Beautiful Beets

Beets, even canned, were never on my table as a kid. Beets? Ewwww. My assumption was that they looked bloody and tasted like dirt. Wow, did I miss out. I’m learning that the more intense the color, the better a vegetable is for you nutritionally. And it doesn’t get more saturated than the beet root, or table beets.

“Compounds in beets—such as nitrates, betalains, and betaine—have been studied for their positive effects on oxidative stress, inflammation cardiovascular health, and cognition,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Research has found that betalains (which give beets their rich red color) have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Betaine is essential for many cell functions and also protects cells against oxidative stress, which can damage cells. “And the nitrates in beets help expand blood vessels,” says Lisa Sasson, R.D., clinical professor of nutrition at New York University. “Studies have shown that after eating foods that contain nitrates (such as beets), there is increased blood flow to the brain.”

Fresh, frozen, canned (if low in sodium), and vacuum-packed beets are all good choices. But a variety of new beet products are showing up on store shelves. Watch out for products like beet chips or crackers, they are not healthy. Lance and I juice beets with carrots and ginger. The raw beets pack the most punch nutritionally, as cooking them leeches some of the nutrients.
And if you’re concerned about GMOs, you don’t have to worry about beets. The beets we eat (known as table beets) are not a genetically modified crop. However, the vast majority of sugarbeets—which are grown to make white sugar—are GMO.
Bottom line, beets provide some impressive health benefits. They are low in calories, are a great source of nutrients, including fiber, folate and vitamin C, and contain nitrates and pigments that may help lower blood pressure and improve athletic performance. And they are delicious and versatile!
Join me this month as I feature a beautiful and colorful vegetable each week, exploring their power-packed goodness and easy methods of preparation. Cheers to our health! 

Roasted beets and hummus
Serves 4
5 beets, peeled and chopped
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
Olive oil and kosher salt
4 ounces plain goat cheese
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup roasted beets
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cold water
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon garlic, minced (two cloves)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Set oven to 400. Remove goat cheese from refrigerator and let come to room temp as you cook. Place chopped beets and onions on a baking sheet. Toss with olive oil and salt. Roast until beets are tender and onions are caramelized, stirring once halfway through approximately 30 minutes of cooking time. While veg are roasting, make hummus. Put all ingredients in small food processor except beets and cold water. When beets are done roasting, add 1/4 cup to processor. Process until mixed, then slowly add water through the top. Add more salt to taste if needed. Serve roasted veg with dollops of goat cheese and hummus on the side, with crostini or other bread or crackers.

Beets and lentils
Serves 4
4 beets, peeled and sliced to same thickness
Beet tops (greens), stems optional
1 cup dry red lentils
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 bunch other greens such as collard, stems optional
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon ponzu or soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Peel beets and slice to same thickness, preferably with a mandolin. Layer into a steamer set into a skillet with an inch of water, slightly overlapping but not piled. Cover with a lid. Set heat to medium high. When you hear the water boiling, reduce to medium low. Steam until tender. The thinner the slices, the shorter the time needed.
While beets are steaming, add chopped onions to a saucepan with some olive oil. Sweat for five minutes. Add lentils and broth, and cook until lentils are tender. It won’t take long, as red lentils are split. 
When beets are finished, remove from heat, remove lid, and let cool. Remove leaves from the stems. Once cooled, take out steamer and beets, dump the remaining water, and wipe out skillet. Add sesame oil and put on stove medium high heat. When hot, add garlic. Cook for just a few seconds, and add ponzu. Add greens a handful at a time and let cook down a bit before adding another handful. Continue, adding splashes of more ponzu if leaves start to stick.
Plate sliced beets, then pile the greens on top, then pile the lentils on top of the greens.