Why is it we only hear much about beets around the holidays. Although the leaves have been eaten since before written history, the beet root was generally used medicinally and did not become a popular food until French chefs recognized their potential in the 1800's. The beet has a long history of cultivation stretching back to the second millennium BC. The wild beet, the ancestor of the beet with which we are familiar today, is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores. In these earlier times, people exclusively ate the beet greens and not the roots. The plant was probably domesticated somewhere along the Mediterranean, where later spread to Babylonia by the 8th century BC and as far east as China by 850 AD. The beet became highly commercially important in 19th century Europe following the development of the sugar beet in Germany and the discovery that sucrose could be extracted from them, providing an alternative to tropical sugar cane. It remains a widely cultivated commercial crop for producing table sugar. It is often difficult to believe how the hardy, crunchy, often rough-looking exterior of raw beets can be transformed into something wonderfully soft and buttery once they are cooked. Beet powder is used as a coloring agent for many foods. Some frozen pizzas use beet powder to color the tomato sauce.
Health wise, what's interesting about beets is not that they are rich in antioxidants, it is the unusual mix of antioxidants that they contain. Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called Betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. In addition to beets, rhubarb, chard, amaranth, prickly pear cactus, and Nopal cactus are examples of other foods that contain betalains. In a recent study from Italy, beets were shown to be an especially important contributor of two carotenoids in the overall diet, lutein and zeaxanthin. Although much of the recent carotenoid research has focused on beta-carotene, both lutein and zeaxanthin are unique as health support molecules, particularly with respect to eye health and common age-related eye problems involving the macula and the retina. For eye health, beets may eventually turn out to be a super food. Unlike some other food pigments, betalains undergo very steady loss from food as the length of cooking time is increased. The difference between 15 minutes of steaming versus 25 minutes of steaming, or 60 minutes of roasting versus 90 minutes of roasting can be significant in terms of betalain damage. It is recommend that you keep beet steaming times to 15 minutes or less, and roasting times under an hour.
In some lab studies on human tumor cells, betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth by the inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes (specifically, cyclooxygenase enzymes). The tumor cell types tested in these studies include tumor cells from colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicular tissue. While lab studies by themselves are not proof of beets anti-cancer benefits, the results of these studies are encouraging. So researchers are looking more closely than ever at the value of betanins and other betalains in beets for both prevention and treatment of certain cancer types. Many of the unique phytonutrients present in beets have also been shown to function as anti-inflammatory compounds. Several types of heart disease, including atherosclerosis are characterized by chronic unwanted inflammation. This is why beets have been studied within the context of heart disease, and there are some encouraging preliminary results, in animal studies and a few very small scale human studies. Type 2 diabetes, another health problem associated with chronic, unwanted inflammation, is also of interest to researchers.
When eaten raw, a cup of beets is high in carbohydrates and low in fat. There's also phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. Don't forget the fiber, vitamins A and C, folic acid, niacin (vitamin B3) and biotin (vitamin B7). It's great for pregnant women, because it can lower the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube disorders.
In the world of juicing, beet juice is known for its blood-building and detoxifying properties. It replenishes the blood with vitamins and
minerals. That means beets lend a hand to the liver. The chemical compound called betaine, which stimulates the liver and protects liver and bile ducts. This chemical has also been shown to contribute to the prevention of coronary and cerebral artery diseases. FYI, some other beet benefits;
- For those with anemia the chemical in the beet that makes it red is called betacyanin. This pigment is absorbed into our blood and increases the oxygen-carrying ability of the blood up to 400%
- Drinking beet juice regularly can relieve constipation.
- Beets can help with the elasticity of the veins and arteries. Which means it can help with varicose veins.
- Beet juice is highly alkaline in nature, so it can be helpful in cases of acidosis.
- Red beets can be helpful with menstrual problems, toothaches, skin problems and headaches.
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