By Janet Helm, MS, RD
If there’s one vegetable that could kick kale off its pedestal, it just might be beets. Yes, this humble root veggie that was once widely maligned — much like Brussels sprouts — is now enjoying its star turn.
Just like you may have hated Brussels sprouts when you were younger (until you discovered the wondrous flavor when these little orbs are roasted), beets might stir up similar negative memories. Many of us think of the sad-looking pickled beets on a salad bar. Or perhaps the syrupy sweet-sour Harvard Beets made with canned beets are what you remember from your youth.
Forget all that. These are not your grandmother’s beets.
Today, beets are a favorite of chefs and have become a sought-after super food (although I think all vegetables and fruits deserve super-food status).
And beets are hot with food bloggers — we’ve curated nearly 200 creative beet recipes on Healthy Aperture (a site that I helped create with fellow dietitian blogger Regan Jones). Who knew beets could be transformed into everything from hummus and smoothies to pasta, paninis, and naturally colored red-velvet cake?
Beets are also showing up in lots of new products on supermarket shelves, including juices, sports drinks, yogurt, snack bars, chips, and even baby food. Now you can find cooked and peeled beets in the refrigerated product section, which makes them so convenient to add to salads and other recipes at home.
This beet renaissance seems to have been sparked by the health-related research on this root vegetable. Beets are rich in natural compounds known as betalains, which provide the distinctive red color. Similar to other plant pigments, the betalains provide more than color — they contribute to the health-promoting properties. Beets are also one of the richest sources of nitrates (along with dark leafy greens). Our bodies convert dietary nitrates to nitric oxide, which helps enhance blood flow and lower blood pressure.
And in recent years, there’s been growing research on the use of beet juice to enhance sports performance. Some of these studies suggest that beet juice may boost stamina when we work out, allowing us to exercise longer. That’s why all of a sudden you can find beet juice products (including sports drinks, powdered supplements, and “shots”) promoted to athletes.
I prefer to eat my beets instead of drink them. I love the traditional red beet, but sometimes I buy a mixture of red and golden beets for roasting. Wrap them in foil and drizzle with olive oil for roasting, which intensifies their sweetness and makes their skins easy to peel.
I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with the baby-striped beet. When sliced it displays a dramatic fuchsia-and-cream striped pattern. You can eat these beets raw — sliced paper thin to top salads or stacked together with filling for a creative faux ravioli.
I just bought a big container of steamed and peeled baby beets at Costco, which I used to make a crostini-type appetizer last weekend, and plan to dice for salads this week.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy beets?