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.