The Romans viewed the humble beetroot as a one-stop treatment for fever, wounds, skin complaints, constipation and flagging libidos - and it looks like we're finally catching on!
The UK is experiencing a beetroot boom, according to consumer analysts, with ASDA reporting a 35% year-on-year increase in sales. Delicious beetroot recipes are all over the internet, with so many different ways to cook, puree, blitz, blend and serve this popular veg.
But there's plenty of scientific evidence to back up the supposed beetroot benefits, say researchers. In fact, beetroot have more health benefits than almost any other vegetable you could name.
"Beetroot is heaving with nutrients," says nutritionist Christine Bailey. "B vitamins, which are needed for energy production; antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta-carotene and beta-cyanine; and an impressive range of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and iron."
Prefer to drink your beets, rather than eat them? The benefits of beetroot juice could be even more pronounced, since beet juice is easier to digest and provides a more concentrated dose of nutrients, some of which may be destroyed by the cooking process. However, whole beets contain more fibre, so the choice is yours.
Chopped or juiced, raw or baked, read on to discover how beetroot recipes could help you reap health and beauty beetroot benefits...
1. They're anti-ageing
Anthocyanins and betacyanins (or betalains) are the pigments that give beetroot its deep red hue. Anthocyanins help to counter the effects of pollution on the body, preventing nasty free radicals from damaging your complexion. Beetroot is also rich in lycopene, which helps to protect skin from the sun.
2. They could help prevent cancer
Betacyanins, meanwhile, are thought to protect against certain types of cancer, including lung, colon and skin cancers.
3. They could give your immune system a boost
Ingesting beetroot fibre can increase the number of white blood cells produced by the body - these are the cells that fight infection and disease and help to destroy abnormal cells. "The old adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away' could be applied to beetroot," says nutritionist Mark Kilick.
4. They reduce blood pressure
The average beetroot contains 20 times more dietary nitrates than any other vegetable. The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a chemical thought to improve blood flow by encouraging artery walls to relax. Drinking a single glass of beetroot juice can lower systolic blood pressure by 4-5 points for up to 24 hours.
5. They make your workout more efficient
Drinking beetroot juice enhances blood flow to muscles, increasing stamina and oxygen uptake by 16%. "Eating baked beetroot has also been shown to improve runners' speed by three per cent over a 5K run, which is significant over such a short distance," Christine adds. "Beetroot may improve your recovery too."
6. They could help ward off dementia
Beet juice also seems to boost blood flow to certain areas of the brain, which some scientists believe may guard against dementia and cognitive decline.
7. They could reduce your risk of osteoporosis
Nitric oxide (produced by the body when nitrate-rich beetroot is consumed) is thought to guard against osteoporosis. Beets are also rich in silica, which helps the body utilise calcium to maintain healthy bones. Don't forget the leaves, either! Beet greens, which can be cooked and enjoyed in much the same way as spinach, are rich in calcium, and a good source of iron, beta-carotene and vitamins C and K to boot.
8. They have aphrodisiac properties
Turns out the Romans were onto something, after all. Beetroot is a rich source of boron, a nutrient directly implicated in the production of human sex hormones. That boost in blood flow helps, too...
9. They could help prevent birth defects
Beetroot is a natural source of folic acid, which helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
10. They help you detox
Few foods have real ‘detoxifying' powers, but beets are packed with nutrients that support the liver on its mission to destroy the nasties we bombard it with on a daily basis. These include betaine, which helps the liver clear toxins, and pectin, which helps the body eliminate toxins once they've been processed by the liver.