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The Importance of Eating Beet Roots and Their Greens

Posted by Andrea Lewis on

A guest blog post by holistic writer Andrea Lewis.  Consult with your doctor before making any medical or health decisions.

Beet roots and their greens are more than just tasty additions to soups and salads, they are highly nutritious. Just one cup of sliced, raw beet roots contain the following nutrients:

  • Folate (folic acid) – 37% RDA (recommended daily allowance)
  • Manganese – 22% RDA
  • Potassium – 13% RDA
  • Vitamin C – 11% RDA
  • Magnesium – 8% RDA

Beet greens are just as nutrient rich, and they contain more of some nutrients than beet roots:

Vitamin K – 190% RDA
Vitamin A (beta-carotene) – 48% RDA
Vitamin C – 19% RDA
Potassium – 8% RDA
Magnesium – 7% RDA

Beet roots and their greens are rich in many other nutrients as well, but these particular nutrients are found in the highest concentrations.

Health benefits

You're probably familiar with the health benefits of most of these nutrients. Folate, for example, is well known for preventing excess levels of homocysteine in the body and fostering normal fetal development, but folate also promotes sperm viability, perinatal mood management and decreases the risk of age-related macular degeneration, among other benefits. Also, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Elevated plasma homocysteine levels are a risk factor for coronary heart disease [...]”1 So, folate helps to protect heart health as well.

Everyone knows that Vitamin C can help fight off the common cold by boosting immunity, but many are unaware that it's imperative to good cardiovascular health and may also lessen the ill effects of air pollution. In one study, “Researchers looked at London hospital patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and found that those with low levels of vitamin C had an increased risk of breathing problems on days when outdoor air pollution levels were high.”2

Vitamin A (beta-carotene) is a famed antioxidant that helps to protect one's vision, particularly from macular degeneration, but it also lowers the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke and other age-related diseases. Vitamin A is also important to immune system function and, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, a deficiency “allows opportunistic infectious diseases such as measles and pneumonia to become deadly.”3

Magnesium is known for improving and preventing constipation and low bone density, but magnesium is also necessary for good heart health, because magnesium lowers one's risk of developing atherosclerosis and hypertension. And it appears magnesium also decreases one's risk of developing diabetes. According to several studies, there is an “inverse relationship between magnesium intake and the risk of diabetes. For every 100mg/day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by approximately 15%.”4 It's also important to note that most magnesium consumption in these studies were from dietary sources and not supplements.

Potassium has long been recognized as the go to natural remedy for hypertension (high blood pressure) caused by high sodium intake; maintaining normal blood pressure levels lowers one's incidence of heart attack and stroke. But potassium also preserves bone density, reduces the formation of kidney stones, and helps prevent the loss of muscle mass. “One study found that participants that took in 5,266 milligrams of potassium per day maintained an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than those with a potassium intake 50% lower.”5 In addition, “Potassium-rich foods produce an alkaline environment in the body that battles the common acidosis caused by the typical Western diet.”5

The benefits of Manganese are not so well known. It's not a mineral that gets a lot of press, but it's extremely important to our good health. Manganese aids vitamin absorption, is essential to regulation of the body's metabolism, and a deficiency has been known to trigger epileptic seizures. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, “We determined the concentrations of manganese in whole blood and hair in 52 epileptics, 6 blood relatives, and 24 normal controls. Blood, and possibly hair manganese content, was significantly lower in treated epileptics than in controls (p <0.002). Although not all patients showed reduced tissue manganese levels, most those with frequent seizures had manganese levels falling below the lowest control level, suggesting a relationship between manganese tissue levels and high seizure activity.”6 Manganese is also important for healthy bones; it increases the mineral density of spinal bone. Manganese has been proven efficient at controlling glucose levels in human blood, and it's one of the most active mineral antioxidants – possessing the added ability to monitor free radicals in the body.

Vitamin K is another ignored, yet vital, nutrient. A deficiency has been linked to artery issues, specifically varicose veins, arterial calcification and cardiovascular disease. Brain health is also affected by vitamin K deficiency – dementia, for example. Osteoporosis, tooth decay, certain cancers and infectious diseases, like pneumonia, have also been linked to a deficiency. There are three kinds of vitamin K. Type one – “K1, or phylloquinone”7 – is found mostly in green vegetable, like beet greens. Type two – “also called menaquinone”7 – is manufactured in the body, by the bacteria that lines the gastrointestinal tract. The third kind – “K3, or menadione”7 – is synthetic and not recommended. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “it's important to note that toxicity has occurred in infants injected with this synthetic vitamin K3.”7 Not that you'd need synthetic vitamin K. As you can see, from the second bulleted list above, you can get almost twice the recommended daily allowance from only one-cup of raw beet greens.

