So you think you know beetroot – the humble root vegetable, so often found in pantries in its pickled form since World War II.
But truly, it is so much more. In fact, it is a nutritional powerhouse now widely regarded as a superfood!
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 the 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. You may be surprised to learn that modern varieties are derived from the sea beet, an inedible plant that grows wild along the coasts of Europe, North Africa and Asia.
A super-root in disguise
Unlike some of the other, better known superfoods, like wheatgrass, spirulina or acai berry, beetroot is not overtly 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 (considered in more detail below). 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.
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 about the high level of antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids found in beetroot.
Vitamins and minerals
Beetroot is also rich in a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, contributing to its reputation as a superfood. For example, 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.
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 your 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.
More recently, much 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 lot 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 health and vitality
The unique combination of nutrients found in beetroot mean that it can offer ideal support for all-round health and vitality, including:
a healthy heart and cholesterol levels
detoxification and liver function
a strong immune system
healthy homocysteine levels
normal tissue growth
healthy skin, hair and nails
stable blood sugar levels
stamina and energy levels
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!
I think that most of us have experienced bad breath at some point in our lives, even if only as a first thing in the morning.
However, when it becomes a lingering problem, it can cause embarrassment and have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life when it comes to work interaction or even social life.
Identifying the cause of bad breath is often the first step towards treating this mostly preventable condition.
So, what is bad breath and what can cause it?
Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is basically an unpleasant odour emitted from a person’s mouth. It is a common problem, which can affect people of all ages. In fact, as many as 1 in 4 people are estimated to suffer with bad breath on a regular basis, although the level of its severity can vary grealtly between them.
What are some common causes of bad breath? Bad breath can be caused by a number of factors which may range from dental health and hygiene, to digestive problems and dietary choices, e.g. persistent bad breath is often caused by the smelly gases released by the bacteria that coat teeth and gums. Bits of food that get caught between the teeth and on the tongue will decay and can sometimes result in an unpleasant smell. However, strong foods like garlic, coffee and onions can add to the problem. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the role of digestive health and diet in causing bad breath.
For many people, grabbing a mint or a piece of gum is their ‘go-to’ solution, as it quickly masks the problem. However, this approach often fails to address the root causes of bad breath, which for many people includes digestive problems or dietary deficiencies. In addition to that, most of chewing gums are packed full or artificial sweeteners which may not be the best solution for your overall health.
The digestive tract extends all the way from the mouth, right through to the anus. It is therefore logical that any digestive disorders (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, poor digestion, fermentation in the gut and putrefaction in the stomach), could result in bad breath. Similarly, if your digestive tract is overloaded with accumulated toxins, if you have a poor diet, routinely use antibiotics or have a lifestyle that is otherwise conducive to an imbalance in your bowel flora, bad breath could merely be a side effect of another underlying problem – most likely related to digestion.
In adults, bad breath is often one of the earliest signs that bacteria levels in the gut are out of balance. Dysbiosis (also sometimes called dysbacteriosis) is a microbial imbalance on or in the body; in other words, an imbalance of friendly versus harmful bacteria (and other micro-organisms, such as yeast, fungi and parasites).
When levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system are low, partially digested food is allowed to decay, resulting in the production of foul gas (as well as the release of toxins into the bloodstream).
Efficient digestion is essential for keeping things moving in the gut. The quicker that food is broken down, nutrients are absorbed and waste and toxins are removed from the body, the better. If you suffer from constipation, have a sluggish digestive system or a high toxic load, you are a prime candidate for developing bad breath. This is because these conditions create an excess of gas in your body, and much of that gas exits through your mouth. Digestive enzymes, both produced by the body and obtained from dietary sources (in the natural whole foods, fruits and vegetables that we eat), are essential for the efficient breakdown of food. However, these enzymes can be in short supply for a number of reasons, e.g.
age: our production of digestive enzymes decreases as we age, plus we have a finite reserve of them
the cooking process: a large percentage of the digestive enzymes naturally present in foods is destroyed by heating
stress: stress inhibits all enzyme secretion
Low levels of digestive enzymes can potentially lead to excess gas formation and putrefaction in the intestines. For many, this can contribute to bad breath gases travelling through the bloodstream and to the lungs, where they are exhaled.
Whether or not you suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, many people find that reducing their dairy intake can help to control bad breath odours. Not only is dairy a highly acid-forming food, which is hard to digest, it can also thicken mucous in the mouth and contribute to the anaerobic environment that bacteria thrive in. This can in turn lead to the production of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs).
