Can you eat sugar beets?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat sugar beets?” and discuss what is the recommended form to cook sugar beets in order to preserve its nutrients.

Can you eat sugar beets?

Yes, you can eat sugar beets. Sugar beets are used to make a variety of products, including table sugar, molasses, and animal feed. 

Besides sugar yield and bio-fuel based energy generation, sugar beets can also provide many value-added co-products like human nutrition (1).

What are the benefits of eating sugar beets?

The benefits of eating sugar beets are their high amount in dietary fibers. 

Sugar beet pulp contains cellulose and other polysaccharides, such as pectin, recognized for its beneficial health effects such as to lower blood glucose and cholesterol, increase satiety leading to lower caloric intake and improve insulin resistance (2). 

The ingestion of pectin is related to the reduction of constipation and improved bowel movement, as well as beneficial effects to the gut microbiota. These effects are attributed to pectin’s ability to form a gel-like viscous solution, which swells and increases the bowel volume. 

Sugar beet fiber (the dried pulp or residue of beets after the sugar has been extracted) contains nearly 20% soluble fiber, most of which is pectin. The consumption of fibers contributes to satiety and can prevent or reduce obesity.

What are the risks of eating sugar beets?

The risks of eating sugar beets are the possible high amount of heavy metals in their composition. 

Although sugar beet typically contains about 18% of sugar in its composition, there is no risk of developing diabetes or obesity when sugar beet is consumed moderately, due to its high amounts of fibers. On the other hand, metal residues such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead were reported to be found in the beet (6).

The exposure to heavy metals may cause oxidative stress (rising level of oxidative damage in a cell) which destroys lipids, proteins and DNA molecules, and supports carcinogenesis. 

The absorption of heavy metals through ingestion, aspiration and skin absorption are related to increased risks of developing cardiovascular disease, impairment of kidney function, neurological problems, anemia, insomnia, and osteoporosis.

How should beets be prepared for optimal health?

The best way to prepare beets is by boiling, according to studies. Although it is not expected that the ingestion of sugar beets increases the risks of diabetes, they provide sugar, which may increase the glycemic levels in blood after its consumption.

Steaming or boiling may be positive for diabetic subjects. Studies indicate that the glycemic index of tubers varies significantly with the method of preparation. As an example, samples of sweet potatoes prepared by boiling had the lowest GI (41–50), while those processed by baking (82–94) and roasting (79–93) had the highest GI values (5). 

On the other hand, for an optimal flavor, frying, baking and roasting are indicated. The pleasant taste and aroma of roasted or fried tubers or cereals are provided by the Maillard reaction, which is promoted by high temperature and low moisture content. 

The products of the Maillard reaction include melanoidin pigments, which are complex polymers that are responsible for the brown color. The reaction also provides complex mixtures of compounds that impart flavor and aroma and, therefore, occurs mainly in cooked foods prepared by frying, baking and roasting (4).

How to store sugar beets?

To properly store sugar beets, you should keep them in a cool dry place at temperatures between 5°C and 10°C.

Sugar beets do not seize their respiration once harvested. The longer they are stored, the higher are the losses of moisture and sugars through their active metabolism. Therefore, the temperature is one of the main factors determining the shelf life of sugar beets.

According to studies, extreme temperature is the most common cause of high post-harvest loss rates. While high temperatures during storage lead to high respiration rates and loss of sugar, longer periods of sub-zero temperatures can cause beets to freeze and lose all value in processing (7).

Is it safe to consume beet leaves?

Yes, the leaves of sugar beets are safe to consume. The leaves and stems are edible and may be used in place of spinach, swiss chard, or bok choy in recipes. Vegetables are versatile and may be prepared in a variety of ways.

Leaves are rich in minerals (Ca, Cu, Fe, Mg, Mn, P, Zn, Si), vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K, U), phytochemical substances (carotene, chlorophyll, coumarins, isoflavones) and secondary metabolites (phytoestrogens like isoflavones and coumestrol) and fibers. Some of these compounds are recognised as nutraceuticals with a beneficial effect on human’s health (3).


In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat sugar beets?” and we discussed what is the recommended form to cook sugar beets in order to preserve its nutrients.


  1. Duraisam, Ramesh, Ketemaw Salelgn, and Abiyu Kerebo Berekete. Production of beet sugar and bio-ethanol from sugar beet and it bagasse: a review. Int J Eng Trends Technol, 2017, 43, 222-233..
  2. Jones, Melissa. Effects of soybean pectin on blood glucose and insulin responses in healthy men. University of Arkansas, 2015..
  3. Tenorio, Angelica Tamayo. Sugar beet leaves for functional ingredients. Diss. Wageningen University and Research, 2017.
  4. Halford, N. G., et al. Sugars in crop plants. Ann Appl Biol, 2010, 158, 1-25.
  5. Bahado-Singh, Perceval S., et al. Relationship between processing method and the glycemic indices of ten sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) cultivars commonly consumed in Jamaica. J Nutr Metab, 2011.
  6. Witkowska, Danuta, Joanna Słowik, and Karolina Chilicka. Heavy metals and human health: Possible exposure pathways and the competition for protein binding sites. Molecules, 2021, 26, 6060.
  7. English, William. Long term storage of sugar beets and the role of temperature. Introductory paper at the Faculty of Landscape Architecture, Horticulture and Crop Production Science 2020, 14.

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