Many health professionals, myself included, believe that food is our medicine, which is why we must consider nutrition in any discussion of our health. Proper nutrition is essential for our body, brain, and well-being — and what's good for our body is also good for our brain. There are many varieties of food that can benefit both, including one of my favorites: red beets.
Beets (Beta vulgaris) are root vegetables, which, like other root vegetables (carrots, parsnip, turnip, radishes, etc.) are good to eat during winter, because they keep well and preserve their nutrients. There are many varieties of beets; red, golden, striped, sugar beets, etc. The most popular, and my favorite, are red beets. People usually eat the root, but you can use the whole vegetable in soups or sauté the leaves in olive oil and garlic. They are easy to prepare. Red beets can be eaten raw, but they are mainly eaten roasted, grilled, boiled, or baked. Roasted beets keep in a fridge for many days and are delicious as a healthy, low-calorie, but fulfilling snack. Beets are also delicious in salads. You may not believe it, but they do taste kind of sweet. One small beet contains about 4 gram of sugar, but the high fiber content slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, so they are generally safe to eat even for people with diabetes.
Red beets are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals not found in other foods. They contain Vitamin C, B9 (folate), calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, iron, nitrates, proteins, and phytonutrients (betalains). Beetroot has the highest antioxidant activity, which generally means that it can aid in the prevention of diseases.
The nitrates in red beets help widen blood vessels, facilitating blood flow to the brain, which may improve brain function. Nitrates may also lower blood pressure which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke (Mirmiran et al. 2020, Bonilla-Ocampo et al. 2018).
They are a great source of fiber, which can help keep you regular, which is important for general health. Fiber also plays an important role in preventing chronic diseases including cancer (D. Anue et al, 2012). The fiber, protein, and low calorie content of beets make them great to eat for those managing their weight.
Red beets contain a group of phytonutrients — betalains — which support detoxification by pushing toxins out of your body. Betalains also have anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce the chronic inflammation in the body (Clifford, A. et al. 2015).
Fermented red-beet juice has been used in a folk medicine for generations to improve immunity to seasonal and chronic diseases. When I was a child, my mother used to give me that juice during winter, and I still take it when I feel “under the weather."
Pickled red beets make for tasty prebiotics, which are the best food to support "good" bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics (fermented food) make the good bacteria healthy and happy which also increases the overall health of the gut's host, which happens to be you. Your gut health depends on the amount and diversity of “good bacteria” essential for the proper working of your intestines and the entire body. Red-beet pickles are easy to make and will keep in a fridge for months. (For recipes, see my book, How My Brain Works).
Barbara Koltuska-Haskin, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico with over 30 years of clinical experience, and the author of How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy. Her book has won 2 International Book Awards and 3 National Book Awards.