Can’t Beet It!

As you might imagine there are several super foods vying for the spot light this last week of National Nutrition Month. The list of potential super foods range from the exotic Shichimu Togarashi , a Japanese spice blend, to avocado oil and cinnamon to the familiar sesame seed. So you might be surprised to read that I will end the month with the humble beet.

My family never ate beets growing up so I am a recent convert to this delicious and versatile vegetable.  Besides enjoying the wonderful mix of a bleu cheese and beet salad and succulent roasted beets, I have discovered the wonders of beet root juice. Any one who knows me knows I am not a huge fan of juicing  but I do try to keep an open mind. It may have been the early morning run on the beach or the lungs full of clean air but this past vacation I became intrigued by the “Active Juice” offered at the breakfast buffet. Freshly squeezed green apple and ginger were expertly mixed with beet root juice, pretty darn good. So good that when I had the simpler green apple and ginger juice mix, it just didn’t measure up.

So what is it about beets that have put them on the trendy nutritional map? Fortunately in the case of beets much of the research has been done on humans. And while beets are a good source of anthrocyanins ( the same health promoting  anti-oxidants found in blueberries) most of the research has been focused on nitrates.

The natural occurring nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide by your mouth bacteria. It is this nitric oxide that researchers feel can significantly improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure.  Research in the elderly and athletes produced measurable benefits using beet juice.

In a 2010 study from Wake Forest University  “MRI scans showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes, which are the areas of the brain most commonly associated with the degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive conditions.”*

Further study in the United Kingdom in 2011 found  a remarkably difference from beets in the performance of elite cyclists.

“Research by the University of Exeter, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, has shown drinking the juice enables competitive-level cyclists to cut down the time it takes to ride a given distance. This is the first study which has shown that beetroot juice can be effective in a simulated competition environment.”**

You might not be a highly trained athlete or  an old person (yet) but you are living in one of the most stressful cities in the world and that alone makes adding beets to your diet a healthy move. Besides the magic nitrates in beets, they are a rich source of folate ( the B vitamin that is super important for women of child bearing age) and potassium  as well as a good source fiber, which benefits everyone.

Are beets a “super food” ? You bet they are!

You can make beet juice without a juicer if you have a strong blender. Beet juice can be bitter so most drinks are juice blends.    Try my favorite and add one green apples and several slices of fresh ginger to the mix.                                                                    

Tools: Blender, paring knife, vegetable peeler and 1/4 cup of water.                                                                                                                 Instructions: Clean and peel 1-3 beets. Chop the beets, the finer you chop them the easier it is on the blender, same for the green apple and ginger. Add all to the blender with about 1/4 cup ( 120 ml) of water.  Blend well. If the mixture is too thick, add water until yo get your desired consistency. Strain the juice through cheesecloth to remove any large pieces.                                                                                     

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!

*The findings are published online in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society,  http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20101103/beet-juice-good-for-brain

**www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_145007_en.html

 

Nutrition Week 3 Little Known Nutrients

Believe it or not dietitians do not have a food encyclopedia in their head ( at least this dietitian doesn’t) but we do probably know a bit more than the average Joe about the incredible benefits of eating well.   Nutrition Month often gives  me the opportunity to look up nutritional facts and functions that I haven’t had to think about in a few years.

For instance the nutritional  function of copper, which is found in good amounts in this week’s fruit opportunity, mangoes. Mangoes are a terrific source of the usual nutritional stars, like Vitamin C and A but mangoes also provide a good amount of vitamin B6 and copper. The nutritional value of  vitamin B6 and copper is not so well known or do I dare say, appreciated.

We don’t need a lot of copper, so it is described as a trace mineral in nutrition circles, but the little we do need provides us a lot of service. Copper is an important part of the process that produces hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen to all your vital parts. Copper acts as anti-oxidant as well, ridding you of those nasty free radicals that cause celluar damage and copper plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy immune system,  sound nerves and blood vessels.

B6 is also known as pyridoxine and like copper is involved in the formation of hemoglobin and plays a role in the production of neurotranmistters which go on to influence hormones like serotonin that is important in regulating moods and sleep.

All this should make mangoes an easy pick for nutrition-wise eaters this week.

Now the real vegetable  opportunity this week is BEETS!

If you are Australian or from the UK or just about anywhere but the U.S., you have probably been eating beets all your life and won’t find having beet salad or beet slices on your burger a challenge this week. This is one vegetable that most Americans rarely think about adding to the meal. I am not sure why this is so ( that is a blog for another day…).

But they should think about beets because while beets are not green and leafy they do offer a considerable amount of nutritional benefit. Another low GL food, beets offer a good amount of fiber to your day as well as iron, which is not often found in vegetables. Beets also have plant sterols, these organic substances are thought to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in blood.
Along with potassium and magnesium , great for controlling blood pressure, beets are a rich source of manganese, another trace mineral that is essential to the smooth operation of many body processes and systems. Manganese helps the body form connective tissue ( think cartilage and ligaments) sex hormones  and synovial fluid in the joints, something you definitely need as you age. Along with many other benefits, manganese will aid blood clotting and is necessary for the absorption of calcium,helping to keep those bones strong. The best way to get manganese is through your food, and this week that includes BEETS!

Live Well, Eat Well, Have Fun!