Thursday, February 11, 2010

And the beet goes on

So I know there aren’t a lot of beet lovers out there. I’m asking a lot to get you to like brussel sprouts AND beets. Let me say, however, that I am a fanatic. A freshly cooked beet tossed up with some lemon is the epitome of richness, sweetness and deliciousness. And not to get too grossly personal, but every time I eat beets, I think I have a urinary tract infection. My pee turns bright red. Does this happen to anyone else?

Studies show that yes, beeturia, as it is so lovingly referred to in the medical world, occurs in approximately 14% of the population. (On a side note, I just love how they named it beeturia. When you pee blood this is called hematuria; hemat- for blood and –uria for urine. I guess the medical term for beet…is beet!)

While having beeturia might seem of minor consequence, and the majority of the time it is, in some cases it can indicate something more serious. Back in the 60s when beets were groovy, British scientists studied the incidence of beeturia in patients that had no known medical problems, those with iron deficiency anemia, those with pernicious anemia (this is anemia from the inability to absorb vitamin B12 in the gut), and those with malabsorption syndromes1. They found that the incidence of beeturia was only about 14% in healthy people but around 40% for anemic or malabsorptive patients.

This phenomenon was further explored. After a group of scientists experimented on 100 impoverished grad students, starving them, feeding them liquid beets and collecting their pee in a jug, it was found that high stomach acidity and long stomach emptying time can greatly impede absorption of beet pigments2. The rest of this data was gathered through rat models. Other things that stop beet pigment absorption include intestinal iron compounds, which explain why anemia can cause beeturia3.

So, if you eat beets and you have beeturia should you freak out? Probably not; most people with beeturia have a genetic predisposition to it. If you are concerned however, you could go to your doctor and say that you read something on the internet written by a medical student that you might have anemia. Doctors love that. (Like the time in my second year of medical school that I was convinced that my fiancé had this horrible autoimmune disease ankylosing spondilitis which causes your back to fuse together and gives you horrible arthritis, just because he had back pain. He went to the doctor all freaked out, and of course he just had some muscular strain. He did two stretches and felt better.)

And if you’re not sure if you have beeturia, there’s only one way to find out. Only through experimentation of consumption can the truth be gained. So, I challenge you to make this colorful, fragrant beet recipe which is citrusy, nutty and creamy, and report back to me. Even if you hate beets, do it for the name of science.

4-5 medium beets
Juice of one lime and one lemon
2 tbs unsweetened almond butter (you can buy this at Trader Joe’s it’s like peanut butter but with almonds; if you can’t find it you could just use a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped up toasted almonds)
1 medium clove of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt (plus salt to cook the beets)
One ripe medium avocado

Rinse the beets (or scrub that) if they are particularly dirty. Fill a medium to large pot halfway with water. Salt the water. Cut beets in half and boil over medium high heat with covered lid for about 40 minutes or until beets are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. When beets are ready, rinse with cold water and peel with hands. Beets should peel easily and your hands will turn a beautiful crimson color (if they don’t peel easily use a vegetable peeler). Dice beets into medium sized cubes.

Dice avocados into medium sized cubes. To make dressing, mix lemon and lime juice with almond butter, garlic and salt in small bowl or glass. Then add olive oil. Dress salad and toss gently (don’t make too much fuss or the avocados will get mashed up). Enjoy!

1) WATSON, W., LUKE, R., & INALL, J. (1963). BEETURIA: ITS INCIDENCE AND A CLUE TO ITS MECHANISM. British Medical Journal, 2(5363), 971-3.

2) Watts, A., Lennard, M., Mason, S., Tucker, G., & Woods, H. (1993). Beeturia and the biological fate of beetroot pigments. Pharmacogenetics, 3(6), 302-11.

3) Eastwood, M., Nyhlin, H. (1995). Beeturia and colonic oxalic acid. QJM : monthly journal of the Association of Physicians, 88(10), 711-7.


  1. Well, I have had beeturia, and this is the first time I have ever come close to worrying about it. Okay, I was not really worried. Didn't even realize that it had a name. But if you eat red, you turn red. You eat blue, you turn blue. Sounds logical.

    The kind of beets you eat is a crucial decision. Our local biodynamic farmer produces roundish beets that are very sweet, and he said that they do not have the best yield or the best keeping ability but they taste the best. The long thin types taste more like the dirt from whence they came.

    I also read somewhere that raw beets do not produce as much beeturia, perhaps because the enzymes are still intact, but I cannot find any references to back this up.

    Well, got to get to sleep soon. I am beat.

  2. My friend, I love to tead you in english!!!

  3. sorry... it's READ no TEAD...