The deep purple colour of beetroot, or beet, is unmistakable, whether it is being eaten raw, grated into salads, or pureed into smoothies or soups. However, it is not just the attractive appearance that makes beetroot such an appealing ingredient, it is packed full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, making it one of the healthiest foods available.
Beetroot is part of the Amaranthaceae family, and was first cultivated by the Romans. Both its leaves and the big round root of the plant are edible and commonly eaten. However, beetroot is also known for its use as dye or as a medicinal plant. Popularity for the plant comes in surges, as more of its nutritional benefits are recognised. Popularity for beetroot is on the rise again, perhaps due to its versatility as an ingredient, which can be eaten raw, roasted, pickled and boiled, and because it is relatively easy to grow.
Alfred Vogel recognised its health benefits many years ago and he regularly took a juice mix of 60% beetroot, 30% carrot and 10% cabbage. It is no wonder that beetroot is becoming so popular again, as it is an excellent source of manganese, iron, potassium and fibre.
Though most people associate beetroots with the dark red-purple bulbous root, many varieties, colours and sizes exist. Red or purple varieties of beetroot are the most common, although white, yellow and even stripy beetroot are available.
Each variety of beetroot has its own properties, with some, such as ‘Bull’s Blood’ being grown primarily for the leaves, while others, such as Golden beetroot, are cultivated for their milder and sweeter flavour. Some varieties, such as the Little Ball are very small but are soft and tender in texture.
In general, ideal growing condition and time does not vary dramatically between varieties, and thankfully neither do the nutritional benefits of the plant.
Both the leaves and the root of beetroot are highly nutritious. The leaves are an excellent source of vitamins A, B6, C and K, as well as being rich in iron, potassium and magnesium. The leaves are very low in calories, making them an excellent source of nutrients while on a low-calorie or low-fat diet. The root itself is also very high in vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
100g beetroot leaves serving:
22 kcal, 2.2g protein, 0.13g fat, 4.33g carbohydrate, 3.7g fibre
100g beetroot root serving:
44 kcal, 1.7g protein, 0.2g fat, 10g carbohydrate, 2g fibre
Beetroot leaves are high in vitamin A, a vitamin known for its benefits for improving eye health, vitamin K, important for bone health, and vitamin C, for boosting the immune system. The leaves are actually higher in iron than spinach leaves. Iron is important for making red blood cells and for carrying oxygen around the body, making them good for those with anaemia fatigue. This also helps to boost your immune system.
The root itself contains phytonutrients called betalins. These have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification effects. These betalins gradually diminish when the beetroot is being heated, so it is most beneficial when the beetroot is raw or has not been steamed for more than 15 minutes, or roasted for more than an hour. Betalins allow toxins in the body to be bound to other molecules which are then transported out of the body. This helps to cleanse the system and support the liver.
Beetroot is becoming more and more popular among athletes as it has been shown to lower blood pressure and boost stamina. This is because it contains high levels of nitrites, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Athlete or not, this helps to relax blood vessels, improving blood flow and circulation.
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