The beetroot is the taproot portion of the beet plant, usually known in North America as the beet, also table beet, garden beet, red beet, or golden beet. It is several of the cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris grown for their edible taproots and their leaves (called beets greens). These varieties have been classified as B. vulgaris subsp. vulgaris Conditiva Group.
Other than as a food, beets have use as a food colouring and as a medicinal plant. Many beet products are made from other Beta vulgaris varieties, particularly sugar beet.
Beta vulgaris (beet) is a plant in the Amaranthaceae family (which is now included in Betoideae subfamily). It has numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known of which is the root vegetable known as the beetroot or garden beet. Other cultivated varieties include the leaf vegetable chard; the sugar beet, used to produce table sugar; and mangelwurzel, which is a fodder crop. Three subspecies are typically recognised. All cultivated varieties fall into the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris. Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, commonly known as the sea beet, is the wild ancestor of these and is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India. A second wild subspecies, Beta vulgaris subsp. adanensis, occurs from Greece to Syria.
The roots are most commonly deep red-purple in color, but less common varieties include golden yellow and red-and-white striped roots.
Beta vulgaris is an herbaceous biennial or, rarely, perennial plant with leafy stems growing to 1–2 m tall. The leaves are heart-shaped, 5–20 cm long on wild plants (often much larger in cultivated plants). The flowers are produced in dense spikes; each flower is very small, 3–5 mm diameter, green or tinged reddish, with five petals; they are wind pollinated. The fruit is a cluster of hard nutlets.
Attached to the beet’s green leaves is a round or oblong root, the part conjured up in most people’s minds by the word “beet.” Although typically a beautiful reddish-purple hue, beets also come in varieties that feature white, golden/yellow or even rainbow color roots. No matter what their color, however, beet roots aren’t as hardy as they look; the smallest bruise or puncture will cause red beets’ red-purple pigments (which contain a variety of phytonutrients including betalains and anthocyanins) to bleed, especially during cooking. Betalain pigments in beets are highly-water soluble, and they are also temperature sensitive. For both of these reasons, it is important to treat beets as a delicate food, even though they might seem “rock solid” and difficult to damage.
Beets’ sweet taste reflects their high sugar content, which makes beets an important source for the production of refined sugar (yet, the beets that are used for sugar consumption are of a different type than the beets that you purchase in the store).
Raw beet roots have a crunchy texture that turns soft and buttery when they are cooked. Beet leaves have a lively, bitter taste similar to chard. The main ingredient in the traditional eastern European soup, borscht, beets are delicious eaten raw, but are more typically cooked or pickled.
The greens attached to the beet roots are delicious and can be prepared like spinach or Swiss chard. They are incredibly rich in nutrients, concentrated in vitamins and minerals as well as carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin.
The usually deep purple roots of beetroot are eaten either boiled, roasted or raw, either alone or combined with any salad vegetable. A large proportion of the commercial production is processed into boiled and sterilized beets or into pickles. In Eastern Europe, beet soup, such as borscht, is a popular dish. In Indian cuisine, chopped, cooked, spiced beet is a common side dish. Yellow-coloured beetroots are grown on a very small scale for home consumption.
The green, leafy portion of the beet is also edible. It is most commonly served boiled or steamed, in which case it has a taste and texture similar to spinach. Those greens selected should be from bulbs that are unmarked, instead of those with overly limp leaves or wrinkled skins, both of which are signs of dehydration.
The domestication of beets can be traced to the emergence of an allele which enables biennial harvesting of leaves and taproot.
Beetroot can be: boiled or steamed, peeled and then eaten warm with or without butter as a delicacy; cooked, pickled, and then eaten cold as a condiment; or peeled, shredded raw, and then eaten as a salad. Pickled beets are a traditional food in many countries.
When beet juice is used, it is most stable in foods with a low water content, such as frozen novelties and fruit fillings. Betanins, obtained from the roots, are used industrially as red food colourants, e.g. to intensify the colour of tomato paste, sauces, desserts, jams and jellies, ice cream, sweets, and breakfast cereals.
