Blue Zones Project

Winy’s Kitchen: Beets – The Jewels of Denial

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Beets. Photo by Thuy Nghiem

Beets. Photo by Thuy Nghiem

By Winy Chen, Registered Dietitian at Beach Cities Health District

I’ll be the first person to admit that I never cared for beets growing up, primarily because they weren’t a staple of my Asian diet, but also because they stain my clothes, fingers and even my countertops… Steer me away from beets. However, I should point out that beets are widely known for their health benefits. A rich source of fiber, potassium and foliate, beets’ red pigment (called beta lain) is believed by researchers to also protect against the development of cancerous cells, as well as reduce inflammation related to heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Studies also suggest the natural nitrate found in beets play a role in expanding blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Bottom line: A single serving of beets ( ½ cup) consumed on a regular basis can boost your energy levels, brain power and sports performance, while even lowering your blood pressure.

The beet is a root vegetable. It has an earthy, sweet flavor… somewhat hard to describe. The roots are most commonly a deep red-purple in color, but they can also be golden yellow or red-and white-striped. Beets are available year-round, but the best time to purchase them is from early summer through October – my reasoning for telling you about them now! Additionally, as a Registered Dietitian, I feel it’s my duty to learn to love beets. Simply by examining their vibrant colors, one can tell beets are loaded with important nutrients and phytochemicals. So, I’ve begun making myself cook and eat them in a variety of different ways.

How to select fresh beets: Look for unblemished bulbs with sturdy, unwilted greens.

How to store beets: Refrigerate them unwashed in an air-tight plastic bag for up to three weeks. Always wash them thoroughly before cooking. Their leaves can be used as greens or garnish.

Ways to Enjoy Beets: The two widely accepted methods to prepare beets are boiling and roasting. To save time, you can purchase steamed and peeled baby beets from Trader Joe’s. Here are couple different ways to prepare and serve beets:
• Appetizer: Beets pair well with arugula, goat cheese, fruits and nuts – which, combined, make a great summer salad. Adding pureed beets to Greek Yogurt makes a great dipping sauce for cucumber slices and/or pita chips.
• Side Dish: Roasting beets with other root vegetables is a simple way to prepare them. Beets can be roasted in the same manner you cook baked potatoes – wrap them in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 1-2 hours. Conveniently, after they’ve cooled, beet skins can be easily rubbed off with paper towels. Additionally, pureed beets can be mixed with mashed potatoes, which enhances flavor, color and nutritional value.
• Entrée: Adding beets to a traditional vegetarian burger (brown rice burger or bean burger) can enhance flavor, nutritional values and make the burger more interesting. I’ve also seen people serve ravioli with a pureed beet sauce or a beet ricotta filling.
• Drink: If all else fails, beets can be blended with your favorite fruits or vegetables to make a powerful, nutritious elixir.

Did you know? Beets’ natural red color can be utilized as food coloring for red velvet cake or children’s play dough.

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