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Healthy snacks

January 2, 2018

Should you be adding more beetroot to your diet?

Image credit: iStock/Lisovskaya

Beetroot isn’t exactly a staple food for many people. You might have seen athletes drinking the bright red juice, or put the occasional slice into your salad, but for the most part it tends to be overlooked. However, this unassuming purple root is a surprisingly healthy ingredient.

Whether you’re looking to improve your wellbeing, get fitter or simply feel better, beetroot can help. It’s surprisingly versatile as well, so there’s plenty you can do with it. Here are some of the health benefits of beetroot:

 

Nutritional content

First of all, beetroot is simply an incredibly healthy foodstuff. It is low in calories and contains next to no fat, while also being high in fibre to aid with your digestion. It’s also full of potassium and manganese, two essential minerals that your body needs.

 

Lower blood pressure

Beetroot contains a high concentration of chemicals called nitrates. While that might not sound particularly appetising, it’s thought that these chemicals can help with high blood pressure. It’s believed that the body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, which in turn is thought to lower blood pressure.

This hasn’t been proven in a major long-term study, but there have been several smaller experiments that have yielded positive results. A review of the evidence found that drinking beetroot juice was indeed associated with a small drop in blood pressure. However, it is not a cure-all, so see your doctor if you are suffering from high blood pressure.

 

Glutamine

One of the main health benefits of eating beetroot comes from glutamine. Beetroot is one of the richest sources for this chemical, which is one of the amino acids that the body uses to make proteins. However, glutamine is responsible for a huge array of tasks, and eating more of it can improve your health in a number of ways.

It’s thought that glutamine can aid the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream, as well as strengthening the immune system. It also plays a vital role in removing toxic ammonia from the body. You will naturally produce glutamine, but in many cases the body experiences a loss of it, such as after intense exercise. In these cases, it will need topping up.

 

Exercise

David Weir, multiple gold medal-winning Paralympian, once ascribed his success to taking a shot of beetroot juice before his races. While you might not see similar levels of success, it seems likely that beetroot does indeed benefit athletic performance when consumed.

The evidence suggests – according to a 2013 review – that drinking beetroot juice can lead to moderate improvements in exercise performance. However, the study noted that this improvement dropped off at the upper levels, meaning that if you are already a good athlete then you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference.

 

How to eat more beetroot

So we know how healthy beetroot can be, but how do you eat more of it? You can’t just have it in a salad for every meal, after all. One of the classic ways to serve this tasty bit of veg is in a soup, which is a specialty of Russia and certain eastern European countries, where it is commonly called borscht.

While you can eat it raw – or commonly pickled – beetroot can also be cooked for a strong, earthy taste. You can roast it in the oven to go with fish or meat, or even make a tart out of it with some goat’s cheese and caramelised onions. You will be surprised how versatile it can be.

 

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