You may assume that all vegetables are best eaten raw. While that’s usually true, it’s not always. The cooking process for some plants brings out the nutrition—in broccoli and tomatoes, for example. (1, 2) But what about that bright crimson root vegetable, the beet?
Root vegetables are remarkably nutritious, as that’s where the plant stores the energy the leaves collect while they absorb nutrients from the soil. Each type of root contains different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Beets come in many varieties, displaying their most prominent antioxidants in their color (plants’ pigments are the primary source of their antioxidants).
Beets are versatile and mild in flavor. Among their health benefits:
- cleanse the liver
- fight cancer
- protect from neurodegenerative decline
- detoxify the digestive system
- reduce blood pressure (3, 4)
- improve cardiorespiratory endurance during exercise (5)
The effects of beetroot on the circulatory system can be attributed to its nitrate content. Contrary to the type of synthetic nitrates that are added to processed meat (having been found to cause cancer), naturally-occurring anti-inflammatory nitrates as found in beets open blood vessels and improve blood flow, protecting from atherosclerosis. (6)
So what’s the best way to eat beets?
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension strove to determine the best way to consume beets to derive their optimal benefits for reducing blood pressure and systemic inflammation. Twenty-four people between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-eight with high blood pressure were divided into two groups. One group was given daily raw beet juice and the other cooked beets for two weeks. There was then a two-week hiatus, then the groups switched the form of their daily beets. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that beetroot in both forms was successful in improving blood pressure, cellular function, and reducing inflammation; however, raw beet juice was more effective. In addition, there was greater antioxidant activity and decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol in subjects after they drank raw beet juice. (7)
Raw Beet Ideas
Beets are very dense by nature so you probably don’t want to simply peel one and take a bite. Here are a few delicious ideas to get some raw beets into your diet.
- Juice – throw some in your juicer
- Smoothies – peeled and chopped into half-inch pieces and included in the blender with your other favorite smoothie ingredients, you get the juice plus rich dietary fiber and greater nutrient retention
- Salads – thinly sliced or shredded, add with other vegetables or as the primary ingredient. A simple beet salad recipe:
- Wraps and sandwiches – add color and crunch
Don’t toss the greens (unless they’re in your salad).
Beet greens are extremely nutritious. Use them as you would any other leafy green vegetable. The leaves contain nitrates just like the roots do. In addition to their effects on the circulatory system, nitrates help to turn white fat cells into beige fat, with implications for weight loss and reducing the risk for diabetes.
Raw beet greens contain huge amounts of vitamins A, B complex, C, K, and E; important minerals calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc; and fiber and protein to boot. (8) These nutrients are beneficial for the heart and overall health.
Beets join the ranks of those vegetables best eaten raw. With a little imagination, you can discover new ways to enjoy this vibrant root (and its greens!). Try the raw borscht (beet soup) recipe below!
Raw Beet Borscht
- 2 large or 4 medium beets, peeled and cut into small chunks
- ½ small cucumber, cut into chunks
- 1 medium sweet apple, cut into chunks
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
- Filtered water
- 2-3 tablespoons minced fresh dill, to taste
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- Juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste
- 3 tablespoons agave nectar, honey, or molasses, to taste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Sour cream for topping, optional
- Grate the beets, cucumber, apple, and carrot in a food processor, blender, or by hand. Transfer the grated ingredients to a large glass bowl or tureen.
- Fill the container with enough water so vegetables are concentrated but not densely packed.
- Stir in the dill and scallions.
- Add lemon juice and sweetener.
- Season gently with salt and pepper.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours (the longer it soaks, the more tender the vegetables). Just before serving, taste and adjust tartness if necessary.
- Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.