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Guide to Vegatables

Preparing and Cooking Beets

To prepare and cook beets

Preparing Beets


Scrub the globes with a vegetable brush under cold running water. You can cook them whole or slice them. Peel before (or after) cooking.


What Happens When You Cook Beets


Betacyamin and betaxanthin, the red betalain pigments in beets, are water-soluble. (That's why borscht is a scarlet soup.) Betacyanins and betaxanthins turn more intensely red when you add acids; think of scarlet sweet-and-sour beets in lemon juice or vinegar with sugar. They turn slightly blue in a basic (alkaline) solution such as baking soda and water.


Like carrots, beets have such stiff cell walls that it is hard for the human digestive tract to extract the nutrients inside. Cooking will not soften the cellulose in the beet's cell walls, but it will dissolve enough hemicellulose so that digestive juices are able to penetrate. Cooking also activates flavor molecules in beets, making them taste better.


How Other Kinds of Processing Affect Beets


Canning. Beets lose neither their color nor their texture in canning.


Medical Uses and/or Benefits of Beets


Lower risk of some birth defects. As many as two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States each year may have cleft palate or a neural tube (spinal cord) defect due to their mothers' not having gotten adequate amounts of folate during pregnancy. The current RDA for folate is 180 mcg for a woman and 200 mcg for a man, but the FDA now recommends 400 mcg for a woman who is or may become pregnant. Taking folate supplements before becoming pregnant and continuing through the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of cleft palate; taking Eolate through the entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects.


Adverse Effects Associated with Beets


Pigmented urine and feces. The ability to metabolize betacyanins and be taxanthins is a genetic trait. People with two recessive genes for this trait cannot break down these red pigments, which will be excreted, bright red, in urine. Eating beets can also turn feces red, but it will not cause a false-positive result in a test for occult blood in the stool.


Nitrosamine formation. Beets, celery, eggplant, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and collard and turnip greens contain nitrates that convert naturally into nitrites in your stomach—where some of the nitrites combine with amines to form nitrosamines, some of which are known carcinogens. This natural chemical reaction presents no known problems for a healthy adult. However, when these vegetables are cooked and left standing for a while at room temperature, microorganisms that convert nitrates to nitrites begin to multiply, and the amount of nitrites in the food rises. The resulting higher-nitrite foods may be dangerous for infants.

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