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Beetroot benefits

Beetroot is a dark red vegetable with an acquired taste which has had a lot of coverage in the news. It has been linked with better stamina, improved blood flood and lower blood pressure.

But what's the truth about beetroot?

Beetroot facts

The website lovebeetroot.co.uk says the vegetable became popular in Roman times and it was used to treat fever, constipation, wounds, skin problems - and was used as an aphrodisiac.

Most beetroot on sale is round and red, but yellow, white and stripy versions are available.

The beetroot taste is described as sweet, earthy and tender to eat. It is grown in the ground and is related to turnips, swedes and sugar beet.

Beetroot has featured in recipes from top chefs including Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal.

If you're considering beetroot as one of your 5-a-day, it contains potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, B6 and C, folic acid, carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and soluble fibre.

Beetroot for blood pressure management

Researchers have known for some time that juice may help lower blood pressure, but in 2010 UK researchers revealed that nitrate is the special ingredient in beetroot which lowers blood pressure and may help to fight heart disease.

In a Queen Mary University of London study, healthy participants had to drink a glass of beetroot juice while others had a dummy (placebo) drink. Others took nitrate tablets.

Blood pressure was lowered within 24 hours in people who took nitrate tablets and those who drank beetroot juice.

The researchers admitted to BootsWebMD that beetroot juice is a love it or hate it kind of drink, but found people in the study didn't mind it so much when they were drinking it every day.

People with very high blood pressure can end up being on multiple tablets, so a more natural approach could prove popular if the initial research results are confirmed.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation and published online in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Beetroot for the brain and dementia

Drinking beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain in older people, which may be able to fight the progression of dementia, a 2010 study suggested.

Beetroot contains high concentrations of nitrates, which are converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth. Nitrites help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to places lacking in oxygen.

Previous studies have shown that nitrites widen blood vessels, but US researchers writing in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, say theirs was the first to find that nitrites also increase blood flow to the brain.

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