Whether you like them in a salad, sauteed or added to soup, beet greens boost the nutrients in any dish they're added to. Even though some nutrients, especially vitamin C, are lost when greens are cooked, when you compare a 1-cup serving of raw to cooked beet greens, you gain more nutrients from the cooked version. The leaves lose moisture as they cook and reduce in size, and you end up with more greens -- and more nutrients -- packed into the same portion.
Don't Forget the Greens
After beets are harvested, the leaves, or greens, are often removed because they pull moisture away from the beet. If you find fresh beets with the leaves still intact, cut them off when you get home and store the greens separately from the beet. Healthy leaves should be crisp, green and void of slime on the surface. Beet leaves are very perishable and won’t last more than a few days in the refrigerator. One cup of raw beet greens has 8 calories, 1.4 grams of fiber and 0.84 grams of protein. The same serving size of cooked beets has 39 calories, 4.2 grams of fiber and 3.7 grams of protein.
Bones Need Vitamins, Too
Dark, leafy greens, including beet leaves, are the best sources of vitamin K. This vitamin is needed to make proteins that stop bleeding by clotting blood. You also need vitamin K to keep your bones strong and prevent osteoporosis. Your body uses it to make another group of proteins that regulate bone mineralization. One cup of fresh beet greens contains 152 micrograms of vitamin K, which is well over 100 percent of your recommended daily intake. When the greens are cooked, 1 cup has 590 percent of your daily intake.
Multitasking Vitamin A
Vitamin A occurs in different forms that are classified as retinoids and carotenoids. The vitamin A in beet greens comes from carotenoids, primarily one called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene fills two jobs: It's an antioxidant, and your body turns it into retinol. In this retinoid form, it fills all the jobs associated with vitamin A, such as supporting your vision and immune system. Beet leaves also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that protect your eyes from damaging blue light. One cup of raw beet leaves supplies 80 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, while the same portion cooked has more than 300 percent.
More Than an Antioxidant
Vitamin C’s role as an antioxidant is critical because it protects your cells from damage, but it provides other benefits too. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, and you need it to produce the connective tissue collagen. Gram for gram, collagen is stronger than steel, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It gives strength and structural support to bone, tissues, organs, blood vessels and your skin. One cup of raw beet greens contains 11 milligrams of vitamin C, while a cup of cooked greens has 36 milligrams. Women should consume 75 milligrams daily, and men need 90 milligrams of vitamin C daily.
- USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Beet Greens, Raw
- USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Beet Greens, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- University of Illinois Extension: Beet
- Bastyr University: Vitamin K
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Lists: Vitamin K (Phylloquinone)
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin A
- Linus Pauling Institute: Carotenoids
- PubMed Health: Vitamin C
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix
- University of Arizona: Beet Greens