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By Cheryl Forberg
Image of Beets
I adore beets – extremely versatile, rich in color and nutrients – they’re in season year- round. Though they come in a variety of colors, the most popular and well known are the red or purple beets. Beets can be used in soups, served as a cooked side dish, cooked or raw in salads, and even pickled. The leaves of the beet plant are also edible, and when boiled, or sautéed, kind of taste like Swiss chard. Nutritionally speaking, beets are a great health food, and have some great anti-aging properties too. The roots contain anthocyanin antioxidants and the leaves contain chlorophyll and carotenoids. All good for your health! Beets also are high in folate, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and vitamin C. One cup of boiled beets contains 75 calories, 2.8 grams protein, 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C, 34% DV for folate, 27% DV for manganese, and 14% DV for potassium.

Beets are rich in naturally occurring nitrates – which, unlike artificial nitrates that you find in processed meat, are beneficial. Chemically, nitrates consist of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identical oxygen atoms The combination of nitrogen and oxygen can increase blood flow to certain areas of the brain, which may reduce age-related dementia. Preliminary research suggests that nitrates are helpful to brain function, but more studies need to be done. In the meantime, get your nitrates from fresh vegetables, including beets, instead of processed meats. Betanin is the pigment that gives beets their red/purple color. According to researchers in Italy, they inhibit reactions of bad cholesterol or LDL in our bodies. This may help prevent plaque from forming in the arteries.

About 10%-15% of people cannot break down the vibrant colored betanin in beets. If you’re in this group, the pigment can then show up in your urine or stool. This can be quite alarming, as some people will think that they have blood in their urine or stool. Pay attention to this, so if it happens to you, you don’t unnecessarily rush off to the ER. This phenomenon is sometimes called beeturia, and is more common in individuals with iron deficiency. So, if you experience beeturia, you may want to consult with your primary healthcare provider. It’s easy to peel beets once they’re boiled or cooked. Simply let them cool enough to handle and then rub the skin off. It should slip off easily. You may want to use disposable gloves to prevent the juice from staining your hands. If you’re using raw beets, which have a great crunchy texture and add volume to salads, peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, before slicing or shredding in a food processor.

Shredded Beets with Crumbled Feta and Creamy Citrus Dressing
It takes only minutes to grate peeled, raw beets in the food processor. If you prefer, you can also use diced cooked beets, though the texture of raw beets gives this salad more volume and a bit of crunch.
Makes 8 (1/2-cup) servings
Image of Shredded Beets with Crumbled Feta and Creamy Citrus Dressing
4 cups grated raw beets (about 1-1/4 pounds)
1/4 cup Citrus Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Toss the beets with the dressing. Top with the feta and chives. Serve at room temperature.

Per serving:
80 calories, 3 g total fat (0 g saturated), 20 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 12 g total carbohydrates (9 g sugars), 2 g fiber, 2 g protein.

Citrus Vinaigrette
This vinaigrette tastes indulgent. Thanks to a dollop of Greek yogurt, it has a creamy, luscious texture. Try substituting other combinations of citrus fruits such as lemons, grapefruit, or blood oranges to create unique flavors.
Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 cup lime juice
1 Tablespoon Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 Tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup light olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the yogurt, lime zest and juice, agave, vinegar, and garlic in a food processor and purée until smooth. While the machine is running, slowly drizzle in the oil until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. The dressing will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Per tablespoon:
40 calories, 3 g total fat (0 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 2 g total carbohydrates (1 g sugars), 0 g fiber, 1 g protein.
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