In Season

Everything you never knew about beetroot – the most intense of vegetables

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

How to avoid headaches at work

Dr Daniel Fenton, clinic director at London Doctors Clinic, shares his top 10 tips for warding off headaches and migraines at work dan-fenton

We have all suffered the discomfort of a headache at some point in our lives, but anyone who’s ever experienced migraines knows all too well the misery and suffering this condition can cause.

According to the Migraine Trust, migraines are the third most common disease in the world, with an estimated global prevalence of one in seven people. It is also one of the most common health complaints we see as GPs, which isn’t surprising considering that over ten million people across the UK suffer with headaches on a regular basis.

These debilitating headaches often lead to people taking time off work. According to a new report by the Work Foundation, it’s estimated that absenteeism and presenteeism due to migraines results in 86 million lost workdays per year, which costs the UK economy a huge £8.8bn per annum.

Migraines are identified by recurrent disabling headaches – they’re much more severe than the average headache and are thought to be caused by temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Sufferers often begin having episodes from childhood and these can range from mild to extremely painful with vomiting and even temporary paralysis.

In line with the focus for this year’s Migraine Awareness Week, it’s important for businesses to cultivate a culture of mindfulness around migraines in workplaces, and to:

  1. understand that migraines are a complex neurological condition and that not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and
  2. make reasonable concessions for employees who get migraines, such as offering them flexible working hours and looking at how their physical environment can be adjusted to help avoid elements that may trigger a migraine.

So what steps can we take to prevent migraines at work?

  • Be mindful of stress and anxiety

Prioritise taking steps to reduce your stress or anxiety levels as this will lessen your headaches – be it through relaxation exercises, psychological therapy, a walk in the park or a long bath. A great way to feel calm when you need a quick solution is to take deep breaths from your diaphragm- set aside 10 minutes to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, and your body should soon relax.

  • Manage the glare

It’s no secret that squinting causes headaches but what few office workers realise it that the glare from their screens can make them squint. Encourage migraine-prone employees to get glasses with glare resistant lenses, and to give their eyes regular breaks from the computer screen by looking away and focusing on an item in the distance for a minute or two.

  • Cut down noise

Noise is a migraine trigger so if you’re prone to migraines and can’t avoid noise at work, wear ear plugs or find a quiet breakaway spot to work in. If necessary, speak to your manager about reducing noise levels in the office.

  • Get more sleep

No surprises here – too little sleep causes headaches as well as grumpiness! Having a consistent sleep routine is vital for keeping migraines at bay. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. It may sound obvious but be careful with your consumption of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and don’t over-indulge in exercise or food before bedtime – this could have a negative impact on your sleep and possibly lead to headaches.

  • Get moving!

If you sit, lie or slope about and don’t exercise you will get headaches. An aching head does not inspire us to get active but getting outside in the fresh air can help loosen tight muscles which cause migraines. Make it a priority to move – be that going for a morning run, walking part of your commute to work or pushing back your chair to do desk-er-cises during the day. Exercising will not only transform your life, but considerably reduce your migraines too.

  • Correct your posture

Bad posture gives you headaches so make a point of sitting up right, squaring your shoulders and straightening out whenever possible. Find a way to remind yourself to ‘straighten out’, such as setting an alarm or making a mental note to sit up straight whenever you drink coffee.

  • Eat regularly and check your diet

No matter how busy you are, don’t skip breakfast or lunch. Fluctuations in blood sugar can sometimes cause migraines so always have breakfast and aim to eat at regular intervals. Sugar and processed carbohydrates cause huge fluctuations in blood sugar so be careful of them.

Cheese, chocolate, caffeine and alcohol are known to trigger migraines in some people so if you’re a regular sufferer, cut these foods and beverages out one at a time for 2-4 weeks and assess if that makes a difference. If you can’t function without your daily Caramel Frap, consider switching to decaf or limit your coffee intake to one cup.

  • Drink plenty of water

Not drinking enough water will very often give you a headache and can lead to migraines. The first thing you should always do when you feel a headache coming on is have a good long drink of water! Make a point of keeping a water bottle on your desk and drinking from it regularly.

  • Supplement with vitamin B2

There are several herbal supplements you can take to improve migraines which are loaded with Vitamin B2. Clinical studies show that taking regular doses can reduce some types of migraines or prevent them altogether. Your local health food store or chemist should have a range of products available.

  • Trigger management

If it’s not very obvious what’s causing your migraines, keep a diary. Note when your migraines start, what you were doing at the time, how long they last and what, if anything, provides relief.  This can really help you and the doctor to work out what next.

Finally, if you are still getting migraines you should see a GP. There’s an array of things that can be done, that will make a huge difference to your quality of life.

So in summary you should: relax, give your eyes a break, wear ear plugs to block out noisy colleagues, get some sleep, get moving, SIT UP STRAIGHT, eat some breakfast, have a drink of water and take your vitamins!

For those people who struggle severely migraines, book them a visit or video consultation with a GP.

Health

Link between diabetes and mouth cancer

New research has discovered that women who suffer from diabetes face a dramatically increased chance of developing mouth cancer.

The research published in Diabetologia found that women have a 13% higher chance of developing oral cancer if they suffer from diabetes.

