For the second letter of our Superfood Series, bet you thought we were going to feature blueberries. True, the blue fruit is an excellent nutritional choice, but we wanted to highlight beets, an often overlooked veggie.
With any vegetable, you're going to get a lot of nutritional bang per calorie. And root vegetables are no exception. Beets are high in potassium—essential for hydration and muscle function—providing about 20 percent of your daily value in a half cup serving. Beets also deliver vitamins A, C and K, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, among others; but its most abundant mineral is manganese, an antioxidant that facilitates healthy bones, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol.
Other key elements in beets' nutritional makeup are B vitamin folate, necessary for boosting red blood cell production, and phytonutrients called betalains, which have antioxidant and strong anti-inflammatory properties, supporting the body's detoxification system.
Beet juice, particularly the red variety, is also rich in dietary nitrates. Some studies have shown that nitrates contribute to an overall healthier cardiovascular system, improving endurance. According to one study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, those who consumed beet juice regularly increased their athletic performance and endurance capacity, while reducing fatigue. "Beet root juice can actually reduce the amount of oxygen you need to perform even low-intensity exercise," said Katie Lansley, a researcher in the sport and health sciences department at the University of Exeter. In short, beets increase oxygen efficiency.
Unfortunately, beets lose more of their nutritional properties the longer they are cooked. The best way to prepare them (and retain their nutritional benefits) is to steam or boil them until they are tender, but not soft.
p.s. The green stems of beets are loaded with many of the same nutrients as the root, so give them a try, too.
Sources: Livestrong.com, Whfoods.com, pponline.co.uk
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