The Beetroot is a root vegetable that belongs to the Chenopodiaceae or Goosefoot family. Other members of this family are sugar beet, Swiss chard and spinach. They are suited for cool climates and are used extensively in the cuisines of these regions.
Beetroot has been cultivated since the times of the Romans. But the beetroot that we know today is relatively new. Till the medieval times beetroot remained long and thin. The earlies record of beetroot was found in the mid-1500s.
Introducing beetroot into one's diet can protect against high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, high levels of cholesterol and dementia. It is also recommended for pregnant women because of it's high folate and iron content. Beetroot is also very good for refueling tired muscles. Adding to its goodness is the fact that it is virtually fat free, and is, therefore, great for maintaining optimal body weight.
 Nutrients and Colouring
Beetroots contain only 36 calories per hundred grams. Pigments called betacyanins give beetroots their red colour. These are acid/base indicators that are structurally unstable at extremes of pH, and have optical stability at pH 4 to 5. Red colour in urine, therefore, is dependent on urine pH. For the urine to be red, unchanged beetroot pigments have to be absorbed, and excreted.
Though almost all of us have beetroot pigments in our urine after eating beetroot, the colour is too faint to see with the naked eye.
Its leaves are very rich in the antioxidant beta carotene. The root contains large amounts of fibre and vitamin C and is extremely abundant in potassium.
 Did You Know?
- Beets (beta vulgaris) are a member of the same order of flowering plants Caryophyllales, which includes bougainvillea, cacti, amaranth, carnations and the strange insectivorous plant -- Venus Fly Trap!
- The Romans believe that if a man and a woman eat from the same beetroot, they will fall in love (with each other, presumably)
- They considered beet juice to be an aphrodisiac. Beetroot is rich in the mineral boron which is important in the production of human sex hormones.
- Around 800 BC, an Assyrian text describes beets growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
- Betanins, pigments obtained from beetroot, are used industrially as red food colourants – e.g. to improve the colour of tomato paste, sauces, jams and ice cream.
 Traditional Uses
The ancient Greeks and Romans used beetroot to help relieve high fever. During the dark ages in Europe, the juice of beetroot was always recommended when the person was unable to consume hard food. Beetroot is well known for its blood purifying properties as well. Its juice stimulates the liver, kidneys, gall bladder, spleen and bowels. Naturopaths believe that beetroot stimulates the lymphatic system and strengthens the immune system, especially when it comes to fighting colds. Chinese medicine suggests that consumption of beetroot strengthens the heart, sedates the body and purifies the blood. They especially recommend beetroot juice for menopausal women.
 Health Benefits
Since beetroot has such high folate content, it is very effective in reducing the risk of heart disease. Adequate folate intake decreases the level of homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine in blood increases the risk of heart diseases.
High Blood Cholesterol
Beetroots are rich in soluble fibres, which help to lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Raised levels of LDL cholesterol heighten the risk of heart disease. In addition, the carotenoids and flavonoids present in beetroots also prevent the LDL cholesterol and artery walls from being harmed, which reduces the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Beetroot has a glycaemic index of 64, so it is quite easily digested by the body. This results in blood sugar levels in the body rising quite rapidly. Thus its consumption after very strenuous activities ensures that muscles remain energetic and replenished with energy stores.
Since beetroot is high in beta carotene and iron, it is consumed for preventing anemia especially in people who follow a vegetarian diet. Anaemia results in severe tiredness, lack of concentration and impairs the immune system.
The pigment that gives beets their rich, purple-crimson colour, betacyanin, is a powerful cancer fighting agent. Beet fibre has been shown to have a favourable effect on bowel functions too. The combination of their betacyanin and fibre content is probably responsible for the protective role of beets against colon cancer.
In animal studies, beet fibre has been shown to increase the level of the antioxidant enzymes, specifically glutathione peroxidase and glutathione -S- transferase, as well as increase the number of special white blood responisble for detecting and eliminating abnormal cells. In the study of patients with stomach cancer, beet juice was found to be a potent inbibitor of the formation of nitrosamines (cancer-causing compounds derived primarily from the ingestion of nitrates from smoked or cured meats) as well as the cell mutations caused by these compounds.
 How to Select and Store
- Choose beetroots which are firm, clean, smooth, fresh with a rich red colour and without any soft or wet patches.
- Small beets tend to be very tender and good for consumption.
- Good-quality beets should have their greens intact. The greens should be fresh looking with no signs of spoilage. Slightly flabby greens can be restored to freshness if stored in the refrigerator in water.
- Fresh beets with the greens attached can be stored for three to five days in the refrigerator, but beets with the greens removed can be stored in the refrigerator for two to four weeks.
- If you will be storing beets for longer than a couple of days, cut off the majority of the greens and their stems from the roots, so they do not pull all the moisture away from the root. Leave about two inches of the stems attached to prevent the roots from "bleeding".
- Store the unwashed greens in a separate perforated bag, where they will keep fresh for about four days.
- Raw beets do not freeze well since they tend to become soft upon thawing. Freezing cooked beets is fine; they will retain their flavour and texture.
 Tips for Preparing
- Wash beetroots gently under cool running water, taking care not to tear the skin - this tough outer layer helps keep most of the beets' pigments inside the vegetable.
- They are typically prepared by steaming. Be sure to cook them lightly to retain their anti-cancer effects. When boiling beetroots, leave the beets with their root ends and one of the stems attached; and don't peel them until after cooking since the beet juice will stain your skin.
- To remove beet stains from the skin rub lemon juice on them.
 Quick Serving Ideas
- Raw beetroot can be grated for use in salads and as a garnish for soups. Not only does it add excellent nutrition, it also adds flavour and colour.
- Beet greens can also be used in salads in place of lettuce.
- Beetroot can be roasted with other vegetables in the oven or under the grill.
- Lightly saute beet greens with other greens, such as chard and mustard greens.
- Swirl pureed cooked beetroot and stewed apples together with cinnamon and nutmeg to make a colourful and delicious snack or dessert.
- Beet juice is a delicious way to increase your nutrition intake. However, start with a small amount of juice, such as 15-30 ml, mixed with other juices, such as carrot and apple. Larger amounts of beet juice may cause an upset stomach.
To cook they can be baked, roasted or simmered for up to an hour. It is ideally used cold in salads or added to soups. Beetroots leaves are prepared in the same way as spinach leaves and are highly nutritious and tasty.
- Some people eating beets may experience beeturia, a red or pink colour in the urine or stool; it is a totally harmless condition.
- Beet greens and to a lesser extent, the roots contain high levels of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid over-consuming beetroot and beet greens.
- Since beets have the highest amount of natural sugar among all vegetables, people suffering from diabetes ought to have them in a raw and natural form, rather than canned, pureed, etc. Since the fibre levels go down in processed and cooked vegetables they may alter blood sugar levels.
- The Complete Guide, Healing Foods, Amanda Ursell, published by Dorling Kindersley
- The Goodness of Beetroot
- Love Beetroot
- Health Diaries