Yeast overgrowth is now so common that it is referred to as a “silent epidemic”, particularly amongst women. All of us naturally have low levels of Candida growing in our digestive tract. It is only when digestion is poor, and the immune system and liver aren’t functioning correctly, that Candida is allowed to flourish. When it does, it then gradually spreads to other parts of the body (systemic candidiasis). It is a resilient and invasive parasite, which usually attaches itself to the intestinal wall and can (if left untreated) become a permanent resident of the internal organs. One of the known symptoms of Candida is bad breath. This is because an abnormally high level of fungal organisms in the intestines result in increased fermentation of the carbohydrates you eat. This then produces a variety of toxins and gases. If you want to find out more about candida, check out my blog post dedicated to Candida overgrowth.
The link between bad breath, poor diet, inefficient digestion and an imbalance in gut flora is clear. So, what can you do to support your body if you suspect that any one of these factors could be the cause?
Improve your diet: avoid foods that are hard to digest (such as meat and dairy), that are going to disrupt digestion (such as refined foods) or that are going to feed harmful micro-organisms (such as sugar). Instead, eat more probiotic-rich and fermented foods (like kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha), which can help to support your levels of beneficial bacteria naturally. Many people also choose to supplement with probiotics. In 2011, a study published in the journal ‘Current Opinion in Gastroenterology’ found that probiotic supplements can help to replace odour-causing oral microbes with beneficial varieties.
Eat more raw foods: Raw fruit and vegetables not only contain higher levels of digestive enzymes than cooked foods, they are also rich in dietary fibre – useful for ‘sweeping’ the digestive tract clear of waste, toxins and debris and keeping the digestive system healthy and regular.
Stay hydrated: Surprisingly, dehydration is one of the most common causes of bad breath. It is so simple to remedy, but many people drink far too little water throughout the day to ward off the bacteria in the mouth that are largely responsible for causing bad breath.
Consider a body cleanse and detox: Cleansing the blood and eliminating toxins from the body can help to stimulate the lymphatic system, increase the excretion of uric acid through the kidneys and boost adrenal function, all of which target halitosis at its root. Bad breath is often indicative of a system overloaded with toxins and a strained liver. Consider a colon cleanse, liver flush or full body detox!
We all know that oxygen is essential for all life…
But did you know that, as well as being an absolute necessity for our survival, its use in the body can also result in the production of certain unwanted by-products? They are known as oxidants. Some of these oxidants will act as free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and cell structure. They cause harm because they are constantly trying to stabilise themselves by attempting to ‘steal’ electrons from nearby molecules. This, in turn, damages those molecules and makes them unstable too, causing them to also seek out other electrons in order to become stable again. And so, a vicious circle is created.
Free radicals are produced as a result of both internal (endogenous) and external (exogenous) factors. Endogenous free radicals are produced as a result of normal biological processes, like aerobic respiration, metabolism and inflammation. In contrast, exogenous free radicals are produced as a result of environmental factors, like:
Unfortunately, in our modern age, filled with ever-present pollutants and toxins, both in the environment and in the foods we eat, the levels of free radicals within our bodies are higher than they have ever been before. It is impossible to avoid damage from free radicals, and our body’s own defences against it are not foolproof.
When the levels of free radicals within our bodies exceed the protective capabilities of those defences, it results in a phenomenon known as “oxidative stress” which means that the defence system is no longer able to readily detoxify or to repair the occurring damage.
As the time goes on, cell parts which have become damaged by process of oxidation accumulate, contributing to the toxic load of the body as well as speeding up the processes of ageing and causing a further stress on the immune system.
Our bodies are really amazing in terms of being capable to run many complex processes which keep us healthy and in a harmonious balance. One of the main keys to staying healthy revolves around providing our bodies with as much nutritional support as we can, in order to fuel our natural defences. Our primary line of defence against free radicals are antioxidants – substances that help counteract the damaging effects of oxidation in tissue.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, polyphenols and other phyto-chemicals), as well as enzymes (proteins in the body that assist in chemical reactions). While it is not entirely clear how antioxidants work, their most important characteristic in terms of supporting the body against free radicals is that they are stable with or without the extra electron, so they can help to stop the chain reaction (or the vicious circle) referred to above. These beneficial compounds are present in many natural, whole foods (such as fruit and vegetables).
In many cases, it is possible to identify antioxidant-rich sources through their distinctively bright colours. For instance:
the deep red of cherries;
the deep purple of beetroot;
the bright orange of carrots;
the yellow of turmeric;
and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries and grapes.
Vitamin C and vitamin E are two of the most potent antioxidants found in nature, present in high levels in foods such as parsley, rosehips, elderberries, blackcurrants, citrus fruits, broccoli, nuts and whole grains (like oatmeal, rye, barley). Foods that have exceptionally high levels of antioxidants are often referred to as “superfoods” or “superfruits”, for that reason. The most common examples of those are: green tea, acai berries and wheatgrass.
