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.

 

Nutrition

Why gluten-free products might not be what you think

Gluten pioneer Dr Kenneth Davin Fine says food labelled ‘gluten-free’ isn’t always what you think

Think you’re following a gluten-free diet? Not so fast.

A physician who is said to be a pioneer in discovering and diagnosing the problems with gluten says many products touted as gluten-free today are not.

Dr. Kenneth Davin Fine, who is a gastroenterologist and creator of Oro-Intestinal Fitness Products, as well as gluten and food sensitivity diagnostic laboratory EnteroLab is said to have brought gluten sensitivity to the public consciousness more than 20 years ago.

He says that during those early years, gluten-sensitive patients usually experienced significant improvement in their health on a “gluten-free diet” but his patients have told him in recent years they have seen fewer improvements.

“Products can now be labeled ‘gluten free’ even if that food contains up to 20 parts per million of gluten,” he says.

“While that doesn’t sound like a lot, a little gluten can go a long way in the reactions of the most active immune systems.”

Dr Fine says gluten is a protein found in the cereal grains wheat, barley, rye, and oats and is a mixture of proteins which causes illness in people with either celiac disease, (when the immune reactions to gluten damage the intestinal tissues visible on a biopsy), or (more commonly) non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is diagnosed when symptoms and intestinal dysfunction are present in the absence of such changes on a biopsy.

Recent studies found that most (but not all) celiacs could eat gluten without resulting in damage to their small intestine. But, in his research, Dr. Fine has found that only about half of celiacs or non-celiac gluten sensitive patients can tolerate oats. He says “gluten-free oats” is a misnomer and may be responsible for symptoms experienced by people who think they are eating a gluten-free diet.

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Dr. Fine believes the gluten sensitivity epidemic is caused by:

  • A combination of greater immunoreactivity in most people stimulated by mainly environmental factors (stress, exposure to hormones in food, medicines, pollution, and possibly EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) from electronic devices).
  • The way many foods have been altered by producers so they can be manufactured in mass quantities more efficiently.
  • Widespread use of stomach acid-inhibiting medicines.
  • A general lack of breastfeeding from 1955-1985 (when synthetic infant formula was falsely touted to be more healthy than breast milk).
  • Public health directives recommending that the public should eat mostly grains
  • An evolution of agricultural practices leading to hybridisation of grains to increase their gluten content, and more widespread use of herbicides and pesticides.

Dr Fine says that, recently,  there also has been a significant increase in the mass marketing of products said to assist the gut microbiome in digesting food. The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, viruses, and fungi – in the body.

He claims the best way to keep a healthy gut and microbiome is to eat the right foods. “Researchers have sometimes detected a different microbiome in obese individuals compared to non-obese individuals; although this has attempted to be the blame for the obesity, it cannot be ruled out that their microbiome is different because they make different, and perhaps less healthful food choices,” he says.

According to Dr Fine, other reasons for a poor microbiome are frequent exposure to antibiotics, the bactericidal chlorine added to public water, improper sleep, stress, and diets heavy in meat, cooked food (as opposed to raw vegetables or salads and fruit), and “junk food” and other sugar-laden foods.  This is all typical of the modern lifestyle, which Fine says is a primary contributor to poor overall health.

“If you really want to achieve a healthy body, you must have a healthy intestine and intestinal flora,” says Dr Fine.

“And when it comes to immunologic food sensitivities, one must really be more restrictive of antigenic foods than was necessary years ago because of the progression of this immunologic epidemic.”

Health

5 easy ways to give yourself more energy

We all know what it feels like to be exhausted, lacking energy and lethargic, now here’s what to do about it!

Dr Emma Derbyshire shares her tips for boosting energy levels:

Care-free commute – many of us face at least an hour’s commute every day, often on public transport, with delays which do nothing for our mood or energy levels. But instead of focussing your energy on getting annoyed, use your commuting time to do something just for you. Read a book, practise mindfulness or meditation, listen to your favourite music or catch up on small admin tasks. You can’t control commuting woes, so just go with it.

Natural energy release – get up and dance, do star jumps or go for a walk and create some of those feel-good endorphins. You could also try a supplement such as Red Kooga’s Natural Energy Release, which works with the body to help increase alertness and vitality, boost energy and wellbeing and ward off fatigue.

Ditch the digital –  we are a nation addicted to our smartphones and laptops. But this digital dependency also impacts our energy levels. While we play with our phones, time ticks away and we become more sedentary. Seeing social media posts from others can also affect our moods. Try to allocate certain times during the day to check social media and emails instead of all the time.

Get moving – schedule in some movement time every day. It’s easy to get so involved in your work that three hours have gone past and you haven’t so much as stood up! We might think being in front of the screen hours on end makes us productive, but actually it makes us sluggish, while energy levels drop and productivity goes down. Get up from your desk, stretch, make a round of teas, talk to colleagues and get out for a walk at lunch – it will refresh you and leave you with more energy to tackle the afternoon!

