Nutrition

Everything you never knew about beetroot

In Season: The Beetroot (Beta Vulgaris)

Resident blogger Megan Mclean reflects on beetroot’s magical history 

The beetroot, or “beet” as it’s commonly referred to, is actually comprised of two different sections: the taproot which is the main body of the vegetable, and the beet greens which are the colourful leaves shooting out of the top of the taproot.

Both parts of beetroot are edible and offer healing properties when consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet.

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For a vegetable of such magnificent ruby red, it’s only fitting that the beetroot has a somewhat magical history. According to ancient Assyrian texts, beetroots were farmed and consumed in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – in 800BC.

The Greeks were also fond of this earthy-flavoured vegetable – even if they did only eat the beet greens. The taproot section wasn’t wasted, however, as it was offered as a gift to the sun god, Apollo; used as a medicinal substance to heal wounds, and even as a laxative.

At this point in time, the beetroot is thought to have been more of a carrot-like shape, the rounded root evolving only after thousands of years of production. Other less whimsical sources state that the beetroot evolved from the wild seabeet off the coasts of India and Britain. These days you can find this love-hate vegetable very easily all over the world, especially in Europe, Scandinavia and Russia.

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For those who haven’t yet braved the bold flavours of the beetroot, what does the beet actually taste like? Well, taste varies enormously depending on preparation and cooking method, but the general consensus is that beets have a somewhat earthy or muddy taste about them.

It’s important to point out that this taste isn’t due to actual soil and the flavour will remain as strong as ever however hard you scrub at the surface. This taste is because of an organic compound within the beetroot called geosmin. There are two theories relating to geosmin: 1 – this compound is a by-product of beetroot metabolism, or 2 – it’s synthesised by micro-organisms within the soil, then taken up into the growing beet.

Either way, if the earthy taste and farm-like smell aren’t your cup of tea, try to avoid the peel as this contains six times more geosmin than the beet itself.

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What colour are beetroots? Most answers will be somewhere in the ball park of ruby red, perhaps a purple here and there. But, believe it or not, this blanket opinion isn’t true. There’s a whole secret world of varieties out there that UK supermarkets haven’t yet exposed us to. Here are some examples…

The Golden Beet – not quite as sweet as red beets but sometimes favoured because of their weaker, earthy taste and sunny appearance.

The Chioggia Beet – or ‘The Candy Cane Beet’ if we are going by appearance. Slicing into this beetroot reveals beautiful natural stripes inside with orange, yellow or red-white.

The Cylindra Beet – a red-pink colored variety that contains very little fibre, but with a surprisingly sweet taste, comparable to caramel.

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The Chioggia or Candy Cane Beet

So far, the beetroot is ticking boxes for both appearance and taste, so let’s look at the health benefits next:

Eye health

Beets contain high levels of biologically active compounds called phytochemicals which, in general, have strong evidence supporting their ability to help prevent disease. Eye-related diseases and their prevention using phytochemicals is one area of research that has shown promising results. It has been found that consuming a diet high in phytochemicals can prevent the progression of glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two phytochemicals of particular interest which can be found in abundance in beet greens, just 1 cup (340g) contains approximately 275g of lutein.

But the majority of the population are not consuming enough of these phytochemicals, despite the fact that benefits have been seen from taking just 10mg of lutein and 2mg of zeaxanthin a day and, with no upper toxicity level for either phytochemical, an occasional cup of beet greens will give you a spectacular health kick.

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Lowers risk of heart disease

Beets are a fantastic source of anti-inflammatory compounds that work by lowering the bodies level of homocysteine, an amino acid which can cause inflammation that damages our blood vessels and arteries. In particular folate, betaine, isobtanin and vulgaxanthin stand out as having excellent anti-inflammatories properties which could help prevent heart diseases such as atherosclerosis.

