Love Beetroot? You Will After Reading This
Beetroot is one of the most powerful medicinal foods. It provides minerals such as potassium and magnesium, is a good source of folate and an antioxidant red pigment called betanin, yet provides only 36 kcals per 100g; the calories are mostly in the form of sucrose sugar which adds a welcome touch of sweetness to their unique, earthy flavour.
Beetroot’s true medicinal secret lies in its high content of nitrates. When you drink beetroot juice and chew the root – whether raw or cooked – these nitrates are rapidly converted into nitrites by bacteria in your mouth. When absorbed into your circulation, these nitrites are used to make nitric oxide – a cell-signalling molecule which dilates small blood vessels so your blood pressure falls.
Drinking 250ml beetroot juice every day for a month can lower a raised blood pressure by 7.7/5.2 mmHg on average – a response that’s at least as good as many prescribed antihypertensive drugs. In fact, drinking just 70ml beetroot juice can reduce your resting blood pressure by 2% - a small but useful effect. What’s more, the benefits start within one hour, reach a maximum at four hours, and are still evident 24 hours later. If you have a raised blood pressure and like the flavour of beetroot, this could even reduce your need for extra medication.
If you prefer to eat beetroot rather than drinking it, 200g cooked or grated beetroot contains a similar level of nitrates to 500ml beetroot juice. Swill the juice around your mouth, and chew the root thoroughly, before swallowing, to maximise your production of beneficial nitrites.
If you’re a keen sports person, adding beetroot to your diet can also improve your exercise performance. Nitrites make your skeletal muscles more efficient at burning fuel, to reduce the amount of oxygen you need during activities such as walking, running, swimming or rowing. When drinking beetroot juice 3 hours before exercise, cyclists shaved 1% to 2% off the time taken to cycle trial distances of between 4km and 16km, for example. Adding beetroot to your diet could provide a competitive edge.
How to add beetroot to your diet
You can dice beetroot before roasting or steaming but boil beetroot whole, in their skins, or you’ll lose much of their medicinal benefits into the cooking water. Cooked beetroot can be pickled with balsamic vinegar, or mixed with spring onions, chickpeas or beans as a salad. Grate or spiralise raw beetroot for salads. Raw beetroot can also be juiced or added to smoothies. Concentrated beetroot juice is available for dilution which makes drinking a daily glass much easier. Beetroot crisps are also available as a healthy snack.
NB Beetroot’s red, antioxidant pigment, betanin, can cause a temporary, harmless, red discolouration of urine (beeturia) so don’t freak out if you up your intake of this divine vegetable and notice this effect.
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