Going back to your roots: why root vegetables are so good for you

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Root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Because they grow underground, they absorb a huge amount of nutrients from the earth around them. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, they are versatile and provide a great accompaniment to many dishes and in some cases can be the main event themselves!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her top five root vegetables and their nutritional benefits.

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BEETROOT

In ancient times, people only ate beetroot leaves, with the purple root being used medicinally to treat toothaches and headaches!  Now of course we know that these delicious roots are packed with beta-carotene (an antioxidant which helps to protect against the ageing process), vitamin C (to support the immune system), iron (which helps reduce tiredness and fatigue), and folic acid (great for energy).

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Beetroot has now built a reputation as a superfood: most recently, it’s been found to boost exercise performance, meaning beetroot juice is a great choice for athletes.

Nutritionally, freshly boiled beetroot is as good as the raw vegetable with very few nutrients lost during cooking.  There are a wealth of sweet and savoury dishes that work well with Beetroot; as a side to mackerel, in combination with goat’s cheese, as a soup, in chocolate brownies, roasted with carrots, in a salad with chorizo and pear… the list is delicious and endless!

CARROTS

Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene; our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A as we need it, and vitamin A is great for the skin and is also needed for healthy vision. Interestingly, if you’re deficient in vitamin A, just one carrot a day can be enough to improve your night vision.

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Nutritionally, carrots are actually better eaten cooked than raw; raw carrots have tough cellular walls which makes it more difficult for the body to extract the beta-carotene.  Carrots – and in fact all vegetables contain beta-carotene – are actually best eaten in a meal containing fats (such as meat or cheese); beta-carotene is a fat soluble nutrient which means it is much better absorbed by the body when eaten with foods containing fats.

PARSNIPS

This sweet, starchy vegetable makes a great alternative to potatoes and can often be overlooked as a source of fibre, which keeps those bowels moving! Parsnips are a good source of vitamins C and E – both great for the immune system as well as supporting a healthy heart and good skin.

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Spicy parsnip soup is a real winner. Roast the parsnips in the oven with some garlic, turmeric, cumin and onions for about half an hour. Then put into a food processor with some vegetable stock and a little lemon juice and blend until smooth – heat and serve as needed. This soup makes a great starter for any dinner party or provides a nutritious lunch to pack for work.

SWEET POTATOES

Sweet potato is yet another vegetable that’s packed with beta-carotene; it’s the rich colours in root vegetables that provide this wonderful health-giving antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also provide good levels of vitamin C (for immunity) and potassium (to support a healthy heart). Although they’re very slightly higher in calories than white potatoes, sweet potatoes are much better at balancing blood sugar levels, which is really important for providing sustained energy and for effective weight management (if that is your goal).

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Sweet potatoes are also incredibly versatile. As a quick and easy lunch you can eat them just like you would with white potatoes – in their jackets with some tuna and sweetcorn and a little mayonnaise. You can roast them as wedges for a delicious side dish, and they can be mashed with a little butter and black pepper. Sweet potatoes are great included in curries, pureed in soups with butternut squash, added to lamb tagines or even baked in chocolate brownies and muffins. Whatever you choose to do with them, their amazing health benefits make them a great alternative to the standard spud.

GARLIC

Garlic is often regarded as a staple ingredient to enhance the flavour or most dishes, but it also delivers so many health benefits! It has natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which means it’s great for supporting the immune system in warding off colds and infections, and it protects the digestive tract from nasty invaders causing stomach upsets.  Taking a course of garlic pills and upping your intake of garlic in meals prior to travelling abroad can really help protect the body from nasty stomach bugs.

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The medicinal properties of garlic are the result of the sulphur compounds it contains. These compounds actually provide more health benefits when raw rather than cooked, but most people might find eating raw garlic a bit of a challenge!  Regularly including garlic in your cooking is still going to provide great health benefits, including a healthier heart, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.

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Garlic is particularly good roasted with chicken or lamb, with some rosemary.  You can also mix it with chilli, thyme and olive oil to make a marinade for a delicious roast rib of beef or steak. Garlic also works really well with roasted vegetables or stir fried broccoli; it can be sautéed with butter and mushrooms or fried with cabbage, onion and bacon. Delicious!

So why not explore the many ways you can include more roots in your diet and enjoy the health benefits of these colourful and nutritious vegetables!

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