When purchasing fresh beets in the produce section of your grocery, you are very likely to find them bunched together with their colorful leafy greens adorning their tops. While many people can cut off these greens and only consume their round root portion, beet greens are actually the most nutrient-rich part of the plant and provide amazing health benefits.
Foods belonging to the chenopod family—including beets, chard, spinach and quinoa—continue to show an increasing number of health benefits not readily available from other food families. The red and yellow betalain pigments found in this food family, their unique epoxyxanthophyll carotenoids, and the special connection between their overall phytonutrients and our nervous system health (including our specialized nervous system organs like the eye) point to the chenopod family of foods as unique in their health value. While we have yet to see large-scale human studies that point to a recommended minimum intake level for foods from this botanical family, we have seen data on chenopod phytonutrients, and based on this data, we recommend that you include foods from the chenopod family in your diet 1-2 times per week. In the case of a leafy food like spinach, we recommend a serving size of at least 1/2 cup, and even more beneficial, at least one full cup. In the case of a root food like beet root, we recommend a serving size of at least 1/2 whole medium beet, and even more beneficial, at least 1 whole medium beet. For quinoa, our recommended minimum serving size is 1/2 cup pre-cooked.
As mentioned earlier in this profile, beet greens achieve 20 rankings of excellent, very good, or good in our WHFoods rating system. These results place beet greens among our Top 10 ranked foods. Equally important, no major category of nutrients is left out of these high ratings. In the macronutrient category, beet greens are an excellent source of fiber and a very good source of protein. In the vitamin category, they are an excellent source of both fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and K, as well as water-soluble vitamins like vitamins C and B2. In the mineral category, they are an excellent source of 5 minerals, including copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and calcium. In fact, when beet greens are compared with two other common dark green leafy vegetables (DGLV)—turnip greens and mustard greens—only beet greens provide excellent amounts of both calcium and magnesium. While all three of these DGLVs provide excellent amounts of calcium, only beet greens also provide an excellent amount of magnesium at 98 milligrams per serving, or nearly 25% of the recommended daily amount. This unique aspect of beet greens gives them a calcium:magnesium ratio of 1.6:1, in comparison to the ratio in turnip greens of 6.2:1, or the ratio in mustard greens of 9.2:1. The ratio in beet greens may be more helpful to the average U.S. adult than the ratio in these other greens, since the average U.S. adult is more deficient in magnesium than calcium.
In the phytonutrient category, beet greens show special benefits in the area of carotenoid richness. We rank them as an excellent source of vitamin A due to their rich concentration of beta-carotene and lutein. Beet greens have been shown to be a major contributor in many diets to total intake of the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene. While not as concentrated in lutein as collard greens or spinach, beet greens have nevertheless been shown to be an outstanding source of this key carotenoid. Lutein is known to play an especially important role in eye health, including the health of the retina.
Unfortunately, few studies have tried to separate out health benefits specific to beet greens from health benefits associated with intake of dark green leafy vegetables (DGLVs) as a group. Without question, increased intake of DGLVs has been associated in large-scale, epidemiologic studies with lower risk of certain chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Based on the most recent report from the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research (WCFR/AICR), we also believe there is evidence in support of decreased risk of certain cancers following generous intake of DGLVs. While we fully expect to see these health benefits coming from intake of beet greens as such, we also look forward to future research where beet green intake is analyzed independently from intake of other DGLVs.
Both beets and Swiss chard are different varieties within the same plant family (Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae) and their edible leaves share a resemblance in both taste and texture. All varieties of table beets have edible leaves that are primarily green in color. However, the veins in these beet greens tend to take on the color of the beet root. For this reason, you will find beet greens from yellow beets with vibrant yellow veins, beet greens from red beets having rich red veins, and beet greens from white beets with distinct white veins. Each of these greens can make an outstanding contribution to your health.
The similarity between beets greens and Swiss chard does not stop with their plant family, taste, or texture. At WHFoods, we use a quick boil for both foods to help preserve their nutrient richness during cooking. In addition, both foods achieve of 20 rankings of excellent, very good, or good in our rating system!
