In the spirit of better health during the holidays, consider adding the often forgotten beets to the menu for your holiday feasts.

Nutritionally speaking, beets pack quite a punch. Like most vegetables, they are low in calories but high in micronutrients and phytochemicals. Beets are high in folate, manganese, and potassium. You’ll get even more bang for your buck if you buy beets with the leafy green tops still attached, and cook the tops like you would any other bitter green, such as dandelion or kale. Like the root portion of the vegetable, beet greens provide a good amount of potassium and manganese, but they provide even more vitamin K1, beta carotene, calcium, iron and magnesium.

Beets contain naturally occurring nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide inside the body (not to be confused with nitrous oxide, otherwise known as “laughing gas,” which was common in dental offices before the availability of topical anesthetics). Nitric oxide is a vasodilator—meaning, it helps relax blood vessels. This may help support healthy blood pressure, as well as facilitate slightly greater blood flow to working muscles to enhance athletic performance.1,2

When preparing beets you may have noticed the lingering pink color on your cutting board—or on your hands. The pigment comes from compounds called betalains, which are divided into two sub-categories: betacyanins and betaxanthins. Betacyanins are responsible for the deep magenta color of red beets, while betaxanthins create the yellow-orange pigment in golden beets. Like other deeply colored vegetable and fruit pigments (such as those in red wine and blueberries), betalains are a source of antioxidants and may help protect LDL particles from oxidation.3.4

Compared to many other vegetables, beets are on the sweet side. However, this doesn’t mean they’re off-limits for people looking to maintain healthy blood sugar levels or attain a healthy body weight. While they are higher in natural sugars than, say, broccoli or spinach, beets have a low glycemic load. (The glycemic load is the number that estimates how much a particular food will raise your blood sugar level after you’ve eaten it.) This means you would have to consume a very large amount of beets to see a significant elevation in blood sugar. (However, individual responses to foods vary, so if you are concerned about your blood sugar levels, be sure to monitor them should you experiment with adding beets to your diet.)

Unlike seasonal summer produce, beets are available year-round. They’re easy to incorporate into your diet, whether as a garnish, side dish or featured in an entrée. You can simply peel and grate them raw over salads, or marinate steamed or roasted beets in lemon juice, olive oil and fresh herbs for an excellent appetizer. Arugula, goat cheese and walnuts make classic salad pairings for beets, and beets can be the star of the show in borscht.

Here are some simple recipes to get you thinking about new ways to bring beets to your table:

One word of caution. After consuming beets, you might notice that your urine takes on a pink color. Don’t be alarmed. This is a common occurrence, and the color will subside once all the pigment has made its way out of your body. The pigment can also appear in stool, but this is less common.


  1. Cermak NM, Gibala MJ, van Loon LJ. Nitrate supplementation’s improvement of 10-km time-trial performance in trained cyclists. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012 Feb;22(1):64-71.
  2. Hobbs DA1, George TW, Lovegrove JA. The effects of dietary nitrate on blood pressure and endothelial function: a review of human intervention studies. Nutr Res Rev. 2013 Dec;26(2):210-22.
  3. Georgiev VG, Weber J, Kneschke EM, Denev PN, Bley T, Pavlov AI. Antioxidant activity and phenolic content of betalain extracts from intact plants and hairy root cultures of the red beetroot Beta vulgaris cv. Detroit dark red. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Jun;65(2):105-11.
  4. Tesoriere L, Allegra M, Butera D, Livrea MA. Absorption, excretion, and distribution of dietary antioxidant betalains in LDLs: potential health effects of betalains in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;80(4):941-5.