Compounds in beets improve athletic performance and protect health

LENOIR, NC (June 26, 2017)…Beets are a member of the amaranth family, with relatives including quinoa, spinach, and Swiss chard. In recent years, the root vegetable has attracted much attention as a health promoting functional food. They are a great addition to a healthy diet for prevention or management of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and vascular-protective effects offered by beets have been clearly demonstrated by several scientific studies. Part of the protection comes from the red color, which is from compounds called betalains.

Beetroot juice has gained popularity since Paralympic gold medalist David Weir announced that a shot of the juice was his secret to success. Beets, carrots, celery and spinach are high in nitrates, which are a hot topic in the sports nutrition field. Nitrate rich vegetables have been shown to decrease blood pressure, increase cardiovascular ability and improve reaction time during exercise.

Select beet roots that are firm, smooth, and a vibrant red-purple. They may be stored in the fridge for up to four weeks. Raw beets do not freeze well since they tend to become soft when thawed. Freezing cooked beetroot is fine as it retains its flavor and texture.

Rinse the beets (right before use) under cool running water and scrub with a vegetable brush. Dry the rinsed beets with a paper towel before preparation.

The insides of beets will stain counters, cutting boards and hands. When cutting beets, cover the work surface with wax paper or plastic wrap before beginning.

This easy recipe brings out the sweetness of beets through roasting. The vinegar and maple syrup round out the flavor balance, along with the salty feta cheese.

Balsamic Roasted Beets with Feta
Servings: 6 – 8
Total Time: 45 minutes

• 6 medium beets (2 bunches, or about 3 ½ pounds)
• 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
• 1/3 cup inexpensive balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
• ½ cup of crumbled feta cheese
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Prepare the beets by washing them and removing the leafy stems and roots. Peel each beet with a vegetable peeler and cut the peeled beets into 1 ½ inch chunks.
3. Place the cut beets on the prepared baking sheet. Toss the beets with the olive oil and salt until coated. Roast beets for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring with a spatula midway through, until beets are tender when pierced with a fork.
4. While the beets are roasting, combine the vinegar and maple syrup in a small sauté pan. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon and is reduced to about 3 tablespoons.
5. Toss the roasted beets with the glaze. Sprinkle feta cheese on top of the mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold.

By Margie Mansure, Registered Dietitian/Extension Agent