How to support the level of antioxidants within your body?
Our bodies produce metabolic enzymes that are extremely effective antioxidants but their capability of sufficient production drops dramatically in our twenties. Likewise, if we are adding to the free radical production though our lifestyles, it is a good idea to support the antioxidant levels through external (dietary) sources.
However, if you feel that you need additional support due to your life and health circumstances, a more concentrated intake, or a more convenient and reliable source, food-based antioxidant supplements can be the perfect solution.
You can find plenty of antioxidant options to suit your lifestyle and healthcare needs in our eBay shop.
Having the right kinds of bacteria (often “friendly bacteria”), in appropriate quantities, is essential for virtually everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections. It’s no wonder that more and more people say that health starts within your gut- it really does!
What can disrupt gut flora?
The delicate balance of healthy gut flora can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, which may include:
excess alcohol consumption,
diet high in sugar,
exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants.
For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of the imbalance of bacterial flora within the gut – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.
How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?
In present times, antibiotics have been arguably prescribed and used far more than they should have been and, a result, antibiotic resistance is, unfortunately, now a fairly common problem.
If that wasn’t enough, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their negative impact on the digestive system and the fine balance of gut flora since antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria within our bodies, with no differentiation between them.
Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – which great news in terms of ‘bad’, pathogenic bacteria, but really bad news in terms of our ‘good’ bacteria, which help to keep us healthy!
It is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people start taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, often not realising that the medicine is destroying one of their bodies primary lines of natural defence.
The most important part of our Immune System resides in the gut, where Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) works hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria or viruses) from entering our body.
I’m not completely dissing antibiotics, they do have a very significant role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections but there should be a time and a place for them, when there is no other, less drastic and more natural alternative at hand. It is so important to use antibiotics sensibly and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after antibiotic treatment, in order to ensure that they won’t cause any longer term damage. This can be done through a specialised detox treatment which can deal with any residual after-effects whilst helping your body to regain the optimal balance.
If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread. An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis) increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, which may include:
abdominal pains after eating
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Leaky Gut Syndrome
and Candida overgrowth
This is one of the main reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in thrush (an infection caused by overgrowth of Candida which is an opportunistic yeast).
Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater. As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor problems and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is really unavoidable, you may consider a detox therapy or support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements, at the very least.
Cultures around the World have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) which are often include as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh, to name just a few.
Introducing these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a really good way to promote healthy intestinal flora. However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through. Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that are capable of colonising the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a far more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.
In this modern age of processed foods and the widespread use of artificial chemicals to enhance everything from taste and appearance to shelf life, you can no longer take it for granted that you know what is in your food just by looking at it.
A good example of “hidden” ingredients are food additives. Almost everyone has heard of them, but how many people actually take the time to find out what they are, which ones appear in our food and how they might affect our health?
Well, fortunately more and more of us, especially now that the health benefits of natural living (and, more specifically, an organic diet) have become better understood and easier to obtain.
As a result, health-conscious individuals who are seeking to minimise their daily exposure to toxins and pollutants take the trouble to educate themselves about the different types of food additives out there (including their supposed risks and benefits). Over the years, there has been quite a bit of controversy about these chemicals – below are some of the “need to know” basics.
As the name implies, food additives are substances that manufacturers add to foods for any number of reasons (usually to increase profits). For example, to preserve flavour, keep the food fresher for longer and to enhance taste, texture and appearance.
However, not all food additives are bad, despite the negative connotations with the phrase. Some are actually natural compounds – for example, vinegar used for pickling and salt used to preserve meat. These additives have been used for centuries and are natural methods. Similarly, there is a common misconception that processed foods automatically contain food additives, but this is not always the case. For example, long-life milk is processed, yet it doesn’t actually require added chemicals to prolong its shelf life.
Unfortunately, the vast majority now used are synthetic or man-made and have, to a large extent, come about as a result of the increasing time constraints of modern living and the changing palates of modern consumers. For instance, the average person is looking for a snack that is either highly salted or sweetened. Similarly, in this age of competitive advertising and saturated food markets, the brighter, highly coloured food items are normally the ones that get picked. Food needs to be fun to eat, nice to look at and tasty.
The nature of the modern diet and lifestyle has resulted in fewer and fewer home-grown and natural whole foods, and an increase in the number and type of processed / refined foods. In turn, this has led to an increase in the number of additives used in foods – both natural and synthetic. It is therefore important to inform yourself about them, to help ensure the health and vitality of you and your family.
If you are unsure whether or not a product contains additives, check the label. If there are ingredients that sound like an unpronounceable chemistry experiment, they are probably best avoided! It is also important to note that some listed ingredients may contain food additives themselves, without those necessarily being specified. For example, a product may contain margarine, which in turn contains additives, but only ‘margarine’ will be listed as an ingredient on the label.
