Amazing benefits of beets

When I was a kid, the only vegetable I wouldn't eat was beets. My mother always bought them canned or jarred and I didn't like their slimy, earthy taste. I don't think she ever served fresh beets or presented them in an appealing way, so for years I didn't eat them.

I'm not sure what made me try them again, but maybe it was during nutrition school to become a Registered Dietitian, where I learned the deeper the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients it likely contains. The color of beets is definitely intense, which translates to them being incredibly high in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

Now, after trying them as an adult, beets are one of my favorite vegetables! If you aren't eating beets now, consider adding them into your diet. They can be quite tasty, prepared in a variety of ways, and pack a big nutritional punch.

They're packed with nutrients

Beets may seem intimidating at first with their long stems, thick skin, and reddish-purple color. You may have no idea how to even start eating or preparing them. The first thing you need to know is that the entire beet plant is edible, so you can't really go wrong. For the purposes of this article, I'll focus on the health benefits and research related to eating the beetroot, although the greens certainly have their own nutrition benefits.

First, beets are super low in calories, with only 35 calories per average size beet or about 60 calories per cup. One cup has about 13 grams of carbohydrates, pretty typical for a starchier root vegetable, but also 4 grams of fiber. They have little protein or fat, which is expected for a vegetable.

Vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrient content is where beets really shine. Beets are high in vitamins A, C, and B6. They are incredibly high in folate, lutein, zeaxanthin, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. Beets are also high in a nutrient called betaine, which has been linked to a decreased risk of several chronic diseases, particularly those that affect the liver and heart. With all these nutrients, beets certainly pack a punch.

They help you feel full

Not only are beets low in calories, their fiber content will help you feel fuller longer, so you eat less overall. Fiber is unable to be digested by humans, as we don't have the enzymes necessary to break it down. Therefore, fiber adds volume to our food, without adding any additional calories. The quickest and easiest way to cut calories and lose weight, but still feel full, is to eat more high fiber foods.

Eating beets is a great way to start getting more fiber into your diet, since they have 4 grams per cup. Your goal for the day should be between 25 to 35 grams of fiber — and just a cup of beets will help you meet almost a fifth of your daily requirement.

They make exercise easier

Hate exercise? Feel like it's so hard you want to quit? Eating beets may make it a little easier. In a 2013 study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, 10 men consumed varying amounts of concentrated beetroot, or a placebo, before exercise. The subjects were then required to complete either a moderate or high-intensity bout of exercise within two and a half hours of consumption of the beet root. The men who consumed the greatest quantity of beetroot showed an improved physiological response to the exercise, meaning the exercise felt easier and their bodies responded better, when compared to those with a lower intake, or placebo. Beets increase levels of nitric oxide in the body, helping the body utilize oxygen more efficiently. Due to the increased oxygen consumption, high-intake subjects were able to exercise for up to 14 percent longer than the other groups.

Based on this research, beets may be an awesome pre-workout snack. They contain a bit of sugar to help fuel your workout and possibly even make it a little easier. If eating a whole beet before a workout seems weird (it kind of is) there are many options for beet juice or freeze dried beets, which are more portable. Consider pairing your beets with some protein, like string cheese or Greek yogurt, to give you sustained energy for your workout.

They're amazing for marathon training

Thinking about training for a 5k, marathon, or other type of endurance race? Beets are your best friend when it comes to training.

Ultramarathon runner and personal trainer, Teresa Magula, swears by beet powder or beet juice during her training season. She told me, "When I supplement with beet powder and/or juice, I find that I have greater efficiency over the long spans of training. In other words, I can run faster and longer with less perceived exertion. The sugars give me an immediate energy boost as well, and, being highly anemic, I love the extra iron."

If you are training for a race, a quick way to get the benefits of beets is to use beet root powder. You can add it to a smoothie or protein shake in the morning before a run. Teresa likes to add it to her pre-race pancakes for an extra boost of beet nutrition.