Beetroot nutrition

So you think you know all about the humble beetroot – the root vegetable so often found in pantries since World War II. But you might be surprised to learn that it is so much more than just a pickle. It is actually a nutritional powerhouse, now widely regarded as a “superfood”, and best friend to those who engage in high-intensity, stamina and endurance exercise.

Beetroot history

The beetroot is no stranger to the average household. Also known as “table beet”, it is one of the many cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris and the most common variety found in Britain, North America and Central America today.

In the earliest days of its consumption, the leaves were most commonly eaten by people living in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. The Romans then began to make use of the root for various medicinal purposes. Over the years, it became popular in Central and Eastern Europe for culinary purposes too.

Beetroot, as we know it today, was only cultivated in the 16th century. Interestingly, modern varieties are derived from the sea beet, an inedible plant that grows wild along the coasts of Europe, North Africa and Asia.

An unlikely “super” hero

Unlike some of the other, better known superfoods, like wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina or acai berry, beetroot is not particularly exotic. But don’t let that fool you.

What has traditionally been viewed as a boring, somewhat unappetising vegetable, is really a “super-root” in disguise.

It is a rich source of both carbohydrates and plant proteins, along with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.

At the same time, it has a very low caloric value and is almost entirely free of fat. It is also a low-GI food – the sugar conversion process is slow, which supports stable blood sugar levels.

Beetroot antioxidants

You can’t have failed to notice the vivid colour of beetroot – whether the deep purple, the bright yellow  or the lesser seen candy-stripes. Like so many other superfoods, these colours offer a visual clue as to the high level of antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids found in beetroot as a result of its pigment.

The notorious red colour compound is called betanin (or beetroot red), a pigment which is a well-known antioxidant and phyto-chemical. However, all beets contain betalain antioxidants – a class of red and yellow pigments found in plants.

Vitamins and minerals in beetroot

Beetroot is also rich in a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, contributing to its classification as a superfood. For instance, it contains high levels of folate and vitamin C (another powerful antioxidant), as well as riboflavin, niacin and thiamin, vitamin K, calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron.

Dietary fibre

Beetroot is high in dietary fibre – both soluble and insoluble. A 100g portion – about two or three small beetroot – contains as much as 10% of the recommended daily allowance.

Fibre is an essential component of healthy digestion and supports everything from stable blood sugar levels to natural cleanse and detox processes in the body.

Dietary nitrate

More recently, a lot of research has been undertaken on beetroot’s capacity to absorb and store exceptionally high levels of nitrate – a nutrient involved in many of the processes that are essential for efficient exercise performance, including blood flow and oxygen usage.

In particular, a study conducted by Exeter University in the UK received a high level of media attention when it found that cyclists who drank a half-litre of beetroot juice several hours before setting off were able to ride up to 20% longer than those who drank a placebo blackcurrant juice.

Since that study, both beetroot and beetroot supplements have been of particular interest to athletes.

Supporting general health and vitality

The unique combination of nutrients found in beetroot mean that it can offer ideal support for general health and vitality, including:

  • a healthy heart and cholesterol levels
  • detoxification and liver function
  • a strong immune system
  • healthy homocysteine levels
  • normal tissue growth
  • musculo-skeletal health
  • healthy skin, hair and nails
  • stable blood sugar levels
  • stamina and energy levels
  • stable moods
  • and healthy digestion.

Belonging to the same family as two other nutritional titans, chard and spinach, both the leaves and roots of beetroot can be eaten. Incorporate it into your daily diet and your body will thank you.

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What are colon cleansers?

About the colon

To understand the role of the colon, it is important to first understand how the digestive tract (of which the colon is a part) is formed and functions in the body.

The digestive tract is the group of organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested and finally eliminated. These organs include the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.

The large intestine consists of the colon and the rectum. The colon is approximately 5-6 feet long and has an ascending, transverse and descending portion. From there, it joins the rectum. It takes food around 18 to 24 hours to pass along the entire length of the colon.

The main functions of the large intestine are: the formation and excretion of faeces; the absorption of water and minerals; and beneficial bacteria in the colon manufacture vitamins B1, B2, B12 and K. They also help to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

Cells of the colon secrete mucus, which lubricates and protects the walls. Inflammation or irritation of the intestinal wall causes the release of large amounts of mucus, as well as water and electrolytes. In this case, mucus can be seen in the stools and there may also be diarrhoea.

On the other hand, if faeces remain in the colon for longer than is desirable, causing constipation, large amounts of toxins can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. This is called auto-intoxication or self-poisoning.

Waste matter is filled with bacteria, so it is important to get it out of the body as quickly as possible. If the colon isn’t working efficiently, problems such as bloating, wind and pain are likely to present.

The digestive system is under pressure to perform very important functions all day, every day. Generally, digestive system problems are caused by a toxic build-up in the body, so it can be beneficial to flush the body of such toxins and waste from time to time. It is widely held by many natural health practitioners that one of the best means of achieving this is with so-called “colon cleansers”.

What are colon cleansers?

Colon cleansers fall into two broad categories: oral/rectal supplements and colonic irrigation.

As the name suggests, they are all intended to cleanse or clean the colon of toxins and other substances that can lead to disease and/or the accumulation of fat.

They come in the form of supplements, laxatives or procedures / devices used to stimulate the bowels into producing a bowel movement. The idea is that, by stimulating the colon to expel its contents, this helps rid the body of the toxins and waste matter that has built up in the colon.