Improved blood flow   

The production of nitric oxide within our bodies may sound daunting at first, however research shows it has extensive health benefits, and lucky for us its production is triggered every single time you consume a beetroot.

Nitrates within the vegetable are converted to nitric oxide, which itself is a neurotransmitter with the ability to expand blood vessels and thus lower blood pressure.

Nitric oxide has a positive effect on our hearts not just from this drop-in blood pressure, but also from the increased blood flow through expanded blood vessels, potentially reducing the symptoms of clogged arteries, chest pain, angina and coronary heart disease.

Adding to this ever-lasting ode to nitic oxide is the fact that blood flow will not only be increased to the heart, but also to our brains. Studies carried out on older adults investigated the effects of a high-nitrate diet on mental functioning and concluded that there was increased flow of blood to the frontal lobes, meaning that incorporating high nitrate foods (including beets) in a diet may reduce the risk of dementia.

A word of caution 

But before you go jazzing up every salad with sliced Chioggia beet or drinking 500mls of beetroot juice on the way to bed every night, it must be advised that you should remain calm after visiting the toilet the next day.

Discoloured urine and stools are an unnegotiable side effect after eating any decent quantity of beetroot and are nothing to worry about at all!

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To add to the beetroot’s perfect track record of appearance, taste and health benefits, it’s also immensely versatile and can be eaten raw, cooked, pickled, juiced or as the main ingredient in the Eastern European soup – Borscht.

If boiling your beetroot, it is best to leave the peel on to prevent the loss of nutrients into the cooking water, once boiled the skins should fall away easily and the root can be sliced, pureed or diced. The highly nutritious beet greens can make a wonderful change from spinach when wilted down and eaten as a side.

Here are just a few ideas on how to incorporate beets into your meals and snacks –

  • Stir fried beet with roasted garlic and sesame oil
  • Wrap beets in tin foil and roast over heat (perfect for cooking on the campfire!)
  • Honey roasted beetroot and carrots
  • Beetroot brownies
  • Beetroot & mint hummus

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This information is all well and good for fresh beetroots pulled straight from the soil and unaltered until reaching our kitchens, but what about pickled beetroot?

Beetroots often don’t stay ripe for long which makes pickling an attractive preservation method for the vegetables shelf life and also many of its health benefits. Pickled beetroots are high in potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, fibre and are low in fat. Sodium intake must be kept in mind if eating this form of beetroot often, one cup (340g) of pickled beetroot contains more than one third of the recommended daily sodium intake.

So that’s that, a truly magical vegetable with not only the powers to wow a dinner table of guests, but also with the ability to heal the body while enhancing life, without a doubt a food fit for the seven wonders of the world.

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious,” – Tom Robbins, author 

For more healthy food inspiration from Megan, check out Oats & Ends.

 

Health

Popular diet myths exposed and debunked!

Dr Sally Norton, health and weight loss consultant surgeon, clears up some common misconceptions about the best ways to lose weight 

MYTH #1 Dieting is the best way to lose weight 

Research shows that when women, in particular, want to lose weight they turn to dieting. Unfortunately, research also shows that this is highly unlikely to lead to long-term weight-loss with over 85% of people regaining all of the weight they have lost, and more, by a year after the diet.

This can then lead to the misery of yo-yo dieting, which can be harmful for health and is no way to live your life. Instead, you are much better making a few changes to your lifestyle and eating habits that you can keep up for good.

