave me a bag of beets… let’s just say I was less enthusiastic.

He loved to talk about eating beets and their health benefits, so he convinced me to give beets a chance.

I’m glad he did, because now they’re one of my favorite vegetables. Beets are sweeter than carrots and, like carrots, can be eaten raw or cooked. Beet greens are edible, too, so don’t throw them away! I’ve used beets in variety of ways (more on that in a moment) and have yet to be disappointed with my cooking results.

What are the nutritional benefits of beets?

Before I tell you about the nutritional benefits of beets, I’m going to start with a public service announcement: Eating beets may induce beeturia.

This is a real condition; it means after eating beets, your urine or stool may take on a red hue. No one warned me of this, and I was a bit alarmed the first time I used the bathroom after eating a big batch of roasted beets. I didn’t feel poorly, but I did start to wonder if a trip to the emergency room was necessary. Then I remembered my earlier meal.

Now that’s out of my system, on to the reasons why you should be eating beets:

  • Beets contain high amounts of folate, which is good for your brain and nervous system.
  • Looking to prevent heart disease? Beets contain betaine, which reduces inflammation in the blood vessels.
  • Beets contain manganese, which is important to have in your diet to help your body make bones, connective tissues and sex hormones (and they say oysters are a natural aphrodisiac).
  • Beet greens are a superfood, too. Beet greens are high in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.

How do you use beets in cooking?

Beets can be prepared in many ways. My favorite way is to make oven-roasted beets, but you can also boil or steam them as you would a potato. Raw, shredded beet is a delicious (and attractive) addition to a salad. Pickled beets are delicious, too.

Did you know you can even make sweet treats using beets? I’ve made beet cake, beet bread (similar to banana bread) and I’ve eaten beet ice cream!

If you’re looking for ways to cook beets, try these links to get you started:

What you about you? Do you think beets can’t be beat? What’s your favorite way to prepare them?