Beets' unique nutrients

Beet roots also contain unique nutrients. In particular, they contain a class of phytonutrients called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two most researched betalains found in beet roots.

Betanin is the red pigment that gives red beets their famous color. It is also an amazingly efficient free-radical scavenger. According to a 2006 study published in Food additives and contaminants, this ability is pH dependent. Cooking changes pH, so eating beet greens and roots raw will insure that the optimal pH will be maintained.

Another study showed that even small amounts of betalains could “inhibit lipid peroxidation and heme decomposition.”8 Lipid peroxidation refers the degradation of fats by free radicals stealing their electrons. A 1999 study explains why prevention of lipid peroxidation is so important: “In recent years it has become apparent that the oxidation of lipids, or lipid peroxidation, is a crucial step in the pathogenesis of several disease states in adult and infant patients.”9 So, prevention of lipid peroxidation helps to prevent those associated ailments. These ailments include, but are not limited to “atherosclerosis, IBD [inflammatory bowel disease], ROP [retinopathy of prematurity], BPD, asthma, Parkinson's disease, kidney damage, [and] preeclampsia”9.

The History of Beet Roots

Beets have been farmed for human consumption, along the coasts of North Africa, Asia, and Europe, since prehistoric times. “Originally, it was the beet greens that were consumed; the sweet red beet root that most people think of as a 'beet' today wasn't cultivated until the era of ancient Rome. By the 19th century, however, the natural sweetness of beets came to be appreciated and beets began to be used as a source of sugar (reportedly, Napoleon was responsible for declaring that beets be used as a primary source of sugar after the British restricted access to sugar cane).”10

Today, most beets are grown for their sugar content, but beets are best when eaten raw and whole. And, as I've explained, beets contain many vital and unique nutrients in relatively large amounts per serving, so you needn't eat a lot to reap their many health benefits. So, don't hesitate to add beet roots and their greens to your next shopping list.

1 Nygård, Ottar, MD, Nordrehaug, Jan Erik, MD, et al. “Plasma Homocysteine Levels and Mortality in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease”. The New England Journal of Medicine, July 24, 1997. Web. September 1, 2015

2 Konkel, Lindsey. “Vitamin C May Lessen Air Pollution Effects”. Live Science, August 17, 2015. Web. September 1, 2015

3 Weil, Andrew, MD, Becker, Brian, MD. “Facts About Vitamin A”. Dr. Weil, October 29, 2012. Web. September 1, 2015

4 “What are the health benefits of magnesium?” Medical New Today, December 15, 2014. Web. September 1, 2015

5 “What are the health benefits of potassium?” Medical News Today, December 22, 2014. Web. September 1, 2015

6 Papavasiliou, PS, MD, Kutt, Henn, MD. “Seizure disorders and trace metals: Manganese tissue levels in treated epileptics”. Neurology, November 1979. Web. September 1, 2015
7 Mercola, Joseph, MD. “10 Important Facts About Vitamin K That You Need to Know”. Mercola, March 24, 2004. Web. September 1, 2015

8 Kanner J, Harel S, Granit R. “Betalains--a new class of dietary cationized antioxidants.” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, November 2001. Web. September 1, 2015

9 Mylonas C, Kouretas D. “Lipid peroxidation and tissue damage”. In Vivi (Athens, Greece), May- June 1999. Web. September 1, 2015

10 Mercola, Joseph, MD. “Benefits of Beets”, January 25, 2014. Web. August 30, 2015

“Beets”. The World's Healthiest Foods, n.d. Web. August 30, 2015

“Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Beets, raw”. SELF Nutrition Data, n.d.. Web. August 30, 2015

Gliszczyńska-Swigło A, Szymusiak H, Malinowska P. “Betanin, the main pigment of red beet: molecular origin of its exceptionally high free radical-scavenging activity”. Food additives and contaminants, November 2006. Web. August 30, 2015

“Health Benefits of Manganese”. Organic Facts, n.d.. Web. August 30, 2015

McCann JC, Ames BN. “Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2009. Web. September 1, 2015

Goepp, Julius, MD. “Newly Discovered Health Benefits of Vitamin C”. Life Extension, n.d.. Web. September 1, 2015

Weil, Andrew, MD, Becker, Brian, MD. “Beta-carotene”. Dr. Weil, September 7, 2012. Web. September 1, 2015

Coassin, Mariagrazia, Ursini, Fulvio, Bindoli, Alberto. “Antioxidant effect of manganese”. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, December 1992. Web. September 1, 2015

A guest blog post by holistic writer Andrea Lewis.  Consult with your doctor before making any medical or health decisions.

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