Beetroots (Beta vulgaris) are one of the richest sources of iron in the edible plant kingdom. Being slightly anaemic I have tried to incorporate more of this root vegetable in my dishes recently. Planted in May and harvested from July to October in the UK, this sweet root vegetable is full of beneficial nutrients and great both in savoury and sweet dishes.
Most people equate beetroot with a rather sad looking vacuum-packed bag of pre-cooked purple bulbs. I grew up being served those and hated every bite. Since then, I have discovered that cooking your own is not just healthier (no added sugars and other unwanted preservatives) but the taste is a million times better. As I cook my beets whole, which can be a lengthy process, I tend to do large batches at once and then use them in a variety of ways. Below is an example of my latest salad with a large leftover beetroot.
Incidentally, if you find the beetroots are sold with the leaves, those are also edible, don’t throw them away! Use them as you would its cousin, Swiss chard: in soups, sautéed, in an omelette… A word of caution though. The greens are high in oxalic acid which inhibits calcium metabolism.
The health benefits of beetroot
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) beetroots strengthen the heart and it just so happens that summer is the season of the heart according to TCM. Isn’t nature wonderful? They are also beneficial for the liver system where it is helpful in treating liver stagnancy and problems with the liver in general. As well as:
· Improving circulation (of the blood)
· Purifying the blood
· Moistening the intestines and hence relieving constipation
· Helping to reduce nervousness
· Promoting menstruation
From a Western medicine perspective the benefits are listed as follows:
· Reduces blood pressure – A 2015 study of 68 people who took 250ml of beetroot juice every day showed significant drops in systolic Blood Pressure for hours later, thought to be due to the high nitrate levels it contains.
· Aids digestion – it has been noted that beetroot helps to digest more easily.
· Lowers diabetes – according to a 2019 study, with the use of high dose supplements of alpha-lipolic acid, an antioxidant found in beetroot, the symptoms of diabetes were reduced. However, large quantities of fresh beetroot would need to be consumed to get the same concentration.
· May increase the amount of oxygen – Although studies around this are not conclusive, some have proved that high doses of beetroot juice can help increase the amount of oxygen that muscles absorb during exercise. One small shot of beetroot juice was found to allow divers to stay underwater without breathing for an additional 30 seconds. It was also noted that cyclists used 19% less oxygen than the placebo group after consuming beetroot. These effects have not been found with any other known foods, supplements or drugs.
· Can help disrupt cancerous mutations of cells – this is attributed to the betalains, the compounds that give the beetroots their red or yellow pigments and colour. Hence eating beetroot may help prevent or reduce the spread of cancer.
Nutritional properties of Beetroot
100g of raw beetroot is equivalent to approximately 43 kcal and contains 78mg of sodium (3% RDA), 9.6g of carbohydrates (3%RDA) of which 2.8g fibre (10% RDA) and 6.8g sugar. It also has 1.6g of protein, 16mg of calcium (1%RDA), 0.80mg of iron (4%RDA) and 325mg potassium (7%RDA).
Interestingly, beeturia (passing pink/red coloured urine after consumption of beetroot) is more likely to appear when your iron metabolism is out of balance, either because you are deficient, or you have an excess or there is some other problem. It is highly recommended you get this checked if beeturia persists!
Other information to note about beetroots
If you are not a raw beetroot fan, steaming, baking or even sauteeing it will preserve more of the phytonutrients that boiling does. Like for most vegetables, boiling especially for long periods causes the nutrients to leach into the water. You could of course use the water for soups, or drink it.
I’ve tried different recipes over the years but it never occurred to me to use it as the basis of a summer salad until now. The sweetness of the beetroot pairs well with the saltiness of the feta, and the acidity of apple balsamic vinegar. Plus, once the beetroot has been cooked, assembling this lunch took less than 5 minutes!
Beetroot, orange and feta salad
1 large beetroot
1 small orange
80g sheep’s milk feta cheese
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp apple balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp pine seeds
1. Wash the beetroot in a bowl of water and bicarbonate for at least 10 minutes. Place it, skin on, in a deep pot and cover with boiling water from a kettle. Add a pinch of salt and simmer until cooked through. Depending on the size of the beetroot this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Check by inserting a knife in the centre. It should glide in smoothly when it is cooked inside. Allow it cool down before peeling.
(This step might best be done the day before).
2. Peel and slice the beetroot and spread out on a serving plate.
3. Wash the orange and peel. Separate the segments and transfer them to the serving plate with the beetroot.
4. Take the feta cheese and crumble it over the beetroot and salad.
5. Lightly roast the pine seeds in a pan (with no oil). Sprinkle over the other ingredients. Add the fennel seeds and season everything with a splash of apple balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
6. Garnish with some fresh coriander and serve at room temperature.
Boost your heart and liver health this summer and add some beetroot to your plates!
Other recipes with beetroot
Beetroot chocolate lavender cake (click here for link)
Beetroot dip (Beetroot “hummus”) see page 80 of Anna’s Kitchen recipe book
Beetroot soup (Borsch) see page 7 of Anna’s Kitchen recipe book
Warm Beetroot salad see page 26 of Anna’s Kitchen recipe book