As mentioned above, the colon is the part of the digestive tract that stores the waste material that we would rather not think about (and most of us don’t, until our health starts to deteriorate or we experience digestive issues). Over time the colon has a tendency to get clogged with food particles, especially if the diet includes a high level of processed foods and insufficient fresh fruit and vegetables. This leads to an accumulation of parasites and toxins that can have a detrimental effect on health.

If the colon is repeatedly abused and neglected, it can become a cesspool of toxins. If these are not eliminated from the body, they can keep building up over time and may even be reabsorbed. This can lead to bloating, constipation, irritable bowel symptoms, fatigue and various other health issues.

Colon cleansers may therefore offer support for conditions such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, chronic fatigue, acid reflux and even skin and hair problems. Users of colon cleansers often say that they feel “cleaner” and healthier after cleansing, that they experience weight loss and increased bowel regularity.

Colon cleansing is not a new therapy. In fact, colonic irrigation was used by the Egyptians as far back as 1500 BC, was taught in Ancient Greece’s medical schools and was practised by Chinese medicine more than 3000 years ago. Even then, it was already recognised that water can be a highly effective cleansing agent that purifies, softens and neutralises.

In more recent years (and particularly as a result of the added pressure placed on our digestive systems by the modern-day diet), colonics and colon cleansing health supplements have seen a resurgence in popularity, as potential tools that can support digestive health and general well-being.

It is generally accepted that the colon is an important digestive organ in terms of our overall health. Colon cleansers have therefore become a popular means of detoxification, ridding the body of dangerous parasites that may have otherwise found a home in the digestive tract, and promoting colon health and a healthy balance of intestinal flora.

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Body cleanse and detox

What is body detoxification?

Broadly speaking, the aim of any detox programme is to eliminate toxins from the body that have accumulated over time, resulting in a healthier and more energised you.

There are countless ways to bring about the detoxification of the body and, as such, there are a wide variety of detox programmes out there to choose from.

Why do I need to detox?

Unfortunately, in this modern age, much of our food and water contains chemicals that are foreign (and often highly toxic) to our bodies. We are also exposed to an ever-increasing level of environmental toxins on a daily basis – even the air we breathe contains such compounds.

The liver is the body’s main detox organ. Every toxin taken in (whether eaten, drunk, inhaled or absorbed into the skin) will end up at the liver. However, the liver is part of a group of detoxification systems within the body and its role is to convert toxins into forms more easily excreted by the other organs comprising:

  • the digestive system – the natural health industry and most practitioners place great emphasis on the state of the intestines and bowels in terms of the health of our liver, lymphatic system and immune system;
  • the urinary system – the kidneys receive toxins that have been broken down and made water soluble by the liver, such as the end products of medications, organic chemicals, yeast and hormones;
  • the lymphatic system – this system filters the bloodstream of toxins and waste. Lymph nodes contain large amounts of white blood cells that attack bad bacteria and other pathogens;
  • the respiratory system – gas exchange is the main function of the lungs; inhaled oxygen is supplied to the blood and carbon dioxide is exhaled. The respiratory system has a number of mechanisms to reduce the amount of toxins entering the body. For example, the hairs in our nose trap dust and pollutants, which are expelled when we blow our nose;
  • the skin – the skin is our largest organ of elimination and, if working optimally, we can excrete a significant amount of water soluble toxins this way. Sweat has a similar composition to urine and is an important detoxification fluid, which is just one of the reasons why exercise is so important for good health.

Therefore, for the most part, our bodies have the ability to deal with the toxins to which they are regularly exposed. However, we can encounter difficulties if nutritional requirements are not being met and/or the level of toxins becomes too high.

For example, skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis are often treated by conventional medicine as conditions of the skin itself, when in reality, they are more often simply external manifestations of internal toxicity. Similarly, chronic constipation and IBS-type symptoms are virtually considered “the norm” because they are so common, when such symptoms are indicative of an underlying problem, most likely rooted in poor diet and toxin overload.

In such circumstances, a body cleanse and detox programme may be beneficial, along with dietary adjustments and supporting supplementation.

How does a body cleanse and detox work?

The human body is best able to make use of natural substances, which include fruit and vegetables and other natural foods, herbs and phyto-chemicals from plants. Any foreign, synthetic substances introduced into the body will induce some form of response from the immune system.

While there are many detoxification programmes available, they can differ quite significantly in their process and outcomes. Some focus on one particular system of the body, such as the digestive system (and the bowels in particular). Others may purify the liver, or the blood or seek to improve the function of the kidney or skin. A full body cleanse and detox programme, on the other hand, involves combining all of these detox regimes, which can then help to restore the body’s organs to their optimum levels.

Although different, many types of detoxification programmes will be beneficial, subject to your desired outcome and your particular health needs and goals. Most detoxification regimes that advocate lifestyle changes will have some beneficial effect. However, there are of course other factors to be considered, such as a sensible diet, taking regular exercise, drinking pure water etc.

How body cleanse and detox programmes work will depend on the type of programme being followed. For example, those focused on the digestive system will generally recommend a higher intake of natural, unprocessed plants (such as living or raw foods, high in digestive enzymes). These foods will contain the quality dietary fibre necessary for stimulating good bowel elimination. These foods will also usually contain the required levels of vitamins and trace minerals to nourish the eliminative organs mentioned above.  

Supplementation

Of course, changing dietary and lifestyle habits for the long-term can be a significant challenge, particularly with the pressures and time constraints of modern-day living. Whether undertaking a short-term body cleanse and detox, or seeking to introduce major lifestyle changes to address a serious health issue or simply improve upon your health, it can be helpful to include food supplements in the programme to offer additional support and promote better outcomes.

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