MYTH #2 You need a good breakfast 

A recent study confirmed that whether you have a good breakfast or not makes no difference to weight loss. Everyone is different – you may be an early riser or a night-owl when it comes to sleep, so it is not surprising that your breakfast desires may be different, too. Listen to your body when it comes to eating – if you are having proper nutritious food, your body will tell you when it needs fuelling. If you focus on a bit of protein (as confirmed by other recent research) and avoid sugar and processed carbs then whether you have a quick snack or a feast for breakfast is entirely up to you!unnamed (60)

MYTH #3 You need to eat regular snacks throughout the day 

It is often said in dieting folklore that eating little and often stops you getting so hungry and encourages you to burn off more energy. However, I believe that our inner cavewoman would disagree. Our bodies weren’t built for constant snacking – particularly on the sort of food we eat nowadays. You are better off getting used to going without food for a few hours at a time – it helps you understand that you are often not eating from hunger, just from habit…and that “hunger” can be ignored for a while without us falling flat on the floor! Recent research backs up this view showing that women who ate 2 meals or 5 meals of the same calorie content, showed no difference in the amount of energy they burnt off. Interestingly, it also showed that eating more frequent meals produced more signs of inflammation in the body (and therefore may increase risk of disease) than eating less frequently.

MYTH #4 Exercise doesn’t really help weight loss unnamed (59)

Yes, in a very literal sense, exercise does not lead to weight loss – if you believe that all an hour of exercise does is burn off 200 calories worth of a 400 calorie doughnut.

But it isn’t black and white like that. Losing weight isn’t just about making sure that energy out is more than energy in…we are much more complex as human beings than that overly simplistic model!

The research abounds with studies showing that exercise can help weight loss in other ways. Exercise builds up muscle – which burns more energy in the longer term. If we are more muscular, we are more toned, have better posture and thus look slimmer. Looking good makes us feel better about ourselves – and if we feel fit and healthy we are more likely to make healthier choices – which promotes weight loss. Rather than a vicious cycle (like dieting!) it is a win-win situation!

Also, exercise, particularly in the cold, seems to increase the ‘fat-burning’ brown fat, which is found more commonly in people who keep a healthy weight.

There is also evidence that aerobic exercise reduces the risk of developing tummy fat and metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease).

What’s more, just getting out in the fresh air makes most of us feel so much happier – not to mention giving us a top up of Vitamin D!

I won’t be hanging up my trainers, that’s for sure!

MYTH #5 We should be stocking up on low-fat foods to lose weight 

The myth that fat is bad has been particularly harmful to our health and waistline. Many fats are healthy in moderation – and yet we are bombarded with low-fat yoghurts, “slimming” ready-meals and processed spreads that are bulked up with sugar, salt or chemical nasties that provide little, if any, nutrition.

Butter, cheese, full-fat yoghurt and other dairy and animal fats are natural and seldom processed, unlike many low-fat alternatives. Coconut oil is another fat that has recently been enjoying popularity.

Of all of the diets that have been shown to help weight-loss, it is not the low-fat diet that wins out. In fact, the low-carb high-fat diet seems to be most successful – though long-term weight-loss is no better with this diet than with any others that can’t be made part of your day-to-day life.

You are therefore best off focusing on real food – that means avoiding anything processed wherever possible. By doing so you will automatically be reducing your refined carbs, eating natural fats and proteins, bulking up with fruit and veg – and dramatically cutting down on your sugar intake.

That is the best tip I can give for weight-loss that lasts!

For more health and weight loss tips from Dr Sally Norton, visit her website at vavistalife.com 

Health

Easy natural health swaps to beat bloating

We shed some light on what could be causing your bloating and share some easy ways – including simple lifestyle swaps – to help reduce it (just in time for the beach)

Spring officially ends today (Thursday, 21 June) with the arrival of the Summer Solstice. Yet as we bid farewell to the longest day and look forward to summer’s official arrival, many of us have already been experiencing the odd heatwave.

And, as much as we love al fresco lunches and impromptu barbecues, the sticky heat isn’t quite as much fun for those of us stuck in an office 9 to 5 – especially if you suffer from bloating, which affects a whopping 62% of us.

Sweltering in suit trousers or a skirt which threatens to cut off your circulation after your lunchtime sandwich is no fun for anyone. According to the experts, however, there are some easy lifestyle swaps we can make to help beat the bloat. But first, you need to get to the bottom of what’s causing your distended tum.