It is good practice to familiarise yourself with some of the more common food additive names, ready to identify them when out and about shopping. Below we will take a look at some of the most notorious additives – E-numbers.
E-numbers – friend or foe?
E-numbers get a lot of media attention but, once again, the reality is a little different to what is often portrayed. The phrase itself conjures up images of ‘food nasties’, but are they really as bad as we are led to believe? Well firstly, let’s look at what they are.
After an additive has been tested and approved for use in foods in Europe, it is given a classification known as an ‘E-number’ (a number with an ‘E’ prefix, e.g. E100), for the purposes of regulation and to inform consumers. In other words, it is simply a systematic way of identifying different food additives. Countries outside Europe use only the number (no ‘E’), whether the additive is approved in Europe or not.
The important (and perhaps surprising) point to bear in mind, is that even natural additives will be labelled with an ‘E’ prefix – so don’t automatically discount a food which otherwise looks healthy. Knowledge is power, so know your E-numbers!
Are food additives safe?
Common sense should lead us to think that filling our bodies with synthetic chemicals cannot be as healthy as eating a diet rich in natural whole foods . In fact, it may even be detrimental to health, for instance by adding extra burden to our toxic load.
Since the middle of the 20th century, there has been a significant increase in the use of food additives of varying levels of safety. This has, in turn, led to the introduction of a wide range of laws worldwide in order to regulate their use.
The long-term effects on the body of regularly consuming a combination of different food additives are, unfortunately, currently unknown – hence the increased need for regulation. This is largely due to the fact that most additives are tested in isolation, rather than in combination with other additives. However, some of us are more sensitive to them than others and suffer reactions as a result of their consumption which may include:
– skin irritations (itching, rashes, hives etc)
– digestive disorders (including diarrhoea and abdominal pains)
– respiratory problems (like asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis)
– allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock
– behavioural changes (such as mood changes, anxiety and hyperactivity).
Research undertaken in 2007 by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and later published by the British medical journal ‘The Lancet’, provided evidence that a mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods serves to increase the mean level of hyperactivity. Similarly, in 2008, AAP Grand Rounds (the American Academy of Pediatrics) published a study that concluded that a low-additive diet is a valid intervention for children with ADHD.
Bearing all this in mind, it is important to remember that all foods are made up of chemicals, many of which are not always ‘safer’ than those found in food additives. For example, people with food allergies and intolerances are also often sensitive to chemicals found naturally in certain foods, such as dairy, nuts or shellfish. However, it is always a good rule of thumb to opt for natural ingredients over synthetic ones and to adopt an organic lifestyle wherever possible.
Additives to watch out for
Some of the additives most likely to cause reactions include:
– Flavour enhancers: A well-known example is monosodium glutamate (MSG E621). They are commonly found in crisps, instant noodles as well as microwave and takeaway foods.
– Aspartame: This is an artificial sweetener, which is made of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol (a type of alcohol). When broken down in the body, methanol forms formaldehyde, formic acid (found in the venom of ants and bees) and diketopiperazine – all quite nasty substances! Aspartame is found in diet drinks, yoghurts and sugar-free items (like chewing gum or children’s sugar free drinks).
– Sulphites: This group of additives is often found in dried fruit, desiccated coconut, cordial and wine. They have been known to trigger asthma attacks in sensitive individuals.
– Propionates: This type of additive can occur naturally in foods (e.g. certain types of cheese). They are also common in bread. The effects are dose-related and may range from migraines, bed-wetting, nasal congestion and racing heart to memory loss, eczema and stomach ache.
– Antioxidants: Don’t get confused with the naturally-occurring antioxidants found in whole foods like fruit and vegetables and which are widely used to support good health and immunity! Antioxidants in the context of food additives refer to those that are synthetic chemicals which are added to food, and may therefore have a harmful effect on the body. Examples include Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which are added to prevent fat spoilage. They are commonly found in margarine, biscuits, crisps and muesli bars. They have been linked to health conditions such as insomnia, tiredness, asthma and even learning difficulties.
– Colours: The most common offenders in this category of additives are tartrazine (E102) and annatto (E160b). Synthetic colourings have been linked to allergic reactions, as well as learning and behavioural problems in children.
Categories of additives
Preservatives, colourings and flavourings are some of the best known additives. However, there are actually a number of other categories, each of which is tailored to a specific purpose.
– acidity regulators
– anti-caking agents
– antifoaming agents
– bulking agents
– colour retention agents
– flavour enhancers
– flour treatment agents
– glazing agents
– tracer gas
– and thickeners
I guess it all boils down to one question: does your food nourish you or just fills you?