Power Plants: Beets

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Diet & Nutrition

Power Plants

BEET (Beta vulgaris)
Beet (or beetroot) is a flowering biennial plant whose leaves and roots are both edible sources of several vitamins, minerals and fibre. Sugar has been extracted from certain varieties of Beta vulgaris since the 15th century.
The plant contains natural pigments called betanins that account for the deep red colour of the root. If you’ve eaten beets, you may have noticed how these pigments can produce red or pink urine (we call that beeturia). The pigments are also used as colorants in many foods.
Beets and their juices have been used since Roman times to treat various medical conditions. Some reports suggest beetroot was used to treat fever, constipation, digestive illnesses, blood conditions, and wounds. The plant is a great source folate, potassium, vitamin C, fibre and nitrates. The betanins that give beet juice its rich colour are also antioxidants.
Nitrates may be the hidden key to improving circulation throughout the body, including the brain, heart, and muscles. Current research demonstrates that beet juice is one of the richest dietary sources of nitrates. The body converts these nitrates into a powerful antioxidant called nitric oxide, a vasodilator (blood vessel enlarger) that increases blood flow and helps lower blood pressure. Where high blood pressure is a significant risk, beet juice is a natural approach to reducing the incidence of heart disease.
A recent study showed 6 days of beet juice enhanced overall physical performance and heart functioning during exercise. A research team at the University of Exeter discovered that nitrates helped people to exercise longer by reducing oxygen uptake, in essence making exercise less tiring.
Difficulty: Easy
Hardiness: Annual (will not grow well in hot areas or above zone 8)
Time to Plant: Early spring, after ground frost has left and soil can be worked
Time to Harvest: Beet tops can be harvested late spring; harvest roots in midsummer to late fall
Location: Full sun preferred, but can tolerate partial shade
Soil Type: Well-drained sandy loam free of stones
I can grow beets, you can grow beets, my son can grow beets, and even my wife can grow beets (don’t tell her I said that!). They’re a very easy root vegetable, and they enjoy cooler climates like we experience in Canada. In fact, in places like Florida they’re deemed a “cool crop” and are only attempted in early spring or late fall.
Common Varieties: My favourite red varieties include Ruby Queen, Early Wonder, Sweetheart, Pacemaker and Warrior. Little Ball and Little Mini Ball are great choices for smaller varieties. There are also a number of specialty beets, including Golden (yellow), Cylindra (cylindrical shape), and di Chioggia an Italian heirloom variety with a red-and-white striped interior.
Beets can be grown in containers if you plan to harvest only the tops, but for best results plant them in the garden. I recommend using seed tape, but beets can also be sown by hand. Sow seeds 1.25 cm deep (½ inch), 5 to 10 cm apart (2 to 4 inches), in rows 30 to 75 cm apart (12 to 30 inches).
Due to their poor germination rate, beet seeds are compounded, which means what looks like an individual seed is actually a cluster of smaller seeds. Because of this, no matter how carefully you space them, you will always have to thin your crop by removing the weakest seedlings and giving the others room to thrive. Start thinning when the seedlings are 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) tall.
To avoid insects and disease, never plant beets in an area where their cousins spinach or Swiss chard were grown in the previous year.
Outside of the occasional weeding and watering, beets grow very easily. They rarely require fertilizer and often take care of themselves. Periods of intense heat and drought are their only nemesis: water stress can cause them to become woody. Keep them well-watered during heat waves and they will bounce back.
In my experience beets are fairly resistant to disease and insects, but leaf miners and flea beetles may offer challenges. If they attack, treat with insecticidal soap.
Beets mature within 55 to 75 days from being sown. The tops can be harvested as soon as they are large enough for use, but make sure you take no more than a third of the greens at a time or you’ll impede the growth of the root.
Roots are best harvested when they measure 2.5 cm (1 inch) or larger in diameter. The optimum size for flavour is 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 inches). Use a garden fork to loosen soil and then just pull them up. Make sure you harvest them all before the first hard frost. When removing tops from the root, leave a section of the stem measuring 2.5 cm (1 inch) to prevent bleeding.
Beets can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. They will last 2 to 5 months if you layer them in boxes and fill with sand, sawdust or peat, then store in dark, cool, frost-free space. Beets can be canned or pickled for lengthier storage.
Working out? Get juiced!
Cooking depletes some of the nitrates in beets, so you juicing them is great way to get their full benefit. Experiments suggest that dietary nitrate supplementation has the potential to improve athletic performance in events lasting five to 30 minutes (short bursts of activity). Eating raw beets or beet juice may also have a meaningful benefit on overall cardiovascular health.
125 mL                             fresh beet juice
125 mL                             pomegranate juice
1 tsp                                   L-Glutamine
Place ingredients into a bottle, shake vigorously, and drink 20 to 30 minutes before workout.
High blood pressure? Beet it down!
Early evidence suggests beet fibre may modestly lower systolic blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes. This beet and spinach salad is a delicious way to get that effect!
2                                           beets
2 tsp                                   mustard powder
¼ cup                                 lemon juice
2 tbsp                                cider vinegar
2 tsp                                   manuka honey
1 tbsp                                fresh dill, chopped
3 cups                               baby spinach
Wash the spinach and place it in a large bowl. Grate the beets overtop. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Pour over the spinach and beets and toss to combine well. Sprinkle with fresh pepper if desired.
High cholesterol? Root out the problem with beets on the side!
Eating a diet rich in fibre has can improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. The pigment that gives beets their colour is also an antioxidant believed to help reduce levels of LDL (bad cholesterol). It may also protect your artery walls and even help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
2                                           large beets
2                                           garlic cloves, minced
1                                           small Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp                                red wine vinegar
3 tbsp                                dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp                                extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp                                  pink Himalayan rock salt
1 tsp                                   brown sugar
In a small pot, boil the beets in whole form until soft. Let cool. Dice the beets and place in a mixing bowl. Gently stir in the garlic, vinegar, dill, olive oil, sugar and salt. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.
Forgetful? Boost brain power with a beet smoothie!
Resent research has shown the high levels of nitrates in beets may help fight the progression of dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain. The high concentrations of folic acid in beets may also play a part. Give your brain a boost with this delicious smoothie:
1                                           small beet, peeled and chopped
¼ cup                                 blueberries
¼ cup                                 blackberries
½ cup                                 strawberries
8 ounces                         almond milk
1 tbsp                                cacao powder
1 tbsp                                maple syrup
Blend contents together with ice until smooth and serve immediately.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase Genuine Health ActiveFuel+ powder or equivalent. This features beetroot powder as a pre-workout solution. Follow the instructions on the label.
Always drink beet juice when it’s fresh: the nitrates present a potential risk if it’s stored incorrectly. Bacteria can convert nitrate to nitrite, which contaminates the juice. If high levels of nitrite accumulate over time, it can be potentially harmful. Avoid giving beet juice to infants younger than three months to avoid the risk of nitrite poisoning.
Avoid if you have an allergy or hypersensitivity to any part of the beet plant, or to plants in the Goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), including Swiss chard and spinach.
Lansley KE, Winyard PG, Bailey SJ, et al. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(6):1125-1131.
Lundberg JO, Larsen FJ, Weitzberg E. Supplementation with nitrate and nitrite salts in exercise: a word of caution. J Appl Physiol. 2011;111:616-617.
Presley TD et al. Acute effect of a high nitrate diet on brain perfusion in older adults. Nitric Oxide. 2011 Jan 1;24(1):34-42. doi: 10.1016/j.niox.2010.10.002. Epub 2010 Oct 15.

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