What’s causing my bloating?

According to nutritionists, bloating is usually caused by a combination of diet and external factors. In most cases, a sensible diet and lifestyle, as well as a little observation, can go a long way towards addressing its root causes:

1. Lack of fibre and constipation

Fibre is a crucial component of any diet and it’s recommended we have 30g a day. however most Brits average only 20g according to the British Heart Foundation,which explains why many of us suffer with digestive discomfort on a daily or weekly basis. Fibre helps food transit through the body. A lack of it causes constipation.

How to reduce bloating

The solution is to increase your fibre intake. Swap out white flour and pasta for healthier alternatives and include slow carbs such as oats in your diet. You should aim for the daily recommend amount of 30g of fibre a day, but if you’ve been well below that for some time, reintroduce fibre slowly, or you might make your bloating worse!

Try swapping crisps, croissants or biscuits for high-fibre oatcakes topped with a scoop of nut butter. food-3126527_1920

“Fibre in our diet is vital for a healthy gut and helping with regular bowel movements,” explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns. “When it comes to grains, the less processed they are, the better. Nairn’s Rough Oatcakes are a great choice as they’re made with coarse, wholegrain oats and are high in soluble and insoluble fibre.”

Try swapping frozen pizza for a Lo-Dough crust

For bread and pizza lovers, there’s no need to forego your favourite treat altogether: Lo-Dough is a gluten-free, low-calorie flatbread – containing only 39 calories and a huge 9.9g of fibre per piece.

“It’s ideal for anyone who just wants to eat in a healthier way this summer,” says Cassandra.

2. Poor gut health and inflammation

The BBC reported last month that only 43% of the cells which make up our body are human. The rest is our microbiome: bacteria and other organisms. These microbiomes have a huge impact on our immune system and digestion. But that balance can be disturbed by a steady diet of processed food or something unavoidable, such as a course of antibiotics when we’re sick. In some cases, an imbalance in gut bacteria can cause a serious condition called SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth).

How to reduce bloating 

The solution is to make sure your diet regularly includes probiotics (beneficial bacteria and yeasts). Your go-to should be fermented foods with live cultures. For example, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kefir and kombucha are teeming with beneficial bacteria that will sort you out and slim you down.

Try swapping Diet Coke for a bottle of Kombuchakombucha-1074594_1920

“We’re learning more and more about the importance of the ‘friendly’ bacteria and other microbes that live in our gut,” says Cassandra.

“They’re thought to influence our immunity, mood and weight, as well as our digestion of course. Traditional fermented foods such as kombucha can be a key way to maintain the healthy bacteria in our gut – in fact, some research suggests that they’re much more effective than taking probiotic supplements for this purpose.”

To reap the probiotic benefit, be careful to only select unpasteurised kombucha with active cultures, such as Equinox Kombucha (available in four delicious flavours).

Do you normally reach for the olive oil or sunflower oil when you start cooking? Stop right there, because these ingredients may promote inflammation when used to cook food at high temperatures. Try switching to organic ghee, which has a higher smoke point and is suitable even for the lactose-intolerant.

Try swapping butter and cooking oils for ghee 

Ghee is a form of clarified butter, which contains butyric acid. “Butyrate acts as a fuel for the cells lining the large intestine, helping to keep the gut lining healthy,” explains Cassandra.

“Butyrate may also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in the gut. On the other hand, vegetable-cooking oils such as sunflower oil may actually have the opposite effect on the gut, promoting inflammation. Try GHEE EASY, available at Sainsbury’s.”

3. Dehydration and fluid retention 

If you had one too many glasses of wine after work last night, your body might be holding onto water for fear of not having enough. To avoid fluid retention, make sure you’re always sipping on something, especially in hot weather. This, paradoxically, will communicate to your body that it’s okay to let go of some water.

How to reduce bloating

Drink more water and, if you find yourself forgetting to hydrate, you can download an app to remind you at regular intervals throughout the day.