The science name for the beet plant is Beta vulgaris. There are several subspecies of beets within this scientific category, including the subspecies vulgaris, macrocarpa, crassa, and maritime. The greens attached to the beet roots are delicious and can be prepared like spinach or Swiss chard. They are incredibly rich in nutrients, concentrated in vitamins and minerals as well as carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin.
While beets are available throughout the year, their season runs from June through October when the youngest, most tender beets are easiest to find.
Beet greens have been enjoyed in cuisines worldwide since prehistoric times, especially in Northern Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe. Today, of course, they are enjoyed worldwide.
From a commercial production standpoint, beets fall into three basic categories: table beets, which are grown primarily for consumption as fresh vegetables; sugar beets, which are grown primarily for the extraction of beet sugar; and fodder beets, which are grown primarily for use in animal feed. From a practical standpoint, one of the key differences that has emerged between sugar beets and table beets involves the role of genetic engineering. The vast majority of all sugar beets grown worldwide involve genetically modified versions of the plants. This extensive use of genetic engineering does not exist to the same degree for table beets, and organic table beets (and beet greens) are widely available in the marketplace with USDA certification as having been grown from seeds that have not been genetically engineered. It is also worth noting here that when used as feed for the raising of animals providing certified organic meats, milks, cheeses, and other foods, fodder beets must be organically grown.
Sugar beets far outstrip table beets in terms of U.S. production as well as production worldwide. Approximately 30 million tons of sugar beets are grown and harvested in the U.S. each year, with Minnesota, North Dakota, and Idaho producing the greatest volume. Worldwide, sugar beet production production averages close to 300 million tons, with the Russian Federation, France, United States, and Germany among the leading sugar beet producers. On a global basis, over 12,500,000 acres of sugar beets are plants each year. In the U.S. approximately 1,250,000 acres of sugar beets are planted each year, By comparison, only 700 acres are planted in the production of U.S. table beets.
Beet Greens are available throughout the garden season. Here are a few things to look for when selecting fresh beet greens:
When choosing beet greens that comes attached to the roots, choose smaller beet roots over larger, tougher ones. Beets over 2-1/2 inches in diameter may be tough and have a woody core. Pass over any beet roots that are cracked, soft, bruised, or shriveled, or look very dry. Avoid elongated beets with round, scaly areas around the top surface. These beets will be tough, fibrous, and strongly flavored.
If the beet greens are still attached to the root, they should be crisp looking and not wilted or slimy. They should appear fresh, tender, and have a lively green color.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and beets (and their accompanying greens) are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including beet greens. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells beets but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown beets is very likely to be beets that display the USDA organic logo.
Cut the majority of the greens and their stems from the beet roots. Store the unwashed greens in a separate plastic bag squeezing out as much of the air as possible. Place in refrigerator where they will keep fresh for about four days.
Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating beet greens. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.
You can substitute the spinach in any of the spinach recipes with beet greens:
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare beet greens the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Beet greens have consistently been determined to have high oxalate content. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide variety of foods, and in the case of certain medical conditions, they must be greatly restricted in a meal plan to prevent over-accumulation inside the body. Our comprehensive article about oxalates will provide you with practical and detailed information about these organic acids, food, and health.
Beet Greens, boiled
GI: not available
|vitamin K||696.96 mcg||774||358.5||excellent|
|vitamin A||551.09 mcg RAE||61||28.3||excellent|
|vitamin C||35.86 mg||48||22.1||excellent|
|vitamin B2||0.42 mg||32||15.0||excellent|
|vitamin E||2.61 mg (ATE)||17||8.1||excellent|
|iron||2.74 mg||15||7.0||very good|
|vitamin B1||0.17 mg||14||6.6||very good|
|vitamin B6||0.19 mg||11||5.2||very good|
|pantothenic acid||0.47 mg||9||4.4||very good|
|phosphorus||59.04 mg||8||3.9||very good|
|protein||3.70 g||7||3.4||very good|
|vitamin B3||0.72 mg||5||2.1||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%