Now that the holidays are over, you may be feeling in need of a little detox. Beets are one of nature’s greatest detoxifiers. Their red color comes from phytonutrients called betalains, which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. According to a 2015 review in the human nutrition journal Nutrients, “Recent studies have provided compelling evidence that beetroot ingestion offers beneficial physiological effects that may translate to improved clinical outcomes for several pathologies, such as; hypertension, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes and dementia.” Eating beets can boost your body’s ability to make glutathione, which helps neutralize and remove toxins from the body. The fiber content also aids in detoxification by promoting a healthy digestive tract. Beets are a great source of folate, potassium, and manganese, and a good source of vitamin C and iron. Beets are high in oxalates, so if you have kidney stones you may need to avoid them.
Beets are a root vegetable native to the Mediterranean and have been around for thousands of years. Originally the greens were used for food and the root was only used medicinally. Today, beet roots can generally be found year-round fresh, frozen, and canned. You can often find pre-cooked, shrink-wrapped fresh beets in the produce section of most grocery stores – super convenient! They come in several varieties – red, yellow, and even a candy-striped version.
Beets can be steamed, boiled, roasted, or eaten raw. For you spiralizing fans, raw or lightly steamed beets spiralize beautifully and can be used as “boodles” or as a dramatic addition to a salad. Scrub beets before cooking, but leave the skins on. To steam beets, fill the bottom of the steamer with 2 inches of water and bring to a rapid boil. Add beets, cover, and steam for 15 minutes. Beets are cooked when you can easily insert a fork or the tip or knife into the beet. To roast them, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper (I’m not a fan of cooking with aluminum foil). Rub the beets with a little coconut or avocado oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and roast them for 40-60 minutes. To remove the skins, allow the beets to cool for 5-10 minutes and then rub them with a paper towel. Wear gloves to prevent staining or burning your hands.
The longer you cook beets, the more the beneficial betalains are lost, so keep steaming time to under 15 minutes and roasting to under an hour. While beets are higher in natural sugars than other vegetables, the fiber content slows down how quickly your body absorbs the sugar content. The nutritional benefits of this root vegetable powerhouse well outweigh any concerns about sugar content, although note that if you drink beet juice, you lose most of the benefit of the fiber.
Because beets are sweet, kids often like them, but if your kids (or spouse) turn their noses up at the thought of eating beets, try adding some pureed beet to tomato sauce. Add just enough to provide a balance of sweetness to the tomatoes, but not enough to significantly change the color and reveal your deception.
Beets are delicious on their own with a little olive oil and salt, but this month’s recipe is a salad that will brighten up your winter with the addition of oranges, fennel, and goat cheese.
Beet Salad with Oranges and Fennel
3 medium or 5 small beets, cooked in any method you prefer, sliced 6 to 8 cups mixed salad greens, rinsed and spun dry
2 oranges, peel and pith removed, segmented (blood oranges are beautiful in this salad if you can find them)
½ small fennel bulb, thinly sliced (a mandoline works well for this) 3-4 ounces goat cheese or feta, crumbled (optional) Chopped cilantro (optional)
2 cups orange juice 1 tablespoon diced shallot
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
While the beets are cooking, make the dressing. Bring the orange juice and shallots to a boil over high heat in a sauté pan. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced to half. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Slowly whisk the oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and pepper into the orange juice.
In a large bowl, combine the greens, beets, oranges, and fennel. Coat lightly with the dressing. Arrange the salad on a plate and top with goat cheese and chopped cilantro if desired.
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