AAIM | 21st Century Medicine

The Journal of the American Association of Integrative Medicine

Ya Can’t Beat Beets

Ya Can’t Beat Beets

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, DAAIM, BCIH, BCHN, CGP, CNC, CNW, CNH

What are your memories of beets? Mine are enjoying sugar, canned and pickled beets, with a side of greens on the plate. For me, the greens were sometimes, and still are, the only edible part of the plant, but as a kid I had family members who loved beets in all their forms.

Like many modern vegetables, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans. By the 19th century it held great commercial value when it was discovered that beets could be converted into sugar. The Amalgamated Sugar Company was founded in 1897 in Logan, Utah, and is now located in Boise, Idaho. The company markets its sugar under the White Satin brand. As the Minidoka Irrigation Project of Idaho was nearing completion in 1912, Amalgamated Sugar moved its failing sugar plant from La Grande, Oregon to Burley, Idaho. The new location was chosen partly due to farmer land commitments and a connection to the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company. The first year of the Burley factory had higher production than any of the previous fourteen years in La Grande.

By the 1950s, White Satin Sugar was in every grocery store in the Pacific Northwest. The company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1950. A new Portland, Oregon distribution center was finished in 1951 where the distribution silo could hold 2500 tons of sugar and supply it as bulk, liquid, blend, or packaged sugar.

Today’s leading producers of sugar are noted in the table below, in metric tons:

Table 1

Brazil  23,177
Western Europe(including EU-15)  18,679
India  18,491
China  9,419
United States  7,552


The total percentage of sugar production value in the United States reported in 2004 equaled only 1,928 million and 2.39% of the crop; (the biggest source being from corn).

Many classic beetroot recipes are associated with Central and Eastern Europe, including the famous beetroot soup known as borscht. Belonging to the same family as chard and spinach, both the leaves and root can be eaten, the leaves have a bitter taste while the round root is sweet. Typically, a rich purple color, beetroot can also be white or golden. Due to its high sugar content, beetroot is delicious eaten raw, but is more typically cooked or pickled.

Beetroot is of exceptional nutritional value, especially the greens. They are rich in calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fiber, manganese, and potassium. The liver loves beets for detoxing harmful chemicals from the body. The greens should not be overlooked, they can be cooked up and enjoyed in the same way as spinach.

Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets. Both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. Although you can see these betalain pigments in other foods like the stems of chard or rhubarb, the concentration of betalains in the peel and flesh of beets gives you an unexpectedly great opportunity for these health benefits.

An estimated 10-15% of all American adults’ experience Beeturia (a reddening of the urine) after consumption of beets in everyday amounts. While this phenomenon is not considered harmful in and of itself, it may be a possible indicator of problems with iron metabolism. Individuals with iron deficiency, iron excess, or specific problems with iron metabolism, are much more likely to experience Beeturia than individuals with a healthy iron metabolism.

So if you love or even like beets, summer is a great time to enjoy those sautéed beet greens, pickled beets or a beet salad.

To Your Good Health, and Colorful Foods.

Originally published July 30th, 2014, in Minerals & VitaminsEat for Health.

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