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Beet greens nutrition facts

Beet greens are young, leafy-tops of the beetroot plant. Indeed, beet tops carry more minerals, vitamins and health benefiting pigment antioxidants than its taproot, and yet they come as one of the very low calories leafy-greens. Although its top greens can be gathered at any stage of plant growth, they are at their best while the plant is young, and its stems are soft and tender.

Botanically, beet is a tuberous taproot belonging to the major Amarathaceae family, in the subfamily of Betoideae. Its scientific name is Beta vulgaris. Sugar beet, Mangelwurzel, and Swiss chard are other close members in the betoideae subfamily.

beet greens
Beets with green tops.

Beta vulgaris plant is a cool season crop; grown best under organic rich, loamy, well-drained soil. Root beet is an underground fleshy taproot from which leaves emerge directly from its top end (crown) with long, stem-like petioles.

The beet plant reaches about 1 to 2 feet in height. Depending upon the cultivar type, its long-petioled leaves may feature pink, light green, white and crimson red veins and broad, deep-green succulent leaves. Its top greens are most sought after while young, tender and crispy.

Health benefits of beet greens

  • Beet tops are one of very versatile, nutritious green-leafy vegetables. The greens indeed very low in calories; 100 grams hold just 22 calories. Nonetheless, they are one of the healthiest greens recommended in the diet for their low fat, no cholesterol but health benefiting vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.

  • Just as in the case of beetroot, its top greens too are good source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine (Trimethyglycine). Betaine has the property of lowering homocysteine level in the blood, especially in persons with homocystinuria, a kind of inherited homocystine metabolism disease. Homocysteine is one of highly toxic metabolite which promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation inside the blood vessels. Excessive amount of this compound in the blood can damage blood vessels resulting in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and peripheral vascular diseases.

  • Beet greens carry more minerals, vitamins, and fiber than beetroot (except for the folate vitamin), yet they are low in calories, fat and sugar.
  • Beet greens are the finest sources of ß-carotene, lutein and zea-xanthin. These flavonoids have strong anti-oxidant and anti-cancer activities. Beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin-A inside the body.

  • Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid, absorbed selectively into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes, where it thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV light-filtering functions. Thus, it helps prevent retinal detachment and offer protection against "age-related macular degeneration related macular degeneration disease" (ARMD) in the elderly.

  • The top greens are an excellent sources of vitamin-A; 100 g leaves provide 6326 IU or 211% of RDA. Vitamin-A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin, and is essential for vision. Diet that is rich in this vitamin known to offer protection against lung and oral cavity cancers.

  • The greens are an excellent vegetable sources of vitamin-K; 100 g provides 400 ug of this vitamin; that is about 333% of recommended daily intake. Vitamin K has potential role bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established role in the treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

  • 100 g of fresh leaves contain 30 mg or 50% of daily-recommended levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a moderately powerful water-soluble antioxidant, which helps the human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.

  • This leafy vegetable is notably good in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as riboflavin, folate, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, pantothenic acid, etc., that are essential to the body as part of co-enzymes during the metabolism in the body.

  • Its leaves are also rich source of minerals like magnesium, copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.Iron required for cellular oxidation and red blood cell formation.

High quality nutrition profile of beet greens offer protection from vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia, and believed to protect from cardiovascular diseases and possibly colon and leukemia cancers.

Selection and storage

Beetroot tops can be readily available in the farmer markets around the year. However, they are at their best during winter months, from November till March. Choose fresh looking, young tender deep green leaves with firm petiole. Generally, its top greens are tied in bunches and sold along with their taproot. In that case, look for small, healthy, firm roots.

Avoid yellow, sunken, wilted, or over-matured leaves as they are less appetizing and spoil early. As in any other greens, beets tops too perish early and consumed soon after thier harvest.

At home, trim the top greens an inch above the root since they deprive nutrients and moisture from the root. Treat them like chard, spinach or turnip greens. To store, keep them in a perforated plastic bag and place inside the refrigerator set at relative humidity of over 95%. In this condition, its greens stay fresh and vital for about 2-3 days.

Preparation and serving methods

Beets greens feature very broad leaves akin to swiss chard, with long and sometimes broad, thick petioles. Trim away any tough and woody petioles. Remove old over-mature, wilted, bruised leaves. Then, wash its leaves in a colander under cold tap water to remove any surface sand and dirt. Gently swish away excess water or mop dry using a paper towel. Chop the leaves and petioles to desired length using a kitchen knife. Young tender beet greens can be eaten raw or preferable mixed with other greens and vegetables. However, large mature leaves are quite bitter in taste as they contain lots of oxalic acid, and should be eaten cooked, sautéed, steamed or braised.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Beet greens complements well with other greens such as chard, spinach, kale etc. They can be employed in the preparation of soups, ravioli, pasta, sandwiches, pizza, omelette, and stuffed bread and quiche, etc.

  • Tender, fresh and young greens can be juiced into a healthy drink. However, since beet greens rather contain high amounts of oxalic acid, it should be subdued with other greens and vegetable like cucumber and fruits like lime, oranges etc.

  • Fresh, very young and crispy beet greens can be used raw in salads.

  • Mature leaves and stalks are typically cooked or sautéed.

Safety profile

Just like other greens and brassica family vegetables, beet greens contain unusually high levels of oxalic acid. 100 g of fresh beetroot leaves compose of 0.67 mg of this compound. Oxalic acid is a chelating compound and binds to minerals like calcium, phosphorous, etc which then expelled unused from the body. Besides being anti-nutrient, oxalic crystals can cause kidney stones when eaten in large quantities for very long periods.

Because of its high vitamin K content, patients taking anti-coagulants such as warfarin encouraged to avoid these greens in the food. High vitamin K content in the beets tops further increases this vitamin concentration in the blood, which is what the drugs are attempting to lower. This effectively raises the dose of the drug and causes toxicity.

Beets leaves contain 0.2 g/100 g of oxalic acid, a value far less than some other comparable greens such as spinach (0.97 g/100) and purslane (1.31 g/100 g). It may be used; however, with caution, even in individuals with known oxalate urinary tract stones. Adequate intake of water is advised to maintain normal urine output. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further resources:

1. Beets-www.nr.gov.nl.ca/nr/agrifoods/crops/veg_pdfs/beets.pdf?.

2. USDA National Nutrient Database.

3. University of Illinois Extension-Watch your garden grow.

4. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition-Betaine in Human nutrition.

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