Low profile beetroot is sadly neglected among British vegetables. Not only does it impart its lush purple colour to dishes, but health benefits of beetroot are hard to beat. It’s a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen and eaten roasted, pickled or in soup, is packed with vitamins, minerals and masses of anti-oxidants along with being low in fat.
The history and health benefits of beetroot
The ancient Romans knew how to cultivate vegetables. Many of our most popular vegetables were brought to us by them, including beetroot. Beetroot’s high point commercially came in the 19th century with the discovery that sugar could be made from beets. France, Germany, Poland, Russia and the USA are all now large commercial producers of beetroot but many of the most famous recipes are Eastern European in origin, such as the famous borscht soup.
Along with its earthy, distinctive taste, beetroot nutritional values have seen this previously underrated vegetable become the trend in modern restaurants. Coming from the chard and spinach families, you can eat both the root and leaves of the beet plant, however the bulbous root has a sweet flavour compared to the rather bitter leaves. Famous for its deep purple colouring, white and golden beetroot can also be eaten. Although it can be eaten raw, cooked and pickled beetroot is more common.
All of the beetroot plant holds nutritional value but the greens pack a really healthy punch, with high levels of iron, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. The plant is also rich in folic acid, fibre, potassium and manganese.
Using the health benefits of beetroot
Beetroot has a long history of being used in medicinal recipes. Its main function has been to stimulate detoxification of the liver. That deep purple colour is the result of betacyanin, a powerful ingredient alleged to have cancer preventing properties.
With its high fibre content, beetroot is great for keeping you regular and can have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Specifically, beetroot fibre has been shown to raise the body’s levels of antioxidant enzymes and white blood cells, which help to defend the body against infection. Beetroot also contains plenty of the amino acid glutamine, useful for maintaining a healthy intestinal tract.
Some research has shown that foods rich in nitrate, including beetroot, can help to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks thanks to an ability to lower blood pressure.
A word of warning: some beetroot eaters may find themselves suffering from the side effect beeturia, which is a harmless condition resulting in red or pink urine and stools!