The Colour of Purple - Beetroot Salad and happy blood vessels!
Updated: May 3
The jacaranda trees are in full bloom in Sydney. These elegant trees are a mass of beautiful mauve flowers. If you park your car underneath one you won’t feel quite so enchanted as the sticky flowers fall from the tree but the purple pavements look amazing. In the fruit and vegetable world, purple is usually made by anthocyanins - think eggplant, berries and purple grapes. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants. But the purple colour of beetroot comes from another group of antioxidants called betacyanins.
I never wear white when cooking beetroot. Its colour is so potent that it stains hands, chopping boards and even urine. I remember freaking out one morning when my toddler had the most disturbing coloured wee. For a shocking moment I thought it was blood until I remembered that we had eaten beetroot for dinner the night before.
Beetroot and beetroot juice sales have apparently been increasing since research has revealed that it can help reduce high blood pressure by relaxing blood vessel walls – sort of like widening the hose pipe so the water flows more easily. Beetroot contains natural nitrates which chewing converts to nitrites which then get converted to nitric oxide. Here’s another reason to chew your food like your grandma told you to!
Nitric oxide does lots of important jobs in the body such as regulating blood flow and clotting, mediating inflammation, and acting as a nerve transmitter for erectile function. If you’re having trouble getting the men in your family to eat vegetables, that last point might encourage them. Celery, cabbage and spinach as well as beetroot are nitrate rich vegetables.
One study that found beetroot increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes in the brain – an area associated with dementia. Fourteen people aged over seventy ate a high nitrate breakfast including 500mls (16oz or two glasses) of beetroot juice for two days, then swapped to a low nitrate breakfast for the next two days. MRI scans showed a marked increase in blood flow to some parts of the brain with high nitrate breakfast.
I wonder how the participants managed to drink two glasses of beetroot juice? It’s not quite as easy as drinking a glass of fruit juice. The researchers have also recognised this problem and are working on formulating a more palatable drink to sell to the masses. No doubt it will have a decent bit of sugar in it. As 'The Sound of Music' song goes: 'A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
And medicine it is. When we eat large amounts of any one substance, such as herbs, vitamins or beetroot juice, we are stepping out of the realms of food into the realms of medication. This is fine if you are monitored by a nutrition or medical expert for possible side effects.
Healthy eating is all about moderation – a little bit of a lot of different foods.
In light of this... and the beetroot study and the purple jacarandas I made a beetroot salad for dinner last night. It's a whole lot more healthy than a glass of beetroot juice – healthy food is only healthy if it’s actually eaten!
Springtime Beetroot Salad
Spinach or rocket leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 medium beetroot or a bunch of baby beetroot
1 capsicum, chopped in chunks and roasted in oven for 20 minutes
Large handful of green beans
1 avocado, sliced
8 cherry tomatoes
Arrange spinach or rocket leaves on a large platter.
Whisk extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar together as a dressing.
Boil beetroot in a large pot of water for 20-40 minutes depending on size. (Don’t peel – just dump them in the boiling water) Drain and peel off skin. Chop into chunks. Place on spinach and drizzle over dressing.
Chop capsicum in chunks and roast at 200C for 15-20 minutes. (You can also roast small chunks of par-boiled potato)
Lightly steam beans so they still have a bite – not limp and soggy.
Arrange all ingredients on the platter and crumble feta cheese over the top.
Optional: toss in a can of chickpeas for extra protein.
NB If you get super keen and want to grow your own beetroot, go to this great site!