Health benefits, fun facts about the beet

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, March 3, 2016

Today I’d like to share information on a vegetable many folks might not consider as a regular part of their diet, but probably should: beets.

Beets or Beta Vulgaris are members of the Caryophyllales family. Beets are the taproot portion of the beet plant. By the way, beet leaves are also edible and are usually served steamed or boiled.

From the Middle Ages, beets have been used to treat a variety of conditions including illnesses relating to the digestive system and the blood. Betanin, an amino acid derived from beets, is used commercially as a food colorant to improve the color and flavor of tomato sauce, tomato paste, ice creams, jams and jellies, and even breakfast cereals.

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Betaine has also been shown to have potential benefits in fighting heart disease, increasing lean muscle, while helping reduce body fat, and lowering HDL cholesterol levels. Betaine also helps alleviate depression.

Per serving beets only adds 43 calories, so they are great for those trying to lose weight. They’re rich in folate (folic acid), manganese, iron, and fiber. The folate or folic acid found in beets is great for women who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant. Folate is a B vitamin that helps protect against certain birth defects. Just three small raw beets have 70 percent of the daily value of this nutrient (be sure to discuss your diet and any supplements with your doctor first).

An amino acid called tryptophan, found in beets, is the same feelgood chemical found in chocolate. Beets contain pectin, a polysaccharide (sugar) which helps cleanse the liver. The phytonutrients, and antioxidants found in beets and beet juice have been shown to help cancer patients, and also help prevent lung and skin cancers.

In animals, colon cancer has been slowed by the use of beet fiber. Nitric oxide (a substance that helps our body’s cells communicate with each other) found in beets can be effective in lowering blood pressure.

Now we know how good beets are for us, here are a few fun beet facts. In many cultures it’s believed that if a man and woman eat from the same beetroot, they will fall in love.

The sugar beet was named the state historic food of Utah. The largest beet in the world was grown by a Dutchman, and weighed over 156 pounds.

Borscht is a soup of Ukrainian origin whose main ingredient is beets. Beet juice can be used as hair dye (but it washes out pretty quickly). Fredrick William III of Prussia funded the first sugar beet factory.

Beet juice has been used on city streets to remove ice, because it doesn’t damage cars like sand and salt. Australians put pickled beets on hamburgers.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC Upstate baseball team, the S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse College equestrian team. He served as a water safety instructor to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught for four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.