Nutritious, great value and often locally grown, the root vegetable is frequently overlooked by people looking for super foods. But beneath the knobbly humble surface lies a nutritional storehouse which will boost your health and wellbeing.
Because they grow underground root vegetables appear to absorb high levels of minerals and other nutrients from the soil. An excellent source of protein, generally high in vitamin C, beta carotene and other minerals, rich in antioxidants which fight off winter bugs, they also have low levels of fat and are low in calories. Root veg are invaluable for winter nutrition as their nature means they grow in abundance, store well and are also cheap to buy. If you want to buy, cook and eat seasonally, now is your best chance.
Our most familiar root veg are standard orange carrots, potatoes, onions, swede, parsnips and turnips. But the range extends much wider to celeriac, the original purple carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, beetroot, sweet potato and more. All are high in complex carbohydrates which means the digestive tract works harder to digest the sugars. When combined with their high fibre levels our bodies produce a steady flow of energy. Add some root vegetables to your shopping list this week and here’s some of the benefits they can bring:
Carrots. One of the richest sources of beta carotene, a potent antioxidant which fights disease-causing free radicals. Just one large carrot each day will increase your beta carotene levels and give your body a fighting chance against those winter bugs. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that a compound found in carrots was able to reduce the risk of cancer in rats by a third. The compound falcarinol is the same which protects carrots from fungal diseases. Eating 2-3 medium carrots each day reduces the chance of lung cancer by more than 40 percent, while eating raw carrots has been shown to reduce women’s chance of developing breast cancer by up to eight times. In fact, a study from the Netherlands showed that carrots were the single most risk-reducing vegetable against heart disease.
Onions. The health benefits of onions seem endless. Anti-carcinogenic, anti-bacterial, antiviral and packed with antioxidants, they are also high in vitamin C, calcium, iron and protein. Onions are good for treating and preventing many health conditions including colds and flu, asthma, insomnia, obesity, heart disease and cancer. A general rule is that the strongest tasting onions contain more nutrients. Red onions generally contain higher levels of antioxidants, quercitin (a powerful free radical) and thin the blood more effectively. Aim for 3 onions each week for optimal anti-cancer benefits. A recent study also found the outer layers of onions have the most nutrients so be prudent with your peeling.
Sweet potatoes. With a lower glycemic index (GI) than regular white potatoes, sweet potatoes release sugar over a longer period of time, diminishing your sweet cravings and keeping you feeling fuller for longer. One of nature’s super foods, they are one of the most highly ranked vegetables on the nutrition scale with many studies establishing their health benefits. One medium-sized sweet potato contains just 95 calories and provides 20 percent of your vitamin C. Roasting or making into soup is the most popular way to enjoy them. Add some butter or oil and you will also absorb more beta carotene.
Beetroots. Full of health benefits, this red root is reported to help improve digestion by increasing stomach acid levels. This may help prevent bloating, control bacterial growth and prevent food intolerances. Recent studies also found that beetroot juice may increase stamina during aerobic exercise, while other research suggests it may lower post-workout fatigue levels as less oxygen is used during the workout.
Turnips. Not just for farm animals, this starchy vegetable provides only a third of the calories you get from potatoes. The high levels of vitamin C in turnips creates a powerful anti-inflammatory effect which can decrease the risk of many serious conditions including asthma, heart disease and cancer. Liquid from boiled turnips is a traditional remedy against respiratory condition. Turnips also protect your body by lowering cholesterol, fighting free radicals and aiding detoxification. Don’t forget the turnip greens either: they could be considered one of the world’s super foods. They outscore all cruciferous veg for total glucosinolates (anti-cancer phytonutrients) as well as calcium levels 4 times higher. Use turnips to bulk out soups and stews or eat raw, as a snack.
Swede. Low in calories and carbs yet big on bulk, swede are an ideal food for slimmers. You won’t need much to reap high doses of vitamins either. Just one cup of cubed swede contains 60 percent of your RDA of vitamin C, 13 per cent RDA of potassium, all with just 50 calories. The yellow colour of swedes shows they also contain anti-cancer phytochemicals. Try them roasted, in a pot or soup or diced into salad. They’re also great mashed with sweet potatoes for a double-whammy of nutrients.