Sunday, January 18, 2009

more on beets: are they high in sugar?

After posting my raw beet salad last weekend, I started seeing beet articles and recipes everywhere - kind of like when you buy a new car, and suddenly it seems like everyone on the road has the same model as you...

I know beets are in season in much of the country, but clearly, I am a trendsetter. However, this one post from the kitchn gave me pause, because it says that of all the vegetables, beets are highest in natural sugar...hmmm.

I didn't feel like the beets affected my blood sugar, but I did a little research anyway to see if I really should be eating them or not. (It's a recent like-affair I have with beets, anyway.) I found this website about glycemic index, which "ranks carbohydrates based on their rate of glycemic response." It's a little suspect in my book, though, because the list has Snickers bars ranked better than brown rice. I think we all intuitively know that can't be right. Way over to the side on the chart, you can see the "glycemic load" of the food, which is actually more useful than the "glycemic index" number because it factors in fiber content. If they had listed the foods according to glycemic load rather than glycemic index, people would not have been tempted into justifying that Snickers as healthy. Then there's the whole part of the site where they explain the limitations of the glycemic index, which are pretty significant due to the small test groups used to generate the rankings. As a result, widely varying - even anomalous or outlying - results have been averaged together along with the other measurements, and that's the number you see assigned to each food on the chart. As they point out, russet potatoes have scored as low as 56 and and high as 111. This would help explain why spaghetti (42) and macaroni & cheese (64) got such different rankings on the chart, which I thought was weird. You'd think the protein in the cheese would help the mac...otherwise what's the big difference? The main ingredients are pretty much the same before you add sauce. FYI, beets scored 64 on glycemic index and 4.3 on glycemic load - high in sugar carbs, but high in fiber with a lower glycemic load than either apples or bananas.

For me, the clincher is this statement: "And finally, different people have different insulin responses (i.e. produce different levels of insulin), even with an identical glycemic response. It seems to me that this fact captures the essence of hypoglycemia - having a body that doesn't react to sugar like everyone else's. That's why, even though I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist or whatever, I do OK just going by how I feel after I eat a given food. I don't have a chart with a magic number for each food, but I've learned a lot along the way. My verdict on beets: fine as a side dish, but I won't be going on any all-beet diets.

While I'm still on the beet topic (beeting this dead horse, you might say), here's an article from The New York Times that includes facts about beets being good for you (and under-recognized, apparently). And, here's Martha Stewart's recipe for Raw Beets with Orange Coriander Vinaigrette, which sounds pretty good. I love coriander, and the picture on the recipe is really beautiful (Martha would have it no other way, of course). I would skip the honey entirely, or use agave nectar instead. Honey has more sugar than sugar, if you know what I mean.

And, I know I'm always encouraging people to buy food that's grown locally, but I can't resist passing along this beet producer you may have heard of in Pennsylvania. If you're in the Scranton area, be sure to check this place out - it will be...unique.


  1. The easy reason why mac-n-cheese is higher glycemic than spaghetti is that they are talking about box mixes, not just macaroni to which cheese has been added. Check out the sauce on box mixes or even homemade "creamy" mac-n-cheese sauce, and you will find that it is essentially a gravy or white sauce with cheese melted in. White flour and/or cornstarch is the chief component. That metabolizes faster than pasta. Just FYI.

  2. Oh, and I join you in the Zeitgeist of Beets. I hated them passionately my whole life, and now at 36 I bought some at a farmer's market, and wish I had grown them in my own organic garden this year. I want to ferment them and make Borscht, pickle and can them, and eat them hot and steamy freshly slipped from their jackets... I'll be growing them next year!