This Nutritionist Uses a Surprising Heart-Healthy Ingredient in Her Red Velvet Cupcakes

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on February 8, 2018Written by Maggie Michalczyk, RDN on February 8, 2018
Red Velvet Cupcakes

Move over, red velvet cake mixes and dyes — this Valentine’s Day, we’re making hearts skip a beat with beets. After all, they say the stomach is the way to the heart, and in this case, it’s really true!

Since I’m a dietitian, people have caught on that my party treats are bound to have a hidden vegetable somewhere. And I’ve learned the trick for incorporating beets into cupcakes or other baked goods like brownies, pancakes, and cookies: beet powder!

Made from ground, dry beets, beet powder still contains the powerful nutrients and antioxidants of the whole vegetable. It’s also gluten-free and a great alternative for artificial red food dyes. Moms who want to vary up their kids’ nutrition sources can easily add a serving of this functional powder into soups and baked goods, including desserts.

Here are a couple of other reasons why you simply can’t “beet” the benefits found in beets.

1. Beets help keep blood pressure in check

According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure — a staggering statistic, especially since high blood pressure is a precursor to other diseases, including heart failure. Combat your risk by adding beets, which contain a high amount of nitrates.

Nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This is a molecule that relaxes and dilates blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow freely through them, which keeps your blood pressure from getting high. Nitric oxide also helps your body use oxygen more efficiently.

In one study, 20 older adults with heart failure drank beet juice daily for one week, in addition to their diet. Researchers found the study participants had a reduction in their blood pressure.

2. Beets boost the immune system

Beets are high in vitamin C, the vitamin we all turn to at the first sign of a cold coming on. This is because it works to strengthen our immune system. Incorporating vegetables like beets, peppers, and spinach into your vegetable repertoire before any signs of the sniffles is great, especially in the winter.

Add beets to salads, grain bowls, or simply roast them for a vegetable medley. Better yet, turn your smoothie pink in the spirit of Valentine’s Day by adding roasted beets to your blender with other fruits and vegetables.

3. Beets can help rev up your endurance

Whether you’re a serious athlete or just want to beat your last record, start including beet juice in your diet and watch as your endurance kicks into high gear. It’s not magic, but it is the power of those nitrates (as mentioned above) that contribute to better stamina. They work by increasing the efficiency of the mitochondria in your cells. These are the cell’s energy powerhouse.

In a study of 10 cyclists who drank concentrated beet juice two to three hours before moderate cycling, the cyclists didn’t have to use as much oxygen as usual. In other words, it took less energy to cycle at the same pace. So, drink up!

Heart “beet” cupcakes

On Valentine’s Day, show that special someone you love them with cupcakes that also have a delicious boost of nutrition. This recipe for heart “beet” cupcakes is easy to make and a smart alternative to prepackaged and artificially flavored desserts. Trust me when I say this recipe is one of my favorite ways to incorporate beet powder.

I like the beet powder from Live Glean, a company that makes vegetable-based flours. They’re also dedicated to giving back to communities in need. (Note: I do not receive compensation from Live Glean for mentioning their product.)

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 12 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup beet powder
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup almond milk

Optional

  • vanilla frosting (I use one that’s also free from dyes that can be found at most grocery stores)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  2. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix beet powder and coconut oil until combined. Add vanilla extract and sugar to mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt. Alternate adding almond milk and flour mixture into the large bowl with the beet powder. Mix until combined.
  5. Use a cookie scoop to scoop batter into cupcake pan.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes. To check that cupcakes are done, poke them with a toothpick and make sure it comes out clean. If you’re frosting the cupcakes, wait until they’re cool.

Bake up a batch to show someone how much you care for their health — and heart, too!


Maggie Michalczyk is a registered dietitian and the voice behind @onceuponapumpkin. Her blog and Instagram are dedicated to all things pumpkin, all year long. Maggie received her bachelor’s in dietetics from Michigan State University, and completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Chicago. With experience in nutrition communications, Maggie loves sharing nutrition messages to help others live healthier lives. When she’s not in the kitchen making healthy desserts, Maggie’s out trying a new workout class or drinking kombucha.

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