Loved by celebrities, increasingly used by elite sportspeople, and historically thought to be worth its weight in silver, the finger-staining beetroot has come a long way from its humble roots. Apart from tasting wonderful, it is now touted by experts as one of the most important superfoods for athletes, and has many other health benefits.
Great for athletes
The benefits of drinking beetroot juice has made the news several times recently, particularly during the Olympics when beetroot juice ‘shots’ were supplied to members of Team GB in order to enhance athletic performance. The purple juice is fast becoming a staple in the professional sporting world as athletes, cyclists and footballers all over the world are embracing anything which may give them the edge, however small . devoted fans include Mo Farah, wheelchair champion David Weir, rugby player Ben Foden and marathon runner Helen Davies.
Described as ‘the sports nutrition story of the decade’, the excitement over beetroot is due to a series of studies over the last few years which have demonstrated its amazing properties. In 2009 a University of Exeter study found that beetroot juice boosts stamina by widening blood vessels, improving blood and oxygen flow to muscles, and reducing the amount of oxygen needed by muscles. Other studies have shown cyclists can cut seconds off their time.
The crucial nutrient in beetroot is nitrates. Nitrate comes from the soil and converts into nitrite in the body. Nitrates can also be found in several other vegetables including celery, cabbage and green leafy ones but beetroot juice has been shown to have particularly high concentrations.
It appears that the greatest benefits are reaped when you regularly drink 500ml of beetroot juice. The findings also suggest the benefits are more pronounced for someone doing short bouts of exercise such as runs under 30 minutes, but may be less effective for someone exerting themselves over a longer period, such as a marathon runner.
It is not only athletes who are reaping the benefits. Catherine Zeta Jonesapparently became addicted to beetroot after eating it during her pregnancy, Sara Cox loves snacks of pickled beetroot and actress Anna Friel loves beetroot, celery and dandelion juice. But beetroot is not only for athletes and celebrities – it is something all of us should be eating for our health. Here are just some of the benefits you can expect:
Packed full of nutrients.As well as containing potassium, magnesium, folic acid and iron, beets have very high levels of antioxidants including betacycnin, a potent anti-cancer agent, which gives beetroot its red colour. It is also virtually fat free and its low GL (Glycemic Load) means it helps to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Reduces blood pressure and the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Researchers in London found that drinking 500ml of beetroot juice a day significantly reduces high blood pressure for over 24 hours.The British Heart Foundation has also advised eating 1-2 cooked beetroot each day.
Helps fatigue. A professor at Torbay hospital stated that drinking beetroot juice means frail people may move around more easily without becoming breathless.
Libido-lifting. As far back as Roman times, beetroot has been used for its aphrodisiac properties.
Fights dementia. According to US scientists, the nitrates in beetroot increase blood flow to the brain which help to fight the progression of dementia.
Boosts immune system. With its remarkable range of vitamins , beetroot helps to fight infections and stimulate the production of new blood cells.
Mood lifter. A compound called Betaine boosts the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Even more reason to smile when you eat your beetroot.
So many benefits, it’s hard not to find a reason to greet the beet. But if you really can’t face the thought of drinking liquid beetroot, fear not . Although experts agree drinking juice in ‘shots’ is the best way to reap the benefits, eating 200g of cooked beetroot (about 4-5 baby beetroot) provides the same health benefits as drinking 500ml of juice.For those who really can’t face the earthy-tasting root in any form, you can get the same benefits from beetroot extract tablets.
Be creative and you will be surprised how easy it is to add beetroot to your cooking. Add it cooked or grated raw to salads or smoothies, roasted for an intense sweetness, or simply boiled and used in sandwiches. Or if you want juice but without the hassle and mess of juicing beetroots yourself, you can now buy cartons of pure beetroot juice.
Whether you eat it for its health benefits or its great taste, beetroot is undeniably a great food to add to your diet. So next time you’re tempted to ignore the red root, pop it in your trolley. Pink wee is surely a small price to pay for consuming this multi-talented veg!