Beat Poor Health With Beets?

A long time ago, when I was just a little girl, my Grandmother used to keep hidden treasures in the basement of her house.  In a cool, dark corner was a place with no floor; it was open to the cool earth, and filled with sand and buried treasure.  But this was no child’s sandbox.  In this magical place Grandma stored diamonds, emeralds, and even rubies!  Well, in my child’s mind they sure seemed like precious gems, but in reality every summer and each fall Grandma would fill this precious area of her basement with delicious vegetables grown in her own backyard.  The treasure chest was really an old-fashioned root cellar which would regularly dispense gems such as diamond-like onions and garlic, emerald-colored squashes, and of course, ruby-red beets; all patiently waiting for Grandma to retrieve from the cool sand and feed to us lucky grandkids!

It may have been a long time ago, but the explorer in me has never ceased being fascinated by the treasures found in nature.  And while my Grandmother wasn’t necessarily hip to the science, she sure knew about great flavor and nutrition.  Somehow she naturally knew that all these wonderful gems from her garden were good for home-cookin’ and even better for good health.  What she didn’t know back then though, was how truly amazing those ruby colored beets really are for good health and disease prevention.

If you’ve ever cut into a beet—a beet root, actually—you must have seen the almost-blood-like juice that pours out from the heart of this vegetable.  Called betacyanin, this red pigment is the substance that gives beets their vibrant red color.  It’s also the pigment that’s been shown beneficial to help combat many illnesses and diseases, including cancer.  Historically, beets have been considered a blood and colon cleanser, as well as a natural gall bladder and liver strengthener.  Look up the term, Beet Therapy, and you’ll read that doctors have used beet root to help rid the body of tumors and to help people with blood diseases and leukemia.  In years past, people were known to use beets to treat boils, abscesses and even tumors. 

With a cultivation history dating back to the second millennium BC, beets are believed to have been domesticated along the Mediterranean, later spreading to Babylonia by the 8th century BC and as far east as China by 850 AD. Now grown commercially, beets have been important since the 19th century, and the discovery in Germany that sucrose could be extracted from them, providing an alternative to tropical sugar cane. All this, and stored like jewels in my Grandmother’s root cellar!

Beyond being pretty, did you know that the trans- and saturated fat content of beets IS ZERO? Zip, nada, no fat; that’s right, none—with an almost similar calorie count. Beets are cheap. Bought raw or canned, sliced or whole; expect to pay very little for the humble little ruby-colored gem. High in carbohydrates though, so watch out—you’ll get a powerful instant energy source, but unlike processed foods which are high in carbohydrates, beets will energize your body like fuel straight from the garden; never zapping you into needing a mid-day nap.

You can’t see it with the naked eye, but inside those deep red garden gems is hidden treasure like fiber, vitamins A and C, as well as niacin, sodium, magnesium, calcium, iron and phosphorous. Another gem found within beets is folic acid, needed by the body for the production and maintenance of new cells; especially good for expecting moms or anyone undergoing physical healing.

So all this good stuff is great for the body, great for fighting illness, disease, protecting against cancer, (especially colon cancer), even helping to protect against heart disease….but what about your noggin? Can you beat the brain blahs with beets? Well, according to the distinguished Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, you can include beets into your brain building health regime!

Researchers from Wake Forest University had 14 seniors (70 years old and up) drink either 16 oz. of beet juice or eat a control diet in the morning for two days, then used MRI machines to measure blood flow to the brain. The groups switched diets for another two days, and then were tested again. The result: The beet-juice drinkers enjoyed 21% increased blood flow to the frontal lobes -- sensitive areas of the brain vulnerable to the degeneration that leads to dementia. Gary Miller, Ph.D., senior investigator of the project stated, "I think these results are consistent and encouraging—that good diet consisting of a lot of fruit and vegetables can contribute to overall health."

These results pointed to the concept that increased blood flow could lower dementia risk—it only makes sense! So how can beets benefit the brain? Well, beets are loaded with nitrates, which when converted to nitric oxide actually expand veins and arteries, allowing more blood to flow and carry oxygen to the brain, as well as to the muscles, too. (That’s probably why beet pulp is fed to horses that are in vigorous training or conditioning and to horses that may be allergic to dust from hay.)


  • Beets contain one of the highest sugar content of any vegetable—yet they contain less than 50 calories per cup!
  • The edible portion of beet is both the root and the leafy green portion. Both are nutritional dynamite when included in raw juicing. Beet juice is very strong and powerful, and is usually mixed best with some carrot or apple juice for a more palatable juice.
  • The most nutritious part of the beet is the leafy green portion (especially if eaten young, fresh and crisp) and they can be cooked in many ways, just like spinach or Swiss chard. We tend to get into culinary bad habits, i.e. discarding beet tops… Not only do beet leaves taste great, but one cup of this top portion contains as much as 35 micrograms of vitamin C, which is equivalent to nearly 46% of the total daily requirement of vitamin C for an adult woman. In addition, these magical leaves contain 160 micrograms of calcium, 2.5 micrograms of iron and as much as 1,300 micrograms of potassium.
  • Enjoy the nutritional benefits and earthy taste of beet leaves all winter by completely drying them in a food dehydrator and storing in an air-tight container—use in recipes just like parsley or basil. (Remember to rinse and pat dry the leaves before dehydrating.) My Grandmother used to do this also to carrot tops, and then sprinkled them in soups and casseroles all winter long.
  • Pickled beet root is commonly seen in the traditional Greek salad, but can be used as a side dish or can be shredded raw in salads, too. Don’t waste the nutrients in beets: remember to boil beet root just till “fork tender” without peeling off the skin so that most of the nutrients and the nutritional value is retained. After the beets cool, the skins will easily slip off.
  • For a delicious, nutritious, cool summer soup, blend cooked beet root (don’t over-cook!) with plain yoghurt, a bit of garlic, snips of fresh cilantro, a dash or more of cumin, and salt and pepper; chill and serve!
  • Don’t forget Borscht, a very popular vegetable soup made of beets traditionally served in Poland, Germany, Russia, and other Eastern European countries. There are recipes for both cold and hot Borscht soups and each country has a different style—but beets are the common denominator in this delicious and traditional soup.
  • Following a meal with delicious, healthy beets, don’t be alarmed however, if you ‘excrete’ a bit of color the next day… It’s not uncommon to notice some pink color in urine and stools from the intense red color of the beets. So don’t be alarmed, the color is harmless and normal.
  • Beyond folic acid, fiber, potassium and an abundance of vitamins, beets are found to be a rich source of phytochemicals such as saporins and anthocyanins that can be helpful in binding the cholesterol found in the digestive tract. As a result of binding the cholesterol, the risk of heart disease caused by cholesterol is greatly reduced.

    Clearly, my Grandma knew what she was doing in that special garden of hers. She knew to harvest those precious gems and store them in a cool, dark place so we could enjoy them later and keep her family in good health. Beets should be considered a wise choice for your nutritional treasure chest—it only makes sense!

    By: Cindy Grey

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