Try swapping coffee for herbals teas and water, water and more water!bottle-2032980_1920 (1)

4. Food sensitivities

Another culprit for bloating? Food sensitivities and allergies. Many people have reactions to gluten, eggs, and lactose, but eat all three regularly. It might be worth eliminating them from your diet one at a time to see if this helps.

How to reduce bloating 

With the free-from market exploding, there are tons of gluten and dairy-free alternatives to experiment with. Reduce the quantity of other foods that are known to cause bloating.

Try swapping normal beer for gluten-free, naturally carbonated Celia Lager

If you want to eliminate or reduce your gluten intake, Lo-Dough (mentioned above) is a great option, as is Celia Lager, an organic beer that’s specifically designed to be safe for those on a gluten-free diet. It’s also traditionally brewed to allow natural carbonation to occur, meaning it can be gentler on the digestive system than a highly carbonated lager.

Try swapping crucifers such as kale and broccoli for spinach and rockettop-view-1248955_1920

You can get too much of a good thing: ingredients you may want to limit without eliminating from your diet entirely. Cruciferous veg such as broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts have lots of vitamins and cancer-fighting compounds known as glucosinolates – but they cause wind, so avoid in the 24 hours before a beach outing, first date, or job interview.

Try swapping full-dairy chocolate for probiotic-rich, raw treats such as Ombar Chocolate Bars

Avoiding lactose isn’t as difficult as it used to be: there are loads of amazing nut milks in every supermarket, and if you miss butter, you can use GHEE EASY on toast or for baking. You don’t need to limit yourself to mouth-puckering dark chocolate, either. Ombar is made from raw cacao, with coconut cream that more than makes up for the lack of milk (bonus: the raw cacao may have a variety of health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and supporting heart health).

5. Stress 

Waking up and downing a cup of coffee before jumping on the tube? Gulping down lunch in front of the computer? Staring at screens all day?

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but our bodies will respond by flooding us full of the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to a gain in belly fat and an increase in bloating. Additionally, eating in front of a screen can mean we gulp our food, introducing unwanted air into our stomach.

How to reduce bloating 

Small changes to our routines can have a huge effect on our stress levels. “Exercise is a great stress reliever”, says Cassandra. “Take a brisk walk to stimulate anti-anxiety effects, this helps to clear your thoughts and feel more relaxed upon returning to the office.”

Try swapping lunch “al desko” for a quick stroll

Every hour, remember to get up from your desk and move around. Introducing even 10 minutes of exercise a day can have a powerful effect.

Try swapping late nights for lots – and we mean lots – of kipwoman-2197947_1920 (1)

Make sure you get sufficient sleep (at least 8 hours), and don’t drink coffee the minute you wake up. If you do love caffeinated bevvies, use them as a pick-me-up later in the morning.

Tried everything and still wondering “what’s causing my bloating?”

In some rare cases bloating can be the sign of something more serious. If you notice anything unusual such as a fever, vomiting, or hives, make sure to see a GP and discuss your symptoms.

Health

Fasting diets reduce important risk factor for cardiovascular disease

Fasting diets (based on intermittent energy restriction) clear fat from the blood faster after eating meals than daily calorie restriction diets – therefore reducing an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

That’s according to a report in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) following the first study of its kind in which the University of Surrey examined the impact of the 5:2 diet on the body’s ability to metabolise – as well as clear – fat and glucose after a meal.

Researchers compared it to the effects of weight loss achieved by a more conventional daily calorie restriction diet, whereas previous studies have predominantly focused on blood risk markers taken in the fasted state, which only tends to be overnight.

During the study, overweight participants were assigned to either the 5:2 diet or a daily calorie restriction diet and were required to lose five per cent of their weight.

