Eat right, live well: You can't beat the benefits of beets

There are more than 60 types of sugar, but I bet you rarely think of beets as a sugar source. In fact, beets have played an important role in food history and were once the main source of sugar in the days before industrialization made it easier to process and transport cane sugar.

But don't confuse the table beets you see in the produce section or the farmers market with commercial sugar beets. Sugar beets contain as much as 20 percent sucrose whereas table beets, while higher in natural sugars than corn and carrots, aren't quite as sweet.

Beets are a vibrant purple-red root vegetable that add beautiful color to our plate and important nutrients to our diet. A 3-ounce serving of beets contains 8 grams of carbohydrate and about 35 calories. Beets are a good source of folate, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, nitrate and the antioxidant lipoic acid. Some studies have shown lipoic acid can be helpful in healing nerve damage in people with diabetes.

If you are a runner and want to increase your speed on the track, consider including beets in your pre-race snack. Nearly three quarters of our consumption of nitrate comes from cauliflower, spinach, broccoli and beets and studies show the nitrate content in beets was key to improved running performance. Potassium and magnesium in beets, support muscle and nerve production, which is also beneficial for runners.

The high betanin content in beets gives the root its deep red hue and when steeped with other foods (like hard boiled eggs) or fibers, imparts that rich natural color.

In addition to all that, as food costs continue to rise, beets give you more bang for your buck because there is no waste. From the leafy greens to the gangly root of the bulb, beets are completely edible. If you purchase beets with the greens intact they will last up to a week in the refrigerator.

Here are some quick and easy ways to use beets

• cube roasted beets and place on top of any salad

• add diced beets to a vegetable soup or minestrone

• include beet cubes on meat or vegetable kebabs

• toss beet greens into a stir fry

• make a simple side dish by tossing beets with ginger, oil and balsamic vinegar or a mix of red wine vinegar, olive oil and oregano.

This month's recipe features a hassle-free cooking method for beets: simply wash, wrap in foil and bake. And enjoy adding beets to your favorite fall dishes.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of “Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies” and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Baked Beets

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