Did you know that the pigment that provides the rich red color of beets is also a powerful antioxidant and cancer fighting agent? Beet roots contain a unique class of phytonutrients called betalains. Betacyanin is the red pigment that is concentrated in red beets, and betaxanthin is the yellow-orange pigment found in yellow beets. These health-promoting phytonutrient pigments may be partially responsible for beets' suggested role as a chemoprotective food. In one study, liver antioxidant enzymes were found to increase in animals fed beet fiber. Since these enzymes protect the liver from free radicals, they are thought to prevent the beginnings of cancerous activity. In a human clinical trial, beet juice was found to be a potent inhibitor of cell mutations that are normally caused by nitrosamines, metabolic byproducts of nitrates, which are chemical preservatives commonly used in processed meats. It turns out that beet roots are not the only part of the plant offering protection against free radical damage—beet greens also have amazing antioxidant potential. In one study that compared them to spinach, broccoli, carrots, onions and celery, beet greens were found to have the highest phenolic phytonutrient content as well as the greatest ability to absorb oxygen radicals
Cleaning and Peeling
To minimize bleeding, wash beets gently under cool running water, taking care not to tear the skin; the tough outer layer helps keep most of beets' pigments inside the vegetable. If you are going to roast or boil your beets it is best not to peel beets until after cooking. When bruised or pierced, beets bleed and lose some of their vibrant color, turning a dull brownish-red. To prevent bleeding when boiling beets, leave them whole with their root ends attached to one inch of stem. Rinse beet greens under cold running water before cooking.
Other Tips for Preparing Beets
Beet juice can stain your skin so wearing kitchen gloves is a good idea when handling beets.
If your hands become stained during the cleaning and cooking process, rub them a few times with some lemon juice to remove the stain.
Another trick to minimize your handling of the beets is to peel cooked whole beets while holding them on a fork.
The color of beets can be modified during cooking. Adding an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice or vinegar will brighten the color while an alkaline substance such as baking soda will often cause them to turn a deeper purple. Salt will blunt beets' color, so add only at the end of cooking if needed.
Don't forget to enjoy the beet greens; cook them like you do spinach or Swiss chard.