Beets are an ancient, prehistoric food that grew naturally along coastlines in North Africa, Asia, and Europe. 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).
Today, sugar beets (unfortunately often genetically modified) are a common raw material used for the production of sugar, but many people are missing out on including them in whole form in their regular diet.
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Blood Pressure (Beets)
Drinking beet juice may help to lower blood pressure in a matter of hours. One study found that drinking one glass of beet juice lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4-5 points.
The benefit likely comes from the naturally occurring nitrates in beets, which are converted into nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide, in turn, helps to relax and dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure.
At the same time they are low in calories and high in sugar (although the sugar is released into your system gradually, as opposed to chocolate). Very few foods found in the natural world are as beneficial as beets in this regard. Beets are a wonderful addition to any dietary need. With their high volume of nutrients, delicious taste, and multitude of uses, anyone can jump right into beets without missing a beat.
Beets contain a significant amount of carbohydrates that provides fuel for energy and prolonged sports activities. These are the natural building blocks of energy metabolism, and beets provide them without any of the negative side effects of many other carbohydrate-heavy foods. When the body has a sufficient amount of carbohydrates, it is able to fuel all of the necessary bodily functions as well, including the important metabolic reactions that keep your organ systems functioning efficiently.
In a related function, researchers have noticed that oxygen uptake is greatly increased by people who drink beet juice due to the high nitrate content.
The results show that oxygen uptake increases by up to 16%, which is an unheard of boost, and is actually more than a normal person can improve by, even when training extensively. This increases stamina for exercising and participating in sports, making beet juice an interesting sports drink that most people would never consider.
Beets are high in natural nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is known to expand the walls of blood vessels so you can enjoy more oxygen, more nutrients, and more energy.
Studies have shown nitric oxide to increase the efficiency of the mitochondria (your energy powerhouses). The results of these studies were impressive.
A single small serving (70 ml) of beetroot juice reduced resting blood pressure by 2%.
A single small serving increased the length of time professional divers could hold their breath by 11%.
Cyclists who drank a single larger serving (500 ml) of beetroot juice were able to ride up to 20% longer.
One of the first known uses of beets was by the ancient Romans, who used them medicinally as an aphrodisiac. Many plants have been considered an aphrodisiac by some culture at some time, but in this case it may be more than just wishful thinking.
As noted above, beets can increase blood flow due to their nitrates. Increased blood flow to the genital areas is one of the mechanisms Viagra and other pharmaceuticals create their effects. Beets also contain high amounts of boron, which is directly related to the production of human sex hormones.
Beets have been considered an aphrodisiac or sexual booster for millennia. Part of this stems from the fact that beets contain significant levels of the mineral boron, which has been shown to boost the production of sexual hormones. This can lead to a boost in your libido, increased fertility, sperm mobility improvement, and a reduction in frigidity in the bedroom. Your sexual life can get a legitimate and time-tested push in the right direction by adding beets to the diet of you and your partner.
What’s most striking about beets is not the fact that they are rich in antioxidants; what’s striking is the unusual mix of antioxidants that they contain. We’re used to thinking about vegetables as rich in antioxidant carotenoids, and in particular, beta-carotene; among all well-studied carotenoids, none is more commonly occurring in vegetables than beta-carotene.
When it comes to antioxidant phytonutrients that give most red vegetables their distinct color, we’ve become accustomed to thinking about anthocyanins. (Red cabbage, for example, gets it wonderful red color primarily from anthocyanins.) Beets demonstrate their antioxidant uniqueness by getting their red color primarily from betalain antioxidant pigments (and not primarily from anthocyanins). Coupled with their status as a very good source of the antioxidant manganese and a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C, the unique phytonutrients in beets provide antioxidant support in a different way than other antioxidant-rich vegetables.
The presence of beta-carotene, which is a form of vitamin A, helps to prevent age-related blindness called cataracts as well as a reduction in macular degeneration that commonly occurs as we get older. Vitamin A is considered a powerful antioxidant substance that is involved in many essential activities in the body.
