The versatile, colorful beet is a wonderful addition to any vegetable garden -- and diet. Beets are packed with nutrients, and although their sweet taste can be attributed to their high natural sugar content, they are still low in calories. These qualities make beets the star of many delicious vegetable recipes. In this article, we'll talk about growing beets, selecting and serving beets, and the health benefits of beets.

Bunch of beets
Beet roots are red, yellor or white. See more pictures of vegetables.

About Beets

The beet has a round or tapered swollen root -- red, yellow, or white -- from which sprouts a rosette of large leaves.


Common Name: Beet
Scientific Name: Beta vulgaris
Hardiness: Hardy (
may survive first frost)

In the next section, we'll show you how to grow beets.

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Growing Beets

Beets tolerate frost and do best in the cooler areas of the country, but they will go to seed without making roots if the plants get too cold when young. Plant them as a winter crop in the southern parts of the country. In a hot climate, pay special attention to watering and mulching to give seedlings a chance to establish themselves. The roots become woody in very hot weather. Plant beets two to three weeks before the average date of last frost.

rows of planted beets
Plant beets in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.

Beets thrive in well-worked, loose soil that is high in organic matter. They do not do well in a very acid soil, and they need a good supply of potassium. Beets are grown from seed clusters that are slightly smaller than a pea and contain several seeds in each. Plant the clusters an inch deep, directly in the garden, an inch apart in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. The seedlings may emerge over a period of time, giving you a group of seedlings of different sizes. Since several seedlings will emerge from each seed cluster, they must be thinned to 2 to 3 inches apart when the seedlings develop true leaves.

Harvesting Beets

Both the leaves and the root can be eaten. Eat thinned seedlings like spinach; they do not transplant well. It takes about 60 days for a beet to reach 11/2 inches in diameter, a popular size for cooking or pickling. They will quickly grow larger if they have plenty of water. Pull the beets up when they reach your desired size.

Types of Beets

Beet lovers have several colorful beet types to choose from. We've listed the different varieties of beets below.

  • Detroit Dark Red, harvest at 60 days, is a deep red, finely-grained sweet standard beet.
  • Golden, harvest at 55 days, has gold-colored skin and flesh.
  • Lutz Green Leaf, harvest at 80 days, is often grown as a fall crop; its red flesh has lighter zones.
  • Egyptian Flat, harvest at 50 days, is squat and early.
There are many ways to enjoy beets. Learn how to select and prepare beets in the next section.

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Selecting Beets

Beets are loved for their sweet and succulent roots. This hearty and versatile vegetable also boasts greens that are delicious in their own right.

When selecting beets, your best bet is to choose small, firm ones that are well-rounded and uniformly sized for even cooking. The freshest beets are those with bright, crisp greens on top. The skins should be deep red, smooth, and unblemished. Thin taproots, the roots that extend from the bulb of the beets, are good indicators of tenderness. Once home, cut off the greens because they suck moisture from the beets. Leave two inches of stem to prevent the beet from "bleeding" when cooked. Keep beets in a cool place; refrigerated, they'll keep for a week or two.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Beets

Wash fresh beets gently, or broken skin will allow color and nutrients to escape. For this reason, peel beets after they're cooked. Watch out for beets' powerful pigments; they can stain utensils and wooden cutting boards. Microwaving retains the most nutrients. Steaming is acceptable but takes 25 to 45 minutes. Or roast them in the oven at 325°F until tender to develop their sweetness.

beet root being washed
Beet roots should be washed gently.

Beets have a succulent sweetness because, unlike most vegetables, they contain more sugar than starch. Beets taste great on their own, but if you'd like to enhance their delicious flavor, add a dash of salt or pepper or a drizzle of olive oil.

Beets are very versatile when it comes to preparation -- they can be pickled, cooked and diced for salads, boiled, roasted or even eaten raw.

Naturally-sweet beets are also low in calories. Learn about the other ways in which beets are good for you in the next section.

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Health Benefits of Beets

Beets are indeed a treat -- a deliciously hearty and satisfying vegetable that is rich in nutrients and naturally low in calories and fat.

Health Benefits of Beets

Beets contain a wealth of fiber -- half soluble and half insoluble. Both types play roles in fighting fat. These colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon
cancer.

Beet being sliced
Beets make a tasty and healthy addition to your diet.

Beets are particularly rich in folic acid, calcium, and iron. Consuming adequate amounts of folic acid during the childbearing years is a must for women; a deficiency in this critical nutrient has been linked to neural-tube birth defects. But this important vitamin is critical to lifelong health for men, women, and children, because long-term deficiencies have been linked to heart disease and cervical cancer, too.

Nutritional Values of Fresh and Cooked Beets
Serving Size: 2 beets
(2" diameter each)
Calories 88
Fat <1 g
Saturated Fat
0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Carbohydrate 20 g
Protein
3 g
Dietary Fiber 4 g
Sodium 154 mg
Folic Acid 160 micrograms
Magnesium 46 mg
Manganese <1 mg
Potassium
610 mg
Carotenoids
21 micrograms

Want more information about beets? Try:
  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature beets.
  • Nutrition: Find out how beets fit in with your overall nutrition plans.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.