Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The health benefits of Beets and how to grow them

Beets are native to the Mediterranean and have been eaten since before written history.  The health benefits of beets have been known for a long time, but originally beets were used mostly medicinally and did not become a popular food until French chefs started to use them in the 1800's.

The Health Benefits of Beets

In ancient times beets were used to cure fever and constipation, and in the Middle Ages beets were used as a remedy for digestive disorders. The beet leaves were also used to cure wounds.

Today science has proven that the health benefits of beets go far beyond these uses :

  • They are good for your heart and help to prevent cardiovascular diseases.  The fibre in beets helps to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides by increasing the level of HDL, and the betaine lowers the levels of homocysteine which can be harmful to the blood vessels.
  • Pregnant women should eat beets since they are a good source of B vitamin folate which helps in the development of the infant's spinal column.
  • Studies have shown that eating beets can help prevent colon cancer and slow down tumor development.
  • The betaines in beets stimulate the functions of the liver.
  • They are also a good source of vitamin C which helps to prevent asthma symptoms.
  • The beta-carotene in beets helps to prevent lung cancer.
  • Beets contain a significant amount of carbohydrates that provide fuel for energy and prolonged sport activities.
  • The presence of vitamin A helps to prevent age related blindness called cataract.
  • The flavonoids and vitamin C in beets help to support the structure of capillaries.
  • Also helps in the prevention of macular degeneration.
  • Potassium-rich beets help lower the risk of stroke.
  • The presence of the mineral Boron helps in the production of sex hormones.
  • An American Heart Association study has shown that drinking 500 ml of beet juice can measurably reduce blood pressure within one hour after drinking, and this effect is measurable for 24 hours.
Many people shy away from eating beets for several reasons.  They can be messy to prepare and they are high in carbs.  However the health benefits of beets makes them a good choice, and if you add them as a side dish or as part of a salad, the carbs will not make that big a difference in your daily count.

There is one warning that I should make.  Because they contain oxalates and when eaten in excess can cause body fluid to crystallize, people with kidney or gallbladder problems should check with their doctor before eating beets.

How to grow Beets

Spacing :  In the Square Foot Garden you can plant 16 plants in a 12 inch square (4 rows of 4 ) 

Beets can be easily grown from seed and are hardy in both the spring and the fall, though the root can get tough if left during hot summer months.

They are a fast growing vegetable that give you great value for money in your garden because they don't take up a lot of space and all parts of the plant can be eaten.  In fact baby beet greens are a delicacy often added to mixed green salads. 

Here are a few videos showing how to grow beets.

How to use Beets

Beets are notorious for their capacity to stain and have been used for centuries as a dye.  At  rosalindcreasy.com you can learn how to dye eggs for Easter with beets. (I would use rubber gloves if you're going to try this.)

And here you can also learn how to make beet dyed gift wrap paper.  I would think the same method would work on T-shirts, bed sheets, napkins or towels. (I think this is taking things a bit too far, personally, but it might be fun to try if you're into crafts.)

The water in which beet roots and tops have been boiled has been recommended for use on boils, skin inflammation and pimples as well as for irritable skin, measles and as a hair wash for dandruff.  Use a mixture of three parts of beet water to one part of white vinegar.  ( I'm not sure I would try this since beets can stain your skin as well, however this is a way some people do use beets so I felt I should mention it.)

Because they are relatively high in carbs and could possibly spike your blood sugar, I think it is wise to eat beets as just a part of a meal or dish.  Adding a small amount of grated raw beets to a mixed salad along with some grated carrot can really add to the flavour.

The beet greens on the other hand do not contain as many carbs and therefore can be used more frequently, and in fact are often included in spring greens mixes.

One of my favourite salads contains a mixture of baby greens including beet greens, and also cold cooked beet slices, orange segments and sliced red onion.  Topped with an orange vinaigrette and some walnuts for crunch this is a great and refreshing side salad.

Tomorrow I will be giving you some more beet recipes, meanwhile here is today's inspirational garden - with beets - from  greenfusestock.photoshelter.com .

"Almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise."
                                                                                                                            - Henry Mitchell

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