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Digestive Health

The Nutrient Power of Beets

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, CNW, CGP

In my home, we had canned and pickled sugar beets with a side of greens. For me, the beet greens were (and sometimes still are) the only edible part of the plant, but many people love beets in all their forms.

The first significant benefit of beets is that they are vasodilators. This is because they contain nitric oxide, which acts on the blood vessels to widen them. Imagine your veins and your arteries becoming wider.

While that might sound a little scary, what it means is that blood and oxygen are more easily able to get around the body. This then means that you get more energy to the parts of the body that need it and beets area considered incredibly useful for athletes. Another benefit of nitric oxide is that it encourages blood flow to the brain. This is important because it can help to boost attention, memory, and mood.

Betalain red-colored pigments are found in other foods like the stems of chard and rhubarb, but the peel and flesh of beets offer an unusually high concentration. An estimated 10-15 percent of U.S. adults experience beeturia (a reddening of the urine) after consumption of beets in everyday amounts. While this phenomenon is not harmful, it may indicate problems with iron metabolism. Individuals with iron deficiency, iron excess, or particular issues with iron metabolism are much more likely to experience beeturia than individuals with healthy iron metabolism.

Beets have been shown to help lower the amount of glucose in the blood as a result of the soluble fiber called inulin.

A little history

Like many fresh vegetables, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans. In the 19th-century, it gained significant commercial value when it was discovered that beets could be converted into sugar. The Amalgamated Sugar Company was founded in 1897 in Logan, Utah, and is now located in Boise, Idaho. The company markets its sugar under the White Satin brand. By the 1950s, White Satin sugar was in every grocery store in the Pacific Northwest.

Beets are in the same family as chard and spinach, and both the leaves and root can be eaten. The leaves have a bitter taste, whereas the round root is sweet. Beets come in a variety of colors, including white and creamy yellow.

How and What

Beets can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled. Beets are exceptionally healthy, especially the greens, which are rich in calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a splendid source of fiber, manganese, and potassium. Beets help the liver to detoxify harmful chemicals from the body. The greens can be cooked up and enjoyed in the same way as spinach. A unique source of phytonutrients called betalains are found in beets. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains found in beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.

Inulin is a dietary fiber that may benefit gut health.

Inulin is a type of soluble fiber found in beets and is a fructan. Like other fructans, it is a prebiotic, meaning that it feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Fructans are chains of fructose molecules. The molecules link together in a way that the small intestine cannot break down. Instead, they travel to the lower gut, where they feed beneficial gut bacteria.

The gut bacteria convert inulin and other prebiotics into short-chain fatty acids, which nourish colon cells and provide various other health benefits. Plants containing inulin have been around for thousands of years, and some early humans consumed much more inulin than we do today.

The gut microbiota is the population of bacteria and other microbes that live in the gut. This community is highly complex and contains both good and bad bacteria. Having the right balance of bacteria is essential for keeping the gut healthy and protect the body from disease. Inulin can help promote this balance. Studies have shown that inulin can help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Increasing the amounts of healthful bacteria can help improve digestion, immunity, and overall health.

Here is to real foods that build our health.