Simple tips about how to cook beets open up new possibilities to add healthful, home-cooked food to your diet. We also clue you in on the health benefits of beets.
Beets are one of those foods that people seem to love or hate. For most of my life I fell into the latter category. One recent summer, though, I learned how to cook beets. A gardener friend of mine gave me some fresh beets, but I considered them tentatively for a few days each time I opened my refrigerator. Feeling bad about the possibility of wasting this food my friend had worked hard to grow, I eventually I decided to roast them. The result was a mind-blowing lesson in why you should cook you own food, along with learning about the health benefits of beets. Fresh cooked, still-warm-out-of-the-oven beets are delicious, and, as it turns out, really nutritious.
Health benefits of beets
Fresh roasted beets are nothing like the canned variety. They have a firm texture and rich flavor, they’re actually sweet, and come in a variety of colors — red, golden, and white. They’re also a healthful addition to whatever you put them in. Red beets in particular have received increasing interest for their potential as a disease preventing “functional food.”
Beets are rich in phytochemical compounds, including ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids. Beets are one of the few vegetables that contain highly bioactive pigments known as betalains that are either red-violet or yellow-orange. These betalains have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, which has generated interest in their possible effectiveness to treat diseases characterized by oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, such as liver disease, arthritis, and cancer. Beets have garnered additional interest because of their dietary nitrate content. Dietary nitrate has beneficial vascular effects, including reducing blood pressure.
How to cook beets
Choose a bunch of fresh beets at your local grocery store. They usually come in bunches of three to four. Try to find ones that are all close to the same size so their cooking time is similar. As with anything that grows in the ground, organic beets are best if you can find them.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Fresh beets usually come with the leaves still attached. Cut these off where they attach to the beet and set aside. (Beet greens are edible and a treasure trove of nutrition on their own. They often can be purchased separately and are considered a leafy green similar to spinach, chard, or mustard greens. Prepare them as you would any other dark green leafy vegetable.) Trim roots and scrub the beets well, removing any dirt or mud that may still be stuck to the skin.
Dry the beets and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with some olive oil and rub it in so the beets are thoroughly coated. Sprinkle with coarse salt and place in the oven for 60 to 75 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When they’re done you should be able to easily pierce the beets with a fork, but they shouldn’t be mushy.
If you’ve washed the beets well, you can eat them without peeling right out of the oven. They’re not that pretty, but you will be well rewarded by the taste of these little gems.
After the beets are cool enough to handle, gently peel the thin skin to reveal the brilliant red or golden flesh. Add the beets to anything. Shred or dice them into a salad. Slice them and serve as a colorful side dish. Use them in place of chick peas and make a brilliant beet hummus.
Keep in mind that when you eat beets the pigments are not completely absorbed by your body and will appear at the end of your digestive process. Don’t be alarmed if your urine appears pink or if you see red in your stool for a day or two after you eat beets.
Nutritionists tell us to “eat the rainbow.” Incorporating beets and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables into your menu will bring you one step closer to optimum health achieved through a colorful and diverse diet.
One 2-inch diameter beet has just 35 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 8 g of total carbohydrate (6 g from sugars), and is high is potassium (8% DV*) and vitamin C (7% DV).
*Percent daily value (DV) based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your values may change depending on your calorie needs.
January 26, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN