Beets are more popular than their leaves, but those leaves—beet greens—contain a much higher proportion of nutrients.
Beet greens are the leaves of the Beta vulgaris plant, and they are a type of green leafy vegetable with purple veins.
In this article, we examine the full nutrition profile and potential benefits of beet greens.
First of all, here are the full nutritional values for beet greens per 3.5 oz (100-gram serving).
The nutrition data source is the USDA Food Composition Databases (1).
|Saturated Fat||0.02 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0.03 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.05 g|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||0.01 g|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||0.04 g|
|Vitamin K||400.0 mcg||333.3 %|
|Vitamin A||316 mcg RAE||35.1 %|
|Vitamin C||30.0 mg||33.3 %|
|Riboflavin (B2)||0.22 mg||16.9 %|
|Vitamin E||1.50 mg||10.0 %|
|Thiamin (B1)||0.10 mg||8.3 %|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||0.11 mg||6.5 %|
|Pantothenic Acid (B5)||0.25 mg||5.0 %|
|Folate||15.0 mcg||3.8 %|
|Niacin (B3)||0.40 mg||2.5 %|
|Choline||0.40 mg||0.1 %|
|Copper||0.19 mg||21.1 %|
|Manganese||0.39 mg||17.0 %|
|Magnesium||70.0 mg||16.7 %|
|Potassium||762.0 mg||16.2 %|
|Iron||2.57 mg||14.3 %|
|Sodium||226.0 mg||9.8 %|
|Calcium||117.0 mg||9.0 %|
|Zinc||0.38 mg||3.5 %|
|Phosphorus||41.0 mg||3.3 %|
|Selenium||0.90 mcg||1.6 %|
As shown, beet greens are primarily a source of carbohydrate (mainly fiber), and they offer a wide range range of essential nutrients.
Benefits of Beet Greens
Due to the nutrients and various compounds they contain, beet greens can have some beneficial health effects.
Excellent Source of Vitamin C
Beet greens are a good source of vitamin C, and they offer 30 mg per 100 grams, which is equivalent to 33% of the daily value.
Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant in the body, and it can help to scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative damage (2).
Additionally, the vitamin can help to regenerate (or “recycle”) oxidized vitamin E, enabling it to work as an antioxidant once more (3).
High In Nitrates
Beet greens contain large amounts of nitrates which convert to a compound called nitric oxide in the body (4).
Also, research suggests that nitrate may have benefits for sports performance.
Beet Greens Contain Large Amounts of Carotenoids
Beet greens contain a large concentration of carotenoids, which function as antioxidants in the body (12).
Specifically, beet greens contain the following carotenoids per 100 grams (13);
- Beta-carotene: 3794 mg
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: 1503 mg
However, it is worth noting that these carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds.
Therefore, consuming beet greens alongside a source of fat is ideal. This will make the carotenoids more bioavailable (14).
Beta-carotene absorption can be as high as 65% to as low as 5% in humans, and adding a source of fat helps improve absorption (15).
Notably, several systematic reviews have identified that higher plasma carotenoid levels may have benefits. For instance, higher carotenoid levels are inversely related to metabolic syndrome, chronic disease risk, and all-cause mortality (16, 17).
Regarding lutein and zeaxanthin, these carotenoids are thought to play a protective role in visual health.
For example, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials demonstrated that lutein and zeaxanthin might help to reduce the risk of developing cataracts (18).
However, the review pointed out that there is conflicting evidence, and further data is required for a more accurate picture.
Rich Source of Vitamin K
Like other leafy greens such as spinach, beet greens provide significant amounts of vitamin K.
Just 100 grams of beet greens offers more than 400 mcg of vitamin K, which is equivalent to more than 300% of the daily value for the vitamin (19).
There are two primary forms of vitamin K and these are phylloquinone (vitamin K1) and menaquinone (vitamin K2). Beet greens contain the former.
However, regarding bone and cardiovascular health, numerous studies have found that vitamin K1 is neither as bioavailable nor as effective as vitamin K2 (largely found in animal foods and fermented soy) (20, 21).
High In Fiber and Low In ‘Net Carbs’
Beet greens are among the most fiber-rich vegetables.
Per 100 grams, beet greens contain approximately 4.3 grams of carbohydrate and the vast majority of this—3.7 grams—is fiber.
As a result, primarily opting for higher-fiber carbohydrates, such as beet greens, may help to manage blood sugar levels.
The factors that affect cardiovascular risk are varied and complex, but studies consistently find that a lower ratio of non-HDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol is associated with reduced risk (28, 29, 30).
Beet Greens Are Nutrient-Dense and Contain Many Essential Nutrients
As shown in the nutritional values in the ‘nutrition facts’ section, beet greens are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.
On a per-100-gram basis, beet greens offer more than 10% of the recommended daily intake for the following nutrients;
- Vitamin K (333 % DV)
- Vitamin A Retinol Activity Equivalents (35 % DV)
- Vitamin C (33 % DV)
- Copper (21 % DV)
- Manganese (17 % DV)
- Magnesium (17 % DV)
- Riboflavin (17 % DV)
- Potassium (16 % DV)
- Iron (14 % DV)
- Vitamin E (10 % DV)
Despite offering all these nutrients, 100 grams of beet greens only contain 22 calories.
In other words, this green vegetable is very nutrient-dense.
In addition to their carotenoid content, research shows that beet greens contain a range of phytonutrients.
The table below provides a list of these compounds and their concentrations (31):
|Compound||Amount (mg per kg)|
Betalains (Betacyanin and Betaxanthin)
Betacyanins and betaxanthins are the two forms of betalain. Betalain is a reddish pigment in some plants, which we can see in the veins of beet greens.
There is a fair amount of evidence that these compounds may have positive effects on endurance and exercise efficiency.
For example, a randomized controlled trial recently looked at the potential benefits of betalain supplementation over seven days (32)
In this study, 100 mg of betalain per day for seven days led to a modest improvement in blood flow and exercise efficiency in twenty-eight trained cyclists.
Furthermore, another randomized trial showed that supplementation with 100 mg of betalain reduced heart rate (-3%) and perceived exertion (-15%) in thirteen competitive runners (33).
Based on the mg per kg betalain content of beet greens, 100 grams of the leaves would provide a significant 400 mg of betalain.
Concerns and Drawbacks
Although beet greens offer a lot of nutritional value, there are also some potential concerns to consider.
Beet Greens Contain Significant Amounts of Oxalate
First of all, beet greens are one of the most concentrated sources of oxalic acid, otherwise known as oxalate.
For instance, cooked beet greens contain approximately 916 mg of oxalate per half-cup serving (34).
We can find oxalate in a range of plant foods. The human body also synthesizes it endogenously (in the body) from amino acids, vitamin C, and glyoxal (35).
Non-excessive intake of oxalate is unlikely to be a problem for most healthy individuals.
Potential Interaction With Warfarin and Other Blood Thinners
As previously mentioned, beet greens are a rich source of vitamin K, providing more than 333 % of the daily intake.
Vitamin K is a cofactor in the production of carboxyglutamate, which plays a role in coagulation (blood clotting) (41).
However, some individuals at risk of harmful blood clots (which can potentially cause a heart attack or stroke) may be prescribed blood thinners. These medications include drugs such as Warfarin, which have anti-coagulation properties (42).
These medications have this effect by interfering with the metabolism of vitamin K to prevent its impact on blood-clotting (43).
For these reasons, dietary advice has in the past advised to limit foods rich in vitamin K intake when using such medications.
That said, a recent systematic review of eleven human clinical trials found that there is no “firm evidence” that dietary vitamin K interferes with the anti-coagulating effects of these drugs (44).
However, the researchers noted that it might be prudent to maintain stable vitamin K intake and to avoid wide changes in vitamin K consumption.
How To Use and Cook Beet Greens
For those that haven’t used beet greens before and wonder what to do with them, here are some simple ideas on how to use them.
- Salad: Beet greens work well chopped up in salads. However, they have a very strong taste in their raw form, and using a salad dressing improves their flavor. For a healthy dressing; olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper is a good combination.
- Leaf wraps for meat: in recent years, Korean BBQ (barbecued meat with condiments, wrapped in leaves) has risen in popularity. There are all kinds of different leafy greens that we can use to wrap meat in this way, and beet greens are one. Just put some meat and your favorite condiments on the leaf, wrap, and eat.
- Sauteed: Sauteing beet greens in some butter or oil with garlic and onions is a quick and flavor-enhancing way to cook the leaves. Additionally, the fat content will help increase the absorption of carotenoids.
Overall, beet greens are an excellent source of many vital nutrients, and they are among the most nutrient-dense vegetables.
In addition to this, their betalain and carotenoid content may offer some further benefits.
While some individuals may have concern over their oxalate content, they are a nutritious choice for the majority of people.
For more on different vegetables, see this overview of 56 common vegetables.