Beets are one of those vegetables that, upon first mentioning their name to someone, incite an immediate strong reaction in one direction or another. There is little middle ground in people’s minds with regard to this veggie and most people are seemingly set in their love for or hatred of, this historically valuable and very nutritious plant.
Like many root vegetables, beets are a favorite of the cold-weather cultures because most citrus, Mediterranean, or temperate produce simply does not grow in climates with little sun and long winters. Think Russian cuisine or of Polish borscht. Beets don’t (usually) find themselves in, say, Latin cuisine. Though who knows?
From a historical perspective, the beet greens were the portion of the plant primarily used in cooking and the sweet root that most people think of as a “beet” in today’s age wasn’t cultivated until the rise of Ancient Rome.
In fact, the natural sweetness of beets came to be used as a primary source of sugar during the late 19th century with Napoleon himself issuing a decree that beets, in place of sugar cane, be used as France’s primary source of sweetener after the British cut of his supplies to sugar cane in the Caribbean.
Regardless of how you currently feel about beets and beet greens more specifically, I always suggest that people include them in their diets, even if they must be snuck in through the back door via stir-fries, smoothies, or other avenues because their nutrient density is impressive enough to take the flavor dive in this [bitter] green.
Why include Beet Greens in your diet?
1.) Improves Vision.
Beet greens are a naturally high source of vitamin A. The human body uses fat to process and store vitamin A, which remains in your system longer than water soluble vitamins and it is necessary for maintaining good vision, playing a role in light absorption in the rods and cones of your retina. On top of this, the vitamin A content in beet greens helps strengthen the immune system by stimulating production of antibodies and white blood cells.
2.) Improve mental health and well-being.
Beet greens contain betaine, the same substance that is used in certain treatments of depression as well as trytophan, a nutrient capable of relaxing the mind and instilling the body with an overall sense of well-being [same nutrient as Chocolate].
3.) Facilitate clotting of the blood.
Beet greens are a wonderful source of vitamin K, a nutrient that helps control the healthy clotting of the body’s blood supply and may also play a role in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. On average, adult males require 120 micrograms of vitamin K and adult females 90 micrograms. Amazingly, One cup of raw beet greens will provide 152 micrograms of this nutrient without a single supplement necessary.
4.) Anti-cancer and pro-immunity qualities.
Yet another important benefit of beet greens’ vitamin A content is that it strengthens the body’s immune system by stimulating antibodies and white blood cells, thus making the body better prepared to fight against infections. Studies have also shown that vitamin A can play a role in cancer prevention. In fact, if you regularly consume vitamin A-rich plants like beet greens, you are at less risk of developing cancer than if you get your vitamin A from animal products. A vitamin A compound, beta-carotene, is also a known antioxidant that can fight the effects of free radicals in the body. Beet greens are also high in Chlorophyll and damaged genetic code caused by carcinogenic substances can be prevented by chlorophyllin, a derivative of chlorophyll, which reduces the binding of carcinogens from foods like cooked meat products that damage the DNA and other organs of the body particularly the liver.
5.) Aids in digestion, high in trace minerals.
Beet greens are high in plant-based fiber. Fiber is absolutely essential in all healthy diets and is the greatest defense against colon cancer. Additionally, beet greens are high in other trace minerals such as phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese.
The array of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and hormone-elevating qualities of beet greens are reason enough to include these often-wasted tops to the classic ‘beet’ we see in typical American grocery stores and should never been thrown out. I recommend treating this deep leafy green as you would kale, spinach, or chard – sauté it up in your oil of choice and add in any herbs/spices you like depending on what type of meal you have in mind. Just remember, nature gives us entire plants, not bits and pieces.