Beets are a vegetable commonly forgotten in the typical diet. While it's true that beets aren't the most nutrient-dense vegetable available, they still offer many great health benefits and should therefore be added to a healthy, well-balanced diet. There are actually three varieties of beets: white, gold, and purple-red, with purple-red being the most common as well as the most nutrient-dense. In addition, the purple-red variety is a great natural alternative to red food dye.
There are several folk medicine stories that tell about beets and beet juice being used to fight cancer. Beet juice is even used in Europe today as a cancer treatment remedy. Science has confirmed these ancient traditions; beets contain a compound called betacyanin, which is what’s responsible for beet's cancer-fighting ability. Beets have also been used for liver problems, because they stimulate the liver and help it to detoxify more efficiently.
Beets are a great heart-healthy food. They contain two nutrients, folate and betaine, which work together to lower the levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a natural amino acid, but high levels of it can damage blood vessels and cause stroke, dementia, heart disease, and other cardiovascular problems. Betaine is also a strong antioxidant, which helps to fight inflammation. And beets are high in potassium, a really important mineral for heart health. It is important for the body to sustain a high potassium-to-sodium ratio, and beets help to maintain that healthy ratio. Beet juice is also high in nitrates which work in the same way as aspirin in that they help to prevent blood clots and protect the lining of blood vessels, thereby helping to protect the heart and keep the cardiovascular system strong.
In addition to these benefits, beets are a good source of calcium, iron, folic acid, manganese, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, and C. They contain high amounts of fiber and antioxidants. And they’re a naturally sweet food, which is why they’re used to create table sugar. Therefore, beets can be enjoyed raw, pickled, cooked, grated and used in salads, juiced, or used as a garnish for soups.
Beet and Spinach Salad
- 8 cups baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 cups steamed beet wedges, or slices, 1/2-1 inch thick (see Tip)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
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