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What is Beet Root ?

The beet (Beta vulgaris) is a plant in the amaranth family. It is best known its numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known of which is probably the red root vegetable known as the garden beet. However, other cultivated varieties include the leaf vegetables chard and spinach beet, as well as the root vegetables sugar beet, which is important in the production of table sugar, and mangelwurzel, which is a fodder crop.

Three subspecies are typically recognised. All cultivated varieties fall into the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, while Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, commoly known as the sea beet, is the wild ancestor of these and is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India. A second wild subspecies, Beta vulgaris subsp. adanensis, occurs from Greece to Syria.

The beet has a long history of cultivation stretching back to the second millennium BC. The plant was probably domesticated somewhere along the Mediterranean, whence it was later spread to Babylonia by the 8th century BC and as far west as China by 850 AD. Available evidence, such as that provided by Aristotle and Theophrastus suggests that the leafy varieties of the beet were grown primarily for most of its history, though these lost much of their popularity much later following the introduction of spinach.

The beet became highly commercially important in 19th century Europe following the development of the sugar beet in Germany and the discovery that sucrose could be extracted from them, providing an alternative to tropical sugar cane. It remains a widely cultivated commercial crop for producing table sugar.

The dark red beet root (Beta vulguris) is generally regarded as a nutrient-rich food. Natural sugars, starches, and gum, make it an energy source, as well as a source of soluble fiber. The strong natural color of Beet Root also lets it function as an indicator of bowel transit time.

Properties:

Salad of baby beet, sun-dried tomato and tunaBeta vulgaris roots contain significant amounts of vitamin C, whilst the leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A. They are also high in folate, soluble and insoluble dietary fibre and antioxidants. It is among the sweetest of vegetables, containing more sugar even than carrots or sweet corn. The content of sugar in beetroot is no more than 10%; in the sugar beet it is typically 15 to 20%.

Beetroots are rich in the nutrient betaine. Betaine supplements, manufactured as a by-product of sugar beet processing, are prescribed to lower potentially toxic levels of homocysteine (Hcy), a homologue of the naturally occurring amino acid cysteine, which can be harmful to blood vessels thereby contributing to the development of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.

Medicine:

The roots and leaves have medicinal uses.

The Romans used beetroot as a treatment for fevers and constipation, amongst other ailments. Apicius in De re coquinaria gives five recipes for soups to be given as a laxative, three of which feature the root of beet. Hippocrates advocated the use of beet leaves as binding for wounds.

Beet juice can help lower blood pressure. Research published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension showed drinking 500ml of beetroot juice a day led to a reduction in blood pressure within one hour. The reduction was more pronounced after three to four hours, and was measurable up to 24 hours after drinking the juice.

Since Roman times, beetroot juice has been considered an aphrodisiac. It is a rich source of the mineral boron, which plays an important role in the production of human sex hormones. Field Marshal Montgomery is reputed to have exhorted his troops to 'take favours in the beetroot fields', a euphemism for visiting prostitutes.[10]. From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of 'garlic-breath'.

Today the beetroot is still championed as a universal panacea. One of the most controversial examples is the official position of the South African Health Minister on the treatment of AIDS. Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Health Minister under Thabo Mbeki, has been nicknamed 'Dr. Beetroot' for promoting beets and other vegetables over antiretroviral AIDS medicines, which she considers toxic.

Conclusion:
Beetroot has been used as a food and medicine since early times. Its minerals and phytochemicals increase immunity and boost cellular intake of oxygen and treat blood, liver and immune system disorders. There is some evidence that eating beetroot causes some cancer cells to revert to normal or die. Beetroot's main benefits are that it contains no fat, very few calories and is a great source of fiber. The roots and greens therefore are great for women in general and for those planning pregnancy.

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