By Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

A controversial root

Beets are one of those vegetables that really divides people — you have the sincere beet lovers and the extreme beet haters. I think it has to do with whether or not you grew up eating these bright, sweet, robust-tasting, crimson-colored roots. If you love them, consider yourself lucky — beets are one of the most uniquely nutritious vegetables. If you’re not a fan, keep reading to learn which vegetables offer similar benefits.

Beets are a rich source of everyday nutrients like folate, potassium, iron, and other essential vitamins and minerals. However, their most significant health benefits come from betalains (guess where that word comes from?) and other phytonutrients that support blood detoxification, fight cancer cells, lower blood pressure and even support athletic performance.

Many shoppers are only familiar with the iconic red beets but you also can find gold, orange and even multicolored striped beets (known as Chioggia) at certain times of the year. Golden beets are much milder and mellower tasting than deep red beets, while still providing the same nutritional benefits.

Beet greens are an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin (as are golden beets), and these carotenes are important for maintaining healthy eyes. Cook beet greens just like you would prepare Swiss chard or spinach.

One of the most exciting areas of research for beets is their ability to increase the amount of oxygen carried in the blood, and there is evidence that beets (and beet greens) can improve athletic performance by increasing the availability of oxygen during exercise. Beets’ high concentration of nitrates contributes to vasodilation — a relaxation of the blood vessels that also supports blood pressure and heart health, in addition to benefiting athletic performance.


Not a beet lover?

I grew up eating my mom’s boiled beets so I enjoy the robust flavors of all types of beets but I know that many other people don’t share my appreciation for these radical roots. If you can’t get past the earthy flavor of beets, here are some other foods that provide similar health benefits.

Most green leafy veggies and some root vegetables are rich in the same nitrates found in beets that support blood pressure, heart health and athletic performance. Top sources of plant nitrates include arugula, basil, celery, collards, lettuce, parsley, radishes, rhubarb, spinach and Swiss chard.

Botanically, beets are members of a small family whose members all produce betalains, which support detoxification and inflammation. Other betalain-rich foods include Swiss chard, spinach, rhubarb, quinoa and amaranth.