Tasting the Seasons: Beetroot

by  Dr Rupy Aujla03 Mar 2023

Explore the colourful world of beetroot, from its ancient origins to the latest human studies on its potential health benefits. Packed with beneficial compounds like betalains and nitrates, try delicious recipes that showcase its earthy sweetness. Plus, did you know beetroot actually comes in a rainbow of colours, including golden and striped varieties?

You’re food shopping for the week and happen to grab some fresh beetroots, attracted by their bright purple colour. But, when you get home, you realise you don’t know much about beets or how to enjoy them. We’re here to help!

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Back in time

When you stare at these reddish vegetables in your kitchen, you can travel back to ancient civilisations in North Africa and the Mediterranean Region, where the plant is thought to have originated. (Ceclu et al. 2020)

In Traditional Persian Medicine, beetroot was one of the foods used in the prevention and management of cancer. It has also been widely used in other medicinal systems including Arab, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. (Tan et al. 2021)

Quick Food Science

When you hold beetroot in your hand, picture the hundreds of interconnected compounds that act collectively in the human body when we eat it. Meet some of its well-known players:

  • Betalains, of which red beetroot is the richest source
  • Nitrates that turn into nitric oxide, involved in the function of blood vessels
  • Flavonoids
  • Dietary fibres
  • Vitamins C and B-vitamins
  • Minerals like manganese and potassium

More than just a list
These compounds are part of a complex whole and interact in complex ways.

What about these compounds?
They show properties that could promote health, such as:

  • Inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells
  • Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activities
  • Regulating blood pressure (Tan et al. 2021)

How? Nitrate in beetroot converts to nitric oxide, which is important for the regulation of blood pressure and for protecting tissues against cellular injury.

In the human body

What about when we eat beetroot as part of our diet?

Heart health

  • Participants who were given beetroot and other nitrate sources showed improved blood pressure and cardiovascular health, as per a meta-analysis. (Jackson et al. 2018)
  • In the long term, two cohort studies found that people who ate more nitrate-containing vegetables had a reduced risk of hypertension and vascular disease mortality. (Golzarand et al. 2016; Blekkenhorst et al. 2017)

Sport performance & recovery
Athletes who took beetroot juice before a workout had better cardiorespiratory endurance, as per a meta-analysis. (Dominguez et al. 2017)

Special tip: Eating beetroot might be especially beneficial with salty foods to prevent high blood pressure, as per a preliminary study in animal models. (Morris et al. 2019)

How much? Positive results ranged from a few 80g portions of beetroot per week to one portion a day, in combination with other vegetables.

The bigger picture: Beetroot is one of the nitrate-rich vegetables that you create meals with weekly, alongside radishes and leafy green vegetables like rocket, spinach, kale and lettuce. Diversity and balance are key.

Nutrition research is challenging and ongoing
These results come with many limitations. But, combined with lab studies, they suggest that beetroots are a good addition to a balanced diet.

Farm to Plate

When we buy food in supermarkets, we are disconnected from where it was grown and who was involved in the process. If you’re lucky enough to have a farmer’s market nearby, you may exchange a few words and learn about your fruits & veggies. They could tell you how…

  • Growing beetroot rarely needs treating with pesticides, making it an environmentally-friendly crop
  •  Many vegetable farms use them in rotations during the cooler parts of the year
  • In the UK, beetroot is traditionally grown within the Cambridgeshire Fens due to its fertile soils and cool even climate. (Countryside online)

Find farm shops near you (UK)

Enjoying beetroot

Shopping: In the shop, you’ll spot beetroot fresh in bunches with leafy tops, pre-cooked in packages or pickled in jars. We mostly know the bright red and pink beets but fresh beets actually come in a rainbow of colours, including sunny golden and striped varieties, all with unique flavours.

  • Choose fresh beets when you can. Seek out beets that feel heavy for their size, with no mushy or black areas.
  • Pickled beets can be a convenient and cheap alternative but try to avoid added salt and sugars.

Flavour: Beetroot has a characteristic sweet earthy flavour, mainly due to the presence of a compound called geosmin. (Tan et al. 2021)

Around the world

  • As a soup called Borscht in Eastern Europe
  • In the Indian curry Beetroot sabzi
  • To make the Syrian roasted beet dip called Mutabal Shawanda

My favourite ways to eat beetroot

  • Whole – Every single part of beetroots is edible & delicious
  • Raw – Raw beets can be peeled and grated into salads or juiced with other vegetables
  • Pickled – As a garnish to any meal
  • Cooked by roasting, boiling, steaming or sautéing – cut the stem & roots, wash the beets and cook until a knife easily slides inside. Let them cool and rub the skins off with a paper towel.
  • Paired with smoked fish, soft cheese like goat’s cheese and sharp flavours

Try my Golden Beetroot Bulgur Wheat Risotto with Spinach, Walnuts and Fresh Thyme on the website and more recipes with step-by-step images on the Doctor’s Kitchen App👇

Roast Pumpkin, Beetroot & Ricotta Salad with Sage Croutons

Spiced Roasted Roots with Satay Dressing

Egyptian Spiced Beetroot & Toasted Pistachio Dip


Found this interesting?

This was taken from our brand new newsletter called Seasonal Sundays. Every week, you receive ingredient highlights like this one in your inbox every Sunday. Click here to subscribe + get a free 7-day meal plan.

Dive deeper

Origin: Akan et al. Journal of Food Processing and Preservation. 2021

Compounds: Ceclu et al. J. Nutr. Med. Diet Care. 2020Clifford et al. Nutrients. 2015

Heart Health: Jackson et al. Nutrition Reviews. 2018Golzarand et al. J Nephrol. 2016Blekkenhorst et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017

Animal study: Morris et al. Hypertension. 2019

Sports performance: Murphy et al. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012 – Dominguez et al. Nutrients. 2017 – Muggeridge et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014

by Dr Rupy Aujla


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