Turnips vs Beets: Which is Healthier?

Turnips and beets are both root vegetables that many people enjoy eating as part of a healthy meal.

Both beets and turnips are popular vegetables that can be eaten either raw or cooked.

We discuss how these two vegetables are different in terms of their nutritional value and health benefits.

Overview of Turnips & Beets

The turnip plant has the scientific name Brassica rapa subspecies rapa. It is a cruciferous vegetable related to the cabbage plant, and in the same plant family, Brassicaceae (1). The taproot, leaves, and stems of the turnip are eaten.

Turnip greens refer to the leaves and stems of the plant that people eat. The turnips can be eaten raw but often people prefer to cook them first. They can be boiled, steamed or cooked, and even added to salads (2).

Turnips grow all over the world where there is a temperate climate (3). The wild form of the turnip originated from Europe and the western regions of Asia.

Beets is the name used to refer to the beetroot plant, Beta vulgaris subspecies vulgaris. The taproot and leaves of the beetroot plant are both edible (4). Beetroot is a member of the family Amaranthaceae, which also includes chard, and spinach (5).

The wild-type beetroot plants are thought to have originally come from the Mediterranean region. Today, there are four cultivars of the original type of beetroot that are grown around the world as a vegetable crop (6). Like turnips, they grow best in temperate climates.

Beets are often eaten as part of a salad but are also steamed or roasted or even boiled. Similar to turnips, they can add many extra nutrients to a meal.

Nutritional Table Comparison

NutrientTurnip (raw) per 100gBeets (raw) per 100g
Calories (kcal)3243
Carbs (g)7.139.56
Sugars, including NLEA (g)0.816.76
Glucose (g)0.520
Fructose (g)0.290
Sucrose (g)00
Starch (g)00
Protein (g)1.51.61
Fiber (g)3.22.8
Sodium (mg)4078
Lipids (fats) (g)0.30.17
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (g)0.120.06
Monounsaturated fatty acids (g)0.020.032
Saturated fatty acids (g)0.070.027
Cholesterol (mg)00
Glycemic (GI) index6261
Vitamin A (IU)1160033
Vitamin B1 – thiamine (mg)0.070.031
Vitamins B2 – riboflavin (mg)0.10.04
Vitamin B3 – niacin (mg)0.60.334
Vitamin B5 – pantothenic acid (mg)0.380.155
Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine (mg)0.2630.067
Vitamin B9 – folate (µg)194109
Vitamin B12 (µg)00
Vitamin C (mg)604.9
Vitamin D (µg)00
Vitamin E (mg)2.860.04
Vitamin K (µg)2510.2
Lutein + zeaxanthin (µg)128000
Magnesium (mg)3123
Calcium (mg)19016
Potassium (mg)296325
Manganese (mg)0.4660.329
Phosphorus (mg)4240
Iron (mg)1.10.8
Zinc (mg)0.190.35
Selenium (µg)1.20.7
Copper (mg)0.350.075

The nutritional data in the above table are given for turnip greens and for raw beets. The data are obtained from the USDA website (7, 8). All nutrients are given as amounts present per 100g.

Turnips vs Beets Health Comparison

We use scientific studies and research to compare the nutrition and health benefits of turnips and beets. Both foods are full of useful vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. There are also plant compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids found in these vegetables, and they both have low amounts of saturated fatty acids.

Turnips Lower Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

Blood sugar control is crucial for good health. Studies on diabetic rats showed that turnip extract reduced the blood glucose level (9).

Regulation of blood glucose is important for good health. Diabetes is when this system of blood sugar control does not work properly (10).

Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) has severe consequences over the long term, often leading to kidney and vision problems. Uncontrolled excessively high blood sugar can even lead to limb amputation.

Diabetes can be helped by lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and a change in diet. Turnips can be helpful for diabetics because they have a lot of fiber and are low in carbohydrates (11). They have fewer carbohydrates and sugar present compared to beets.

Cholesterol is a significant factor when it comes to the development of atherosclerotic plaques in the blood vessels (12). Turnips and beets contain no cholesterol and small amounts of saturated fatty acids.

Turnips help decrease cholesterol in the bloodstream and the liver, helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems (13).

Turnsips Greens Help Keep the Eyes, Skin and Blood Healthy

Lutein and zeaxanthin are abundant in turnip greens. These nutrients are helpful in preventing eye disease, including slowing the development of macular degeneration (14).  

Turnips have much higher levels of vitamin A when compared with beets. This nutrient is essential for healthy eyesight (15) .  

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver. This is one reason it is safer to take this in through dietary sources rather than using dietary supplements (16).

A further function of vitamin A is in skin health. This vitamin promotes the ability of the skin to withstand pathogens (17). It does this by helping the skin make proteins that defend against infective organisms.

Vitamin C, which is also abundant in turnips, helps the skin to heal after an injury (18). Vitamin C is also important for the health of the immune system in general.

Both turnips and beets contain some vitamin K, but the vitamin K content of turnip greens is much greater. Vitamin K acts like a coenzyme and helps the cell reactions that form blood clotting factors (19). Without these clotting factors, our blood does not clot properly, meaning we could bleed too much from even a small cut.