Beet greens are a good source of lutein, an antioxidant that helps protect the eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts. They also contain a wide variety of phytochemicals that may help improve the health of your eyes and nerve tissues.
The betalin pigments present in beets have repeatedly been shown to support activity in our body’s Phase 2 detoxification process. Phase 2 is the metabolic step that our cells use to hook activated. Unwanted toxic substances up with small nutrient groups. This “hook up” process effectively neutralizes the toxins and makes them sufficiently water-soluble for excretion in the urine. One critical “hook up” process during Phase 2 involves an enzyme family called the glutathione-S-transferase family (GSTs). GSTs hook toxins up with glutathione for neutralization and excretion from the body. The betalains found in beet have been shown to trigger GST activity. And to aid in the elimination of toxins that require glutathione for excretion. If you are a person who thinks about exposure to toxins and wants to give your body as much detox support as possible. Beets are a food that belongs in your diet.
Beet fiber helps to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides by increasing the level of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). Having a high level of triglycerides increases the risk for heart related problems. So increased HDL is a good line of defense against that. The presence of the nutrient betaine lowers the levels of homocysteine in the body which can also be harmful to the blood vessels. Thus, consumption of beetroot helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases in multiple ways. So conditions like ahterosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes are less likely to develop. The fiber in beets also works to strip excess LDL cholesterol from the walls and help to eliminate it from the body quickly.
Many of the unique phytonutrients present in beets have been shown to function as anti-inflammatory compounds. In particular, this anti-inflammatory activity has been demonstrated for betanin, isobetanin, and vulgaxanthin. One mechanism allowing these phytonutrients to lessen inflammation is their ability to inhibit the activity of cyclo-oxygenase enzymes (including both COX-1 and COX-2). The COX enzymes are widely used by cells to produce messaging molecules that trigger inflammation. Under most circumstances, when inflammation is needed, this production of pro-inflammatory messaging molecules is a good thing. However, under other circumstances. When the body is undergoing chronic, unwanted inflammation, production of these inflammatory messengers can make things worse. Several types of heart disease—including atherosclerosis—are characterized by chronic unwanted inflammation.
In addition to their unusual betalain and carotenoid phytonutrients, however, beets are also an unusual source of betaine. Betaine is a key body nutrient made from the B-complex vitamin, choline. (Specifically, betaine is simply choline to which three methyl groups have been attached.) In and of itself, choline is a key vitamin for helping regulate inflammation in the cardiovascular system since adequate choline is important for preventing unwanted build-up of homocysteine.
(Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with unwanted inflammation and risk of cardiovascular problems like atherosclerosis).
But betaine may be even more important in regulation of our inflammatory status as its presence in our diet has been associated with lower levels of several inflammatory markers. Including C reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha. As a group, the anti-inflammatory molecules found in beets may eventually be shown to provide cardiovascular benefits in large-scale human studies. As well as anti-inflammatory benefits for other body systems.
The inflammatory response is a natural function of the body which saves our lives when it responds to the acute stresses in our lives. Like bacterial infection and injury. Due to the constant stress in our modern lives, however, this inflammation becomes chronic. It is as though our body is constantly in a battle.
Inflammation has been linked to a number of symptoms and diseases including:
Susceptibility to infections
High blood pressure
The blood-red betalains in beets have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation.
The powerful phytonutrients that give beets their deep crimson color may help to ward off cancer. Research has shown that beetroot extract reduced multi-organ tumor formations in various animal models when administered in drinking water. For instance, while beetroot extract is also being studied for use in treating human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.
Prevent Certain Cancers: Studies have revealed that beets are good at preventing skin, lung, and colon cancer. Since they contain the pigment betacyaninis, which counteracts cancerous cell growth. Nitrates used in meats as preservatives can stimulate the production of nitrosamine compounds in the body which can also result in cancer. Studies have now shown that beet juice inhibits the cell mutations caused by these compounds. Adding a healthy weekly amount of beets to your diet can keep your body cancer-free for a very long time.