Beet it!

Beets, one of the most nutritious vegetables for us, doesn't usually get rave reviews at the supper table. For some people it's the color that is off putting, while for others it's the texture. Consumers eat more canned beets than fresh, and of the fresh, usually without the tops on them. Research tells us that the tops of the beets contain more antioxidants that the roots themselves. Most consumers who do purchase their beets with the tops on, once home, cut them off and throw them away.

Even without their greens, they are among the healthiest of all commonly eaten vegetables. Their sweet taste has a low impact on blood sugar, a good source of fiber, folate, and potassium. They have nine times more antioxidant properties that the typical tomato and fifty times more than orange carrots. Beets get their red color from betalains. Betalains are proving to be good cancer fighters. In a 2009 test-tube experiment, beet juice blocked the proliferation of human cancer cells of the pancreas, stomach, prostate, lungs, and brain by 85-100%. It was also found that those eating beets on a regular basis had a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and diseases of the digestive tract.

Beet leaves are one of healthiest greens you can buy. With seven times more antioxidant than romaine lettuce, they are on the same level with kale in terms of overall nutritive value. Use the greens in salads, substitute for spinach in recipes or serve them with the beets themselves.

Purchasing beets with their leaves still on will likely mean they are the freshest in the store. Once the leaves turn yellow, the produce manager will cull them and repackage the roots for sale. Choose beets that are deep red, as they will contain more betalains than those that are lighter in color. Canned beets are a good choice too. Even though the are less flavorful than the fresh beets, they provide more antioxidant value.

Beets could even help athletes perform better. A 2012 British study determined that fit men and women who had eaten a serving of whole beets daily for several days could run faster than they could when they had eaten a serving of other vegetables. Interestingly enough, with these findings, a number of British athletes who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics drank beet juice rather than Gatorade before their events, including Mohamed (Mo) Farah, who won the gold metal for the men's five-and ten-kilometer races.

Health-bite: Beets, it's what should be for dinner