Overall women faced a 27% increase of developing any form of cancer if they had diabetes, while men also faced a 19% increased risk according to the study.

With previous research showing close links between diabetes and the development of mouth cancer, as well as other forms of the disease, leading health charity the Oral Health Foundation, is calling on people to be aware of the close links between their oral health and their wider wellbeing.

CEO of the charity Dr Nigel Carter OBE, which campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness of mouth cancer, believes the research could help to identify individuals at risk of mouth cancer.

Dr Carter said: “This could be a very significant piece of research, and one that could help to save lives. Diabetes has previously been linked to poor oral health, but this new research shows a specific link to mouth cancer.

“This makes regular dental visits an absolute must. If your dentists know that you are diabetic, they will check your mouth accordingly. For many years we have known that diabetic patients are more likely to get gum disease and need extra dental care but this is yet another reason for regular checks.

“It is important, not just for diabetics but for everyone to be aware of what the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer are. Be alert to ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the head and neck area.  If you experience any of these visit your dentist immediately.

“More people lose their lives to mouth cancer every year in Britain than from cervical and testicular cancer combined. Without early detection, the five-year survival rate for mouth cancer is only 50% but if it is caught early, survival rates can dramatically improve to up to 90%, as well as the quality of life for survivors being significantly increased.

“Smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and the human papillomavirus (HPV), often transmitted via oral sex, are all lifestyle choices that will increase the risk of developing the disease. As diabetes has now been shown to be another potential risk factor, amending your lifestyle to make sure you take yourself out of harm’s way makes it more important than ever to be mouth aware.”

In the UK, it is estimated that over four million live with diabetes, with many cases going undiagnosed. Type-2 diabetes, which is closely linked to lifestyle and diet, has been rapidly increasing in recent years and is now one of the world’s most common long-term health conditions.

 

Offers

Get a free health MOT courtesy of the BBC!

The BBC is looking for volunteers in Scotland to take part in a new TV programme looking at how lifestyle choices affect our health now and in the future.

People from all walks of life are invited to apply – from couch potatoes to gym bunnies – whether you down detox or energy drinks or shots at the bar.

Those chosen to take part will have the chance to undergo a full health MOT and benefit from expert advice on making positive lifestyle changes.

Interested? Email healthmotshow@redskyproductions.co.uk or call 0141 343 7772 to find out more.

 

 

Health

Top 10 self-care tips for a happier, healthier you

Holistic self-care and wellness coach Tara Jackson shares her top self-care tips 

The term ‘self-care’ is becoming more mainstream as people realise the benefits of taking care of themselves. But what does it mean? Well, self-care means actively setting out to do something that’s good for you and can benefit your body, mind and soul – either individually or as a whole.

It can take many forms, such as regular, good sleep; healthy eating; meditating and relaxing; doing something creative; getting into nature; not comparing yourself to others; giving thanks, or spending time with friends.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It helps you maintain a healthy relationship with the most important person in your life: yourself. Making time for yourself every day is also vital for your overall wellness.

They may seem simple, but self-care actions are essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They also help to replenish you – making you more effective and energetic. Not only that, but doing things that make you feel better physically and mentally help to increase your confidence and self-esteem.

Because it includes physical activities such as exercise, self-care can keep you healthy. Even just taking time out of your day to do something you enjoy can help you to de-stress. It can help you take a break from technology, recharge and unwind, and manage physical or mental health symptoms to live life as fully as possible.

And self-care can benefit the other important people in your life too. After all, if you’re not at your best you can’t give your best.

Friends and family will also learn from you, so setting boundaries to take care of yourself shows them what you expect for yourself which sets a precedent for the way others treat you, and helps encourage them to put themselves first and not overwork or overextend. 

Remember to change your self-care according to the seasons and your lifestyle 

While self-care is about what’s good for the self, it’s important to remember that it can change throughout the year. What feels good at one time may not be what’s needed at another. Self-care in the summertime, for example, might include spending more time outdoors, doing more physical activity and eating cooling foods. Whereas, in the wintertime, it might involve eating warm, nourishing foods, taking naps and retreating to spend time reading.

Similarly, if you are very active in your day-to-day life, your self-care might be quite different to someone who has more of a sedentary lifestyle.

Ultimately, self-care only works when you listen to yourself and do what you want or need without resistance. If you don’t enjoy meditation or yoga, don’t do it. There are many ideas and ways we can care for ourselves. The important thing is to do something that feels good to YOU and is achievable within your budget, lifestyle and time restraints.

Top 10 self-care tips

Here are my top 10 simple self-care actions, which work in any season. I swear by little and often, so even just remembering to do one or two small things each day for yourself will help you in the long run.

  1. Prioritise getting enough sleep.
  2. Drink water regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  3. Take regular breaks away from technology – TVs, computers, phones, tablets etc.
  4. Spend time in person with people you love.
  5. Give thanks – be grateful for what you have.
  6. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  7. Eat an extra portion of green vegetables whenever you can.
  8. Move your body in a way that feels good to you.
  9. Express yourself creatively doing something you enjoy e.g. painting, photography, dancing, writing or cooking.
  10. Spend time in nature.

For more from Tara, visit her website.