What’s on your plate? – we all grew up with the phrase ‘you are what you eat’. And it’s true – we need to pay attention to foods which are going to give us sustainable energy and satisfy our body’s nutritional demands. Rather than just grabbing at food because we have a hunger to satisfy, nutrient-rich foods such as lean protein, oily fish, fruit and vegetables and complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds) should be our go-to. They will help sustain our energy levels and see us through the day.

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

What are sublingual supplements?

Water for Health shares the interesting backstory behind Frunutta, the Smaller Vitamin Company, whose sublingual tablets make it easier for those at risk of nutritional deficiencies, such as vegans, vegetarians and those with autism, to supplement their diets and stay healthy.

Many companies have an interesting backstory, and Frunutta – the Smaller Vitamin Company – is no different.

The story starts with Dr. Ali Alavi, Frunutta’s co-founder. The father to an autistic child, Dr. Alavi was understandably keen to nourish his son the best way he could. You see, nutritional deficiencies are all too common among children with autism due to abnormal eating behaviours and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Ensuring a healthy intake of nutrients is absolutely vital if proper physical and cognitive development is to be achieved. Whether it’s calcium to build bones and teeth, or iron to construct healthy blood, youngsters – and indeed adults – need these nutrients in appreciable amounts.Frunutta_VitD3_5000_1024x1024

When obtaining vitamins and minerals from food proved problematic, Dr. Alavi resorted to vitamin supplements – only to learn that his son was averse to swallowing tablets and capsules.

Though it greatly pained him to do so, Dr. Alavi was left with just one option: to inject his son with the important vitamins he required on a weekly basis. Intravenous vitamin therapy is entirely effective for correcting deficiencies, it should be said, but the process proved to be heart-wrenching for both father and son. There had to be a better way.

As Dr. Alavi investigated alternative methods, the seeds of Frunutta slowly began to bear fruit. He realised that sublingual vitamins would be cheaper and more convenient than going the intravenous route. Commonly used in hospital emergency rooms, sublingual tablets are placed under the tongue, where they quickly dissolve and enter the bloodstream.Frunutta Vitamin B12_1024x1024

Because they are not required to fight through the digestive tract and survive the harshly acidic conditions of the stomach, sublingual tablets are quite a bit smaller than traditional tablets. Take away the protective shellacs, added sugars, artificial colours, fillers and other ingredients and you’re left with – what else? – pure vitamin. Frunutta vitamins contain all of what you need and none of what you don’t.

Unlike the other methods, sublingual supplements went down a treat with Dr. Alavi’s son, and after teaming up with a small group of pioneering doctors and scientists, the Frunutta brand was born. Not only would sublingual vitamins and minerals help autistic children, but they would ensure adults avoided common nutritional deficiencies brought about by malabsorption.

Sublingual vitamins would also represent a handy alternative to tricky-to-swallow pills or capsules. After all, it can be a pain to gulp one or more daily vitamin tablets if you’re already using some form of medication. Factor in omega-3 capsules and any other natural supplement (glutathione, probiotics) and you could quite easily be consuming half a dozen pills per day; maybe more!

Along with his research and development team, Dr. Alavi built Frunutta from the ground up in the United States, intending to offer the benefits his son had experienced to as many as he could reach. Surely there was a market out there for vitamins devoid of preservatives, hydrogenated oils, PCBs, talc, sugar? Surely intravenous wasn’t the only option for those wishing to cut the digestive system out of the picture?

As it turned out, the surgeon was correct: sublingual supplements have grown in popularity in recent years, and the Frunutta range is now available in the UK exclusively from Water for Health. Eight supplements are available in total, including a high-strength sublingual vitamin D3, sublingual vitamin B12 and sublingual vitamin C.

Vitamin D3, which plays a key role in immune, skeletal and cardiovascular health, is especially important to supplement during the autumn and winter months. However, those who don’t get enough sun throughout the year are also likely to be deficient. The National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence reckons one in five adults (and one in six kids) may have low vitamin D status.

Frunutta’s sublingual Vitamin D3 provides a generous dose of 5,000 i.u. per tablet, identical to the daily amount advised by the Vitamin D Council (for adults). The same organisation recommend that infants receive 1,000 i.u. per day, and children 1,000 i.u. per 25 lbs of body weight. Helpfully, Frunutta have a second strength of supplement for youngsters which contains a 1,000 i.u. dosage.

Vitamin B12, meanwhile, is an important supplement for vegetarians and vegans, since plants neither make nor require the nutrient. The best dietary sources of B12 – which is needed for the nervous system, the brain and the immune system – are in the carnivore’s palate: foods such as meat, fish, poultry, milk, eggs and cheese.

As a consequence, those who favour a plant-based diet must rely on fortified foods, supplements or a combination of both. Frunutta’s sublingual Vitamin B12 is methylcobalamin, the most bioavailable and readily absorbed form, and each quick-absorbing tablet provides a generous 1,000 mcg dosage.

Whatever deficiency you’re trying to avoid, Frunutta’s “just vitamin” policy helps them stand out from the crowd. If you’re keen to avoid the artificial ingredients which too often creep into the diet, or if you just want to benefit from the quick absorption of sublingual tablets, give them a try.