Latin name: Beta vulgaris
What is a Beet?
A plant from the amaranth family, the beet has many cultivated varieties, but the most well known is the red root vegetable known as the beetroot or garden beet, the famous ingredient of borscht. Beetroot can be red, purple, golden and pink. Beets are often pickled, roasted, sautéed or added to soups and salads. The greens attached to the beetroots are edible and can be prepared like spinach. It is thought that the familiar beet of today was first cultivated by the ancient Romans. By the nineteenth century, it was discovered that beets were a concentrated source of sugar, and sugar factories were built around Europe; eventually, the beet gained popularity in the United States.
What are the health benefits of Beets?
In folk medicine, beetroots and leaves have been used to treat a wide variety of ailments. In traditional Chinese medicines, beets are considered cool and sweet and are used to treat anemia, heart weakness, irritability, restlessness, constipation, herpes, and to detoxify the liver. Ancient Romans used beetroot as a treatment for fevers and constipation, and it was thought that the leaves were good for binding wounds. In the Middle Ages, beetroot was used to treat digestive and blood illnesses.
Nutritionally, beets are a great source of folate, potassium, manganese and other powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease and birth defects. Additionally, the pigment that gives beets their deep red color, called betacyanin, is a potent cancer-fighting agent. Several studies indicate that beets are especially effective at protecting against colon cancer. Because beetroots are very rich in the B vitamin folate, which is critical for normal tissue growth, they are especially important to eat during pregnancy.
The beet greens are also incredibly rich in nutrients, with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, such as iron and calcium, as well as carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin.
Are there any precautions for Beets?
Be aware that beet greens contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which has been implicated in kidney stone formation.
Where can I find Beets?
Beets can be found in most grocery stores and outdoor markets in season. Beets grow best in cooler temperatures, so they are generally sown in late winter to early spring and harvested by early summer.
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