Lately, many health enthusiasts are touting beets as an important health food. Some even call them a superfood. Whenever the superfood label is thrown around, we can assume there must be a barrage of supplements to choose from. That assumption is not wrong.
Numerous companies have formulated preparations from beetroots. Claims are so positive and wide-ranging that they almost seem too good to be true.
Beets are rich in natural nitrates, which in the body readily convert to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is important for vasodilation. That means our blood vessels stretch and that makes blood flow through them easier. This contributes to lower blood pressure. How much might be debatable.
Increased blood flow also could contribute to an increased oxygen supply. This means more efficient metabolism and more endurance. This translates to better athletic performance.
If increased beet consumption does increase blood flow, there are many other benefits we could derive. Our brain uses large supplies of oxygen for example. Who wouldn’t benefit from a more efficient brain?
As a rule of thumb, most brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain large amounts of antioxidants. These are chemicals that protect our cells. Beets are no exception.
Personally, I’m somewhat leery of highly refined supplements, but I laud the use of eating the raw product. In the case of beets, they contain high fiber in relatively few calories. The only concern I have is that they are fairly high in oxalates. People who develop kidney stones might wish to consult their medical professionals before going on a high beet diet.
Beet greens are even higher in fiber and lower in sugar than the roots are. I’m a lover of many wild greens, but of the cultivated types, beets are my favorite, followed by swiss chard and spinach.
My biggest concern about consuming large amounts of these greens might be directed toward those on blood thinners. All are rich sources of vitamin K, which aids in blood clotting. I doubt it’s a big deal for most folks, but it’s something to discuss with your doctor.
My theory is that if eating the real vegetable is good, then growing your own is even better. Beets are easy to grow around here, and they also store well. They grow best in cooler weather, so we can raise them in the spring and again in the fall.
Fall production is great because we can store them in the ground during winter and eat them whenever we want. Freezing temperatures make the roots even sweeter. In northern climates, the roots degrade during winter.
Beets grow best in moist well-drained slightly acid soils. When soils are too sandy, they can be deficient in boron. Boron is necessary for proper root development, so growing beets on sandy ground might require a little added boron. A little trace mineral fertilizer or a small amount of borax added to the soil can help. Don’t overdo it, because too much is toxic to plants.
Growing your own vegetables is fun and easy. The exercise can help you too. It’s a win-win situation.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.