I absolutely adore the colours of a beetroot – the deepest, darkest purple, the shocking pink that it lends to soups or juices, the sunset golden yellow or even garish candy stripes of our heritage varieties. Beetroot is a truly beautiful vegetable, but perhaps has been somewhat tainted in our minds by thoughts of soggy vacuum-packs, or overly punchy pickled varieties.
Farmers and gardeners alike start to sow beetroot in early spring, and successive planting from then on means that we are supplied with these fresh, vibrant orbs all the way until November / December. Plus did you know that mature raw beetroot actually keeps for several weeks in a cool vegetable rack, so long as they are not damaged by washing? Just twist the leaves off (although don’t waste them, just use these like you would kale or spinach) and leave the roots a little muddy around the edges until needed.
The history of beetroot being used as a health promoting food goes back to Roman times, and there is now a great body of scientific evidence trying to answer what exactly the health giving benefits of beetroot are. It seems they are, quite frankly, little powerhouses.
As well as being packed full of beneficial phytonutrients, such as betalains, beetroots are rich in inorganic nitrates, which are thought to contribute to the formation of nitric oxide in our body. (1) Nitric oxide is a ‘messenger’ molecule, which relaxes the muscular walls of our blood vessels to improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure (2) (which is why nitrates are also used in some heart medications). This has lead to a lot of interest in the use of beetroot for heart health, but it may also be beneficial in other conditions too, including Type 2 diabetes and even dementia. (3)
Betalains are a group of pigments that are either red-violet in colour (like beetroot) or yellow-orange. They have been found to have great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities…and are what’s responsible for turning your pee a rather unusual shade of pink a few hours after eating beetroot! (3)
Beetroot juice (which is a good way to get a higher amount of those beneficial nitrates without eating kilos of filling beetroot) in particular has been very well researched, because it has a variety of promising effects on sports performance too, especially for endurance and recovery (4) (5).
All pretty promising. The only things to be wary of when consuming beetroot to be prepared for some rather alarming results when you go to the loo! Be conscious that it is quite sugary so if you are juicing it and adding in fruit and other sugary vegetables such as carrot, this packs quite a sugar punch. And you should also go easy on the amount of beetroot you eat (especially as ‘concentrated’ forms like crisps, smoothies or juices), if you suffer from low blood pressure or are on blood pressure medication. Apart from that, embrace and enjoy this fantastic little vegetable this October and beyond.
Beetroot & Squash Salad with a Hazelnut Dressing
Ingredients (Serves 2)
- ½ a squash, cut into half-moon slices
- a little coconut oil
- 3-4 medium beetroot scrubbed and cut into wedges
- 70 g feta, crumbled
- 50g rocket or salad leaves
For the hazelnut dressing
- handful (50g) of toasted hazlenuts
- small bunch (20g) parsley, finely chopped
- zest of 1 lemon
- juice of ½ a lemon
- 3-4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- pinch of salt flakes
- Preheat oven to 200.
- Toss the squash in coconut oil and roast on a shallow tray for 25-30 mins until browning. Do the same with the beetroots on a separate tray, so they do not stain the squash pink. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 5-6 minutes, until golden and allow to cool
- Chop the hazelnuts and mix with the rest of the dressing ingredients. This should be quite chunky.
- Arrange the squash and beetroot on a bed of rocket or leaves, crumble the feta over the top and drizzle with hazelnut dressing.
I love to balance the earthy taste of beetroot with something zingy like ginger. The addition of almond milk brings some morning protein and it really is the most spectacular colour!
Ingredients (Serves 1)
- ½ a medium raw beetroot, scrubbed not peeled
- ½ an apple, cored
- ½ a medium carrot, scrubbed not peeled
- 1cm piece (5g) ginger
- 150-200ml unsweetened almond or cashew milk
- A handful of ice to serve, optional
Roughly cut vegetables and blend until smooth.
Beetroot, Rosemary and Walnut Soda Bread (Gluten-free)
This is a really unusual way to boost your beetroot intake, plus there is nothing more joyful to see than a pink loaf of bread. Serve with a tasty soup or toasted for breakfast under a poached egg, this is a wonderful addition to your week.
- 250g gluten-free white flour
- 250g gluten-free brown bread flour
- 1½ tbsp baking powder
- 1 handful (50g) roughly chopped walnuts
- 1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- 2-3 medium beetroot (200g), steamed or baked then pureed
- 1 egg
- 180-200ml nut milk
- 1 tbsp apple cider-vinegar or lemon juice
- Pre-heat the oven to 180c fan. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
- Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another, reserving 20ml of the nut milk. Mix the dry into the wet ingredients, adding a little more nut milk as need to bring it together. It should be just wet enough to absorb the flours but dry enough to hold its shape.
- On a clean, lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a round loaf and make four cuts on top about 2 cm deep.
- Bake for about 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting open.
(1) Clifford, T., Constantinou, C.M., Keane, K.M., West, D.J., Howatson, G. and Stevenson, E.J. (2016) ‘The plasma bioavailability of nitrate and betanin from beta vulgaris rubra in humans’, European Journal of Nutrition, . doi: 10.1007/s00394-016-1173-5.
(2) Siervo, M., Lara, J., Ogbonmwan, I. and Mathers, J.C. (2013) ‘Inorganic nitrate and Beetroot juice Supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: A systematic review and Meta-Analysis’, Journal of Nutrition, 143(6), pp. 818–826. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.170233.
(3) Clifford, T., Howatson, G., West, D. and Stevenson, E. (2015) ‘The potential benefits of red Beetroot Supplementation in health and disease’, Nutrients, 7(4), pp. 2801–2822. doi: 10.3390/nu7042801.
(4) Hoon, M.W., Johnson, N.A., Chapman, P.G. and Burke, L.M. (2013) ‘The effect of nitrate Supplementation on exercise performance in healthy individuals: A systematic review and Meta-Analysis’, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 23(5), pp. 522–532. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.23.5.522.
(5) McMahon, N.F., Leveritt, M.D. and Pavey, T.G. (2016) ‘The effect of dietary nitrate Supplementation on endurance exercise performance in healthy adults: A systematic review and Meta-Analysis’, Sports Medicine, . doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0617-7.
Photo credit: Emma Godwin