The beetroot is back. Initially used as an aphrodisiac by the Romans, two thousand years later it is dominating world health and fitness news, following research showing that drinking beetroot juice increases stamina, allowing keep-fit enthusiasts and athletes to exercise for considerably longer, and slashes blood pressure.
A study carried out at the University of Exeter in the UK, and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology last month, showed that a daily glass of beetroot juice – just 500ml - helps sports people to work out for 16 per cent longer.
Apparently it’s the nitrates in the beetroot juice – more concentrated than eating the vegetable un-juiced - which help the body to use less oxygen. This means that people exercising at moderate levels experience improved ‘exercise tolerance’, and their muscles are able to do the same amount of work while using less energy.
This 16 per cent increase in endurance means that someone who normally runs out of steam after jogging for an hour would be able to keep going for an extra ten minutes.
Alternatively, they could cover the same distance but more quickly.
The study was small, but the results after only six days stunned scientists. Andy Jones, a professor in the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences who held the trials, says that they were amazed by the results “because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including long-term endurance exercise training”.
Mr. Jones added, “I am sure professional and amateur athletes will be interested in the results of this research. I am also keen to explore the relevance of the findings to those people who suffer from poor fitness and may be able to use dietary supplements to help them go about their daily lives”.
In the study, supplementation with beetroot juice was shown to increase the level of nitrate in the blood by 96 per cent. It also reduced systolic blood pressure – reportedly as successfully as clinical drugs.
Doctors at Bart's and Royal London Hospital have spent 10 years studying the effect of nitrates on our bodies and found that, once swallowed, they produces nitric oxide. "This is a very powerful substance which is continually made by our blood vessels to keep our blood pressure low,'' says Professor Ben Benjamin, a member of the research team. ''It is also made in large quantities by white cells in our bloodstream to fight infection."
The Beetroot, or ‘Beta Vulgaris’ is also a rich source of potent antioxidants and nutrients, including magnesium, sodium, potassium and vitamin C. It is credited with supporting liver detoxification, lowering cholesterol, stabilising blood sugar levels (great for dieting), inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells (especially skin cancer), lowering stress, anxiety and depression, and combating anaemia.
Beetroot is not part of the traditional Kenyan diet: but the man on the street does appear to know that it’s very, very good for you. “It gives you extra blood” was the overwhelming consensus.
At a similar price to potatoes and tomatoes, it’s far more expensive than sukuma and cabbage, but it is eaten, and apparently enjoyed, by those who are financially able to add a little variety and colour to their plate.
More importantly, it is an excellent vegetable to grow in our current climatic conditions. Being a hardy crop, once germinated it requires minimal watering during the four months from planting to picking.
Rory Green of Coomete Farm in Limuru, who supplies Zucchini at ABC, Corner Shop at Diamond Plaza, and Karen Provision Stores, among others, says that his current crop is spectacular – with the beets having survived the coldest season and grown impressively large.
The earthy tang of Beetroot juice might not be to everyone's taste, but below are a few juice recipes which include other ingredients to make it more palatable. Use a juicer or blender. Nakumatt also sells fresh Beetroot and Carrot juice for Sh 249 a litre.
A few notes of caution:
Drinking beetroot juice is likely to have another unexpected consequence - purple urine, or 'beeturia' as it is known to scientists. It’s harmless – no need to freak out or call the doctor!
If you share your beetroot with another, be prepared – the belief persists in some cultures today that if a man and a woman eat from the same beetroot they will fall in love with each other.
March to the Beet: 1 glass
1 medium beetroot - peeled
1 handful basil leaves
1 lime - peeled
1/2 a red bell pepper - deseeded
Red peppers also contain an abundance of anti-oxidants. Pears are a good source of soluble fibre and will help 'sweep out' the intestines.
UnBeetable: 1 pint
2 medium beetroots - peeled
2 carrots - peeled
1 lemon – peeled, but leaving pith on
2 inches of root ginger - peeled
Beet Booster: 1 glass
1 medium fresh beetroot - peeled
2 small carrots - peeled
2 sticks celery
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