Those on the 5:2 diet ate normally for five days and for their two fasting days consumed 600 calories, using LighterLife Fast Foodpacks, while those on the daily diet were advised to eat 600 calories less per day than their estimated requirements for weight maintenance (in the study women ate approx. 1400 calories, men ate approx. 1900 calories/day).

Under the expert guidance of the team, those on the 5:2 diet achieved 5 per cent weight-loss in 59 days compared to those on the daily calorie restriction diet who achieved their goal in 73 days.

27 participants completed the study, with approximately 20 per cent of participants in both groups dropping out because they either could not tolerate the diet or were unable to attain their 5 per cent weight-loss target.

According to the BJN, researchers found that participants who followed the 5:2 diet cleared the fat (triglyceride) from a meal given to them more efficiently than those who undertook the daily diet.

Although there were no differences in post meal glucose handling, researchers were surprised to find variations between the diets in c-peptide (a marker of insulin secretion from the pancreas) following the meal, the significance of which will need further investigation.

The study also found a greater reduction in systolic blood pressure (the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats) in participants on the 5:2 diet.

Systolic blood pressure was reduced by 9% of following the 5:2, compared to a small 2% increase among those on the daily diet.

A reduction in systolic blood pressure reduces pressure on arteries, potentially lessening incidences of heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Rona Antoni, Research Fellow in Nutritional Metabolism at the University of Surrey, said: “As seen in this study, some of our participants struggled to tolerate the 5:2 diet, which suggests that this approach is not suited to everybody; ultimately the key to dieting success is finding an approach you can sustain long term.

“But for those who do well and are able stick to the 5:2 diet, it could potentially have a beneficial impact on some important risk markers for cardiovascular disease, in some cases more so than daily dieting.

“However, we need further studies to confirm our findings, to understand the underlying mechanisms and to improve the tolerability of the 5:2 diet.”

Health

Could hypnosis help beat junk food addiction?

New research has found that the UK has the unhealthiest diet in Europe, with Brits consuming five times more processed food than Portugal, and four times more than France, Greece, or Italy.
According to HypnoSlimming, 50% of the average person’s diet in the UK is processed food, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
It says this kind of processed junk food can be as addictive as hard drugs, with salt and sugar being habit-forming substances that create positive feedback loops in the brain.
Eating any food triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, however certain sugars, fats, and processed chemicals can have the same effect as cocaine, flooding our brain with more dopamine than it is used to, thus overriding dopamine pathways to only release the neurochemical when we eat those unhealthy foods, which causes an addiction.
This leads to cravings, which are distinctly different from hunger. Hunger is when our body needs sustenance; cravings are when our bodies want a reward. Dopamine is not necessary for maintenance of the body, only as a reward which makes us repeat behaviour. This is why some people eat junk food even when they’re not hungry.
Eating less of these foods can eventually reset our dopamine levels and responses, but this is easier said than done. Fighting addiction is one of the toughest things a person can do, especially when combined with the fact that so much of what we eat is the very thing we’re trying to cut out of our system.
HypnoSlimming claims hypnosis can bypass the addiction by tapping into the power of the subconscious mind, meaning people eat less junk food without exerting any effort.
Hypnosis expert Adam Cox is offering a free hypnosis test to find out if hypnosis is right for anyone trying to lose weight or get healthier.
He says: “Foods that are high in sugar or salt are more likely to be addictive, when blood sugar levels are lowered there is a physical craving which is hard to resist. For people with processed food addiction I use hypnosis to help them believe that junk food is toxic or poisonous.
“People respond to foods differently if they associate them with being dangerous. Since junk food is responsible for so many health issues from obesity to Type 2 diabetes it’s not difficult for the unconscious mind to accept that junk food is genuinely dangerous.
“However since not everyone can afford to work with a Harley Street hypnotherapist I’ve created an audio download that can help people destroy their cravings for unhealthy food.
“Changing eating habits, especially if you can’t control yourself, is never easy, which is why so many people are turning to hypnosis to get the help they need.”