We’re all familiar with it, but few of us really love it: beetroot. The health benefits of this common vegetable have thus far failed to attract much attention. So it’s high time to change all that.
This colourful tuber is known variously as red beet, table beet or beetroot. Its appealing purple-red hue hasn’t brought it much popularity, though. In fact, beetroot is not even in the top 10 of the most frequently consumed vegetables in Switzerland. This is despite the fact that beetroot was apparently already consumed in antiquity, so it’s had more than a few centuries’ time to make a place for itself in our diets. The Romans were the first to cultivate it, and it later spread throughout Europe, including Switzerland. Since then the beet has been a native crop here, thriving in moist and humus-rich loamy soils like those found for example in the Lake Constance region. In addition to the well-known red beet, the tuber also comes in yellow (golden) and white versions.
The red beet is often used in the food industry as a natural colourant. It can also be used as such in the home kitchen, for example in risotto or desserts. Responsible for the vegetable’s purplish red colour is a phytochemical known as beta-cynanine. Recent studies have demonstrated the positive effects of beta-cynanine in reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals proliferate in the body. Free radicals are formed by certain metabolic processes but stem above all from outside influences such as chronic stress, UV radiation (sun, solarium), and chemicals in the environment and food (e.g. pesticides, preservatives, dyes).
What distinguishes beetroot from other vegetables is its comparatively high nitrate content. The tuber forms nitrate from the nitrogen found in soil. For a long time nitrate was eyed critically, but recent studies show that dietary nitrate has some positive properties. On the one hand, nitrate can dilate the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. This effect is further promoted by the mineral potassium contained in beetroot, which promotes the excretion of water from the body. Nitrate also influences athletic performance, as it reduces the oxygen required by muscles, delaying their fatigue. This means the body needs less oxygen to achieve the same performance.
The truth is that we don’t always have to go for some exotic superfood from far-off lands, because we have our own local vegetable that can hold its own in terms of health benefits.