When you think of beets, you probably think of red beets. But like carrots, peppers and other vegetables, beets also grow in a rainbow of colors, which includes orange beets. Like their more common red cousins, orange beets are a nutritional powerhouse. They're loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Orange beets are good for your heart, help to cleanse your kidneys, have lots of antioxidants, lower your cholesterol and are full of vitamins. All this is contained in a vegetable that tastes a bit less earthy than traditional red beets.
What Makes for Orange Beets?
All beets have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pigments that are called betalains. Red beets, and purple beets, get their color from betacyanins. Orange beets, which are also called golden beets or yellow beets, get their pigment from betaxanthins. Beets of any color have both of these, as well as plenty of potassium, magnesium and vitamin C.
Betacyanins and betaxanthins are phytochemicals that provide antioxidants and help your body fight inflammation. These phytochemicals help the body fight off cancerous tumors in the breast, liver, colon and bladder.
For cancer patients, betacyanins and betaxanthins are used in combination with anti-cancer drugs to reduce their toxicity and overcome the resistance of cancer cells, according to a study published by Psytotherapy Research in 2017.
Beets and Sugar
You may be surprised that the refined white sugar in your kitchen may come from sugar beets. Sure, white sugar may come from sugarcane, but it may also come from beets. Beet sugar makes up about 54 percent of sugar produced in the United States. Beets are produced for sugar in the upper Midwest and temperate parts of the West.
The American Sugarbeet Growers Association says there is no difference between beet and cane sugar. Sugar beets are about 18 percent sucrose. Sugar beets are white, not orange or red, but they are the same species as the orange and red beets you get in the produce section of your supermarket. The beets you eat are actually called table beets. Table beets, whether they're orange or red, contain more sugar than most vegetables.
But don't worry. A serving size of two small beets has about 8 grams of sugar, but it's not like getting 8 grams of sugar from a cookie. The high-fiber content of beets helps to slow the absorption of all that sugar into your bloodstream, according to Whitney Linsenmeyer, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition and dietetics, Saint Louis University and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The glycemic load, which measures the carbohydrate content in food, is 8.3. A measure of under 10 is considered low.
Nutrient Compounds in Orange Beets
Potassium, magnesium and vitamin C are just some of what's in the red and orange or golden beets nutrition content. Beets also have folate and plenty of fiber. But it's the nutrient compounds that set beets apart from other produce.
One of those is nitrates. Nitrates are one part nitrogen and three parts oxygen. The body can easily convert nitrates into nitrites. Nitrites give cured meat that pink or red color. Processed meats have long had an association with cancer. The World Health Organization reported in 2015 that for every 50 grams (1/4 cup) of processed meat eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer rises by 18 percent.
But dietary nitrates from fruits and vegetables, like orange beets, are thought to lower blood pressure. Dietary nitrates, which convert into nitric oxide, tell your arteries to relax, which is why your blood pressure drops. Juice from beets, can also do the same, says a 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition. According to a 2015 study in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, foods enriched in nitrate and nitrite provide significant health benefits with very little risk.
Vitamins and Minerals
Beets are actually root vegetables. That's why the word beetroot is often used interchangeably with beets. Beets, like carrots, refer to the part of the plant that grows underground. Beet greens, which grow above ground, are also edible and contain lots of nutrients. But many of the unique qualities of beets are contained in the root.
One cup of raw beets, according to the USDA, provides 58 calories, 2.2 grams of protein and 3.8 grams of fiber, along with 7.6 grams of carbohydrates. Beets also supply significant quantities of:
- Vitamin C, 6.7 milligrams, 11 percent of recommended daily value (DV)
- Folate, 148 micrograms, 37 percent of DV
- Iron, 1.1 milligrams, 6 percent of DV
- Magnesium, 31.3 milligrams, 8 percent of DV
- Phosphorus, 54.4 milligrams, 5 percent of DV
- Potassium, 442 milligrams, 13 percent of DV
- Copper, 0.1 milligrams, 5 percent of DV
- Manganese, 0.4 milligrams, 22 percent of DV
Healthy Ways to Eat
One of the orange or golden beets benefits, over their red or purple counterparts, is that they taste less earthy, for those who say that the taste of beets can be a bit like dirt. Orange beets actually taste a bit sweeter, more like carrots.
Beets can be sliced into salads, boiled, steamed or roasted. Roasting brings out the caramelized sugar taste. You can also eat canned, frozen and vacuum-packed beets and get most of the health benefits. Consumer Reports suggests beet chips that are fried and full of added salt are merely processed snack foods, not healthy food.
Beets for eating, unlike many sugar beets, are not genetically modified, so don't worry about that.
Juicing Your Athletic Performance
Then there's beet juice. A 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology reported that beetroot juice supplements appeared to reduce muscle glycogen depletion. When you exercise, especially at a high intensity for prolonged periods, your muscles struggle for oxygen, which causes a buildup of lactic acid.
By consuming 17 ounces of beetroot juice, or simply beet juice, the concentration of nitrates in the blood of the beet juice participants had almost doubled. Their blood pressure fell by an average of six points. The athletes with the beet juice took in less oxygen and had less muscle fatigue. According to Consumer Reports, researchers in the study found that the athletes had better endurance and better muscle contraction, which helps to increase power and speed.
Scientists think that nitrates are key and made more effective by the antioxidants and betaine found in beets. The results from the juice were equivalent to eating three or four beets, researchers said. So you can get the same benefits from eating beets before a workout than you can get from the juice.
Are There Any Negatives?
Orange beets, like all beets, are good for anyone, unless you are prone to kidney stones. Beets contain high levels of oxalates, which can cause kidney stones to form. The levels of oxalates are higher still in beet greens.
Beets have been traditionally used as dyes. This ability to dye objects and stain your hands also translates to your urine. Your urine and stool may be colored by the beets you are eating, so don't be alarmed.
- Phytotherapy Research: C-Glycosyl Flavonoids From Beta Vulgaris Cicla and Betalains From Beta Vulgaris Rubra: Antioxidant, Anticancer and Antiinflammatory Activities-A Review
- American Sugarbeet Growers Association: What Is a Sugarbeet?
- Consumer Reports: Are Beets Good for You?
- Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry: Nutritional Epidemiology in the Context of Nitric Oxide Biology: A Risk-Benefit Evaluation for Dietary Nitrite and Nitrate
- Journal of Nutrition: Inorganic Nitrate and Beetroot Juice Supplementation Reduces Blood Pressure In Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- African Journal of Agricultural Research: Contents of Oxalic Acid, Nitrate and Reduced Nitrogen in Different Parts of Beetroot at Different Rates of Nitrogen Fertilization
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Pros and Cons of Root Vegetables
- Hypertension: Dietary Nitrate Provides Sustained Blood Pressure Lowering in Hypertensive Patients
- World Health Organization: Q&A On the Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat
- Eat Right: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: What Is Glycemic Index?
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Beetroot Juice Ingestion During Prolonged Moderate-Intensity Exercise Attenuates Progressive Rise in O2 Uptake
- Washington Post: Beet Juice Gains Traction as an Evidence-Based Aid for Athletes
- Geisinger Caring: 8 Foods That Help Fight Inflammation
- USDA: Basic Report: Beets, Raw