Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Are beets really nutritious?
A: Beets are a great nutrient-rich vegetable with low calorie content despite their sweet taste. They are an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin that is heart-healthy and, because of its role in producing and repairing DNA, seems to be part of our anti-cancer arsenal, too. The red color comes from compounds called betalains, which laboratory studies suggest could be both heart- and cancer-protective. In animal studies, beets seem to inhibit carcinogen formation and increase production of immune cells and body enzymes that help fight cancer development. Whether cooked, canned or raw, beets provide an array of nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. Gently home-cooked beets maintain much of the nutrition, and raw beets preserve even more of the heat-sensitive nutrients. Try them peeled and grated raw into salads for an added burst of color.
Cooking beets is easy: leave about one inch of stem intact to minimize color loss while cooking, and roast them in the oven on their own or mixed with other vegetables, or steam them lightly. For best nutrient content, don’t overcook: keep roasting to 45 to 60 minutes and steaming to 15 minutes or less. Pop them out of their skin after cooking, perhaps wearing rubber gloves to avoid temporarily pink-colored fingers. Golden beets are less common, and though without the red betalain compounds, they provide lutein, a healthful carotenoid compound.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, http://www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.
For healthy ways to incorporate beets into your diet, visit AICR's Test Kitchen.