Beetroot, or more simply the red beet, shares many of the characteristics of other vegetables. It’s a fat-free source of nutrients and even contains some protein. However, beets have a unique carbohydrate profile. They contain more sugar than any other vegetable, yet they have only about half the total carbs as starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Thanks to the smaller amount of carbs and 3 grams of fiber, their effect on blood sugar is moderate.
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Before You Begin
If the fresh beets you buy still have their greens attached, remove them as soon as you get home, because they drain water away from the beetroot. Don’t throw the greens out; they're edible just like any other salad green. Choose fresh beets that are smaller than 3 inches in diameter. Once they reach 3 inches, they're probably overgrown and tough. Canned beets retain the same fiber -- but only half the potassium and folate -- as fresh beets. If you buy canned beets, go with low-salt brands and rinse the beets to keep the sodium level down.
Folate helps synthesize protein and DNA, which means it’s essential for the normal growth of new cells. A deficiency of folate may result in anemia, as red blood cells can’t mature properly. Getting enough folate keeps levels of homocysteine down in your bloodstream. This is important because high levels of homocysteine increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Women who may become pregnant need to get the recommended 400 micrograms daily, because folate prevents birth defects of the brain and spinal cord that can occur in the first few weeks after conception. One cup of fresh, cooked beetroot supplies 136 micrograms, or one-third of your recommended daily allowance of folate.
Manganese must be available before your body can produce collagen and a substance called proteoglycan. Proteoglycan is an essential component in bones and cartilage. The connective tissue collagen heals wounds and gives strength and support to your skin, eyes, tendons and bones. As bones develop, calcium attaches to strands of collagen, which gives bones the resiliency to hold up to normal stress without breaking. You’ll get 23 percent of your recommended daily intake of manganese from 1 cup of fresh, cooked beets.
As an electrolyte, potassium carries the electrical impulses used to stimulate muscles and nerves. In your heart, potassium performs the job of regulating your heartbeat. It also keeps your cardiovascular system healthy by lowering your blood pressure. Potassium and sodium both help regulate the amount of water in your body, but the two work opposite one another. Getting sufficient potassium in your diet can help offset the effect of sodium on blood pressure. A 1-cup serving of fresh, boiled beets contains 11 percent of your recommended daily allowance of potassium.
Time to Enjoy
It takes fresh beets 30 to 60 minutes to cook, depending on the size of the beets. After they’re boiled or roasted, serve them with a simple spritz of lemon or balsamic vinegar. For a salad, mix slices of beets with apples and celery and dress them with your favorite vinaigrette. Combine mushrooms, sunflower seeds, green peas and beets topped with a dressing of yogurt and fresh dill.