Research suggests that vitamin K even helps reduce the risk of calcium deposits (calcification) in the blood vessels (20). Calcifications in the walls of the blood vessels are linked to heart disease.

Turnips also contain many B vitamins that are important in cellular reactions and in keeping the nervous system healthy (21).

Turnips Contain Lots of Antioxidants

Purple-colored turnips have the highest levels of anthocyanins (22). The tops of turnips also have many flavonoids present (23). Both these plant compounds are antioxidants that are beneficial for health.

Antioxidant plant compounds neutralize the harmful free radicals produced from chemical reactions in cells (24). Free radicals in cells are linked to diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (25).

Turnip greens have a lot of these beneficial nutrients present, including the flavonoid, quercetin (26). This plant chemical actually aids the cardiovascular system and reduces inflammation (27).

Beetroots Lower Blood Pressure and LDL Cholesterol

Studies show that consuming beets is beneficial for people who have elevated blood pressure (hypertension) (28).  Beets lower the systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure measured when the large, lower heart chambers (the ventricles), contract.

Beets contain nitrates that help in reactions to control hypertension (29). Hypertension is harmful because the increased pressure of the blood flow damages vessels of the circulatory system and puts strain on the heart, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke (30).

Beets also decrease the levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. Atherosclerosis involves LDL cholesterol and inflammation damaging the inner lining of blood vessels.

Researchers found that beet extract decreased LDL cholesterol by helping protect the endothelial layer (inner lining) of blood vessels (31).

Benefits Have Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Excess inflammation in the body has been linked to many diseases (32). Inflammation is responsible for tissue and organ damage when it is not properly regulated. Even diseases affecting the nervous system are linked to inflammatory responses (33).  

There is scientific evidence that beets play an anti-inflammatory role (34). The presence of the compound betaine in beets helps in this regard as it has anti-inflammatory properties (35).

The distinctive maroon color of the beetroot is due to the presence of betalains, which also have anti-inflammatory properties. and may help protect the liver and protect against cancer (36).

Beets contain many other helpful plant compounds like flavonoids and phenolic acids, as well as the phenols, ferulic and syringic acid (37).

Beets Help Your Nerves, Muscles and Bones

Beets contain a lot of potassium, which is one of the most important electrolytes you need in your body. Potassium and sodium ions work together to ensure nerve impulses are transmitted along the nerve fibers.

Low potassium in the body can be dangerous because it can result in abnormal heart rhythms. The heart is a muscular pump, that like other muscles in the body, relies on proper nerve function. Supplementing your diet with beets is, thus, beneficial, since it helps your nerves and muscles to work properly (38).

Besides potassium, there are other helpful minerals in beet such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, and iron. Calcium is also needed by the nervous system and helps us to form strong, healthy bones.

Beets contain many nutrients that aid in making strong bones. Nutrients like calcium, magnesium, manganese, and vitamin C are all helpful, and are found in beetroot.

Manganese, along with the other nutrients we have mentioned can also help reduce bone loss in older postmenopausal women (39).

Older adults are at higher risk of bone density loss leading to osteoporosis, which can result in bone fractures. Including food like beets can help because it is a nutrient-dense food that helps the body make bone tissue and helps the proper functioning of nerves and muscles.

Turnips vs Beets Taste

The taste of turnips varies depending on how mature the plant is. When eaten raw, turnips have a spicy flavor.

Some describe turnips as sweet once cooked, while others describe the taste as similar to what you expect when you eat potatoes (40).

The flavor may vary depending on the age of the turnip plant and, obviously, how the plant is prepared.

Beets have what many say is an earthy, but somewhat bitter taste. Some people describe raw beets as having a sweet taste (41).  Both beets and turnips add extra flavor to salads.

Turnip vs Beet Appearance  

The root of the turnip is a swollen white and purple bulb with a tapering, white end. The leaves and stems are green.

Turnip plants grow to between 12 to 18 inches in height and the bulbs are harvested when they are about 3 inches in size.

Beets have dark green leaves and a tapered root that looks similar to a carrot root. The root is dark and almost black in color.

The flesh inside the thick skin of the root is a dark maroon color. The stems of the beetroot plant are maroon and white in color, with maroon veins extending into the leaves.

Beet plants can grow as tall as 2 feet but are often harvested when they are smaller.  This is because the greens are more tender and tastier when the plant is harvested at a smaller size. The root of the plant grows up to 3 inches in diameter.

Which is Better?

Beets and turnips are both healthy vegetables that can add a lot of nutrients and fiber to your diet. Both contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds, and are low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol.

Turnips, in general, are better because they contain less sugar and have higher numbers of vitamins than beets. The turnips also help with lipid metabolism, meaning they help reduce fat buildup in the liver and lower LDL cholesterol.

The large quantities of vitamin A and vitamin K are a big benefit with turnips. Beets have much lower concentrations of these two vitamins. Additionally, turnips have a lot of lutein and zeaxanthin, both substances that help keep your eyesight in good shape as you age.

Beets, though, are also useful since they, like turnips, contain anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals such as flavonoids and helpful minerals. You can experiment and use different ways to prepare and include both beets and turnips in your diet

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