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Health benefits of root vegetables

Patsy Westcott / 22 October 2018

A mainstay of winter-warming stews and satisfying soups, root vegetables are key to a healthy, plant-based diet.

root veg
Root vegetables are key to a healthy, plant-based diet

The world of nutrition is controversial: practically the only thing warring factions agree on is the benefits of a plant-based diet. And, in winter, root veg are the stars.

A large ongoing Europe-wide study examining the links between diet, cancer and other diseases, found that people who ate the most root vegetables had a 13% lower risk of diabetes compared with those who ate the least. That’s no surprise. They’re a great source of healthy carbohydrates, which experts say should make up 50% of our nutrient intake, plus gut-friendly fibre and antioxidant, anti-inflammatory vitamins, minerals and nutrients all in the form in which we can absorb them best: in food.

1 Beetroot

Rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory plant nutrients, which give them that rich red colour, they’re a source of nitrates, chemicals that help blood vessels stay elastic. A growing number of studies suggest they may improve endurance when walking and running.

Discover our beetroot recipes

The root of all goodness

Root vegetables are especially rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, which helps to boost the health of gut bacteria, lower high levels of blood fats and blood glucose, and reduce the risk of Type-2 diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.

Public Health England recommends that adults should consume a minimum of 30g of fibre a day. However, according to a recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey, most of us in the UK eat only two-thirds of this amount.

2 Carrots

These much-loved staples contain carotenoids, fat-soluble antioxidant pigments hailed for their potential to protect cells and tissues from free-radical damage, as well as to enhance immunity, protect against sunburn and, possibly, even lower cancer risk.

Try this recipe for spicy carrot soup

3 Celeriac

This versatile ingredient of that French classic, céleri râpé (grated celeriac salad) contains antioxidant vitamin C, vitamin K for healthy bones, and potassium, which is linked with normal blood pressure.

Celeriac soup with rocket and parsley gremolata

4 Jerusalem artichokes

Despite their ugly appearance, these are gaining quite a reputation as a source of inulin, a prebiotic plant fibre that helps to promote good gut health, balance blood fats and ensure optimum levels of blood glucose and insulin.

Recipe: sea bass with Jerusalem artichoke purée

5 Swedes

A member of the brassica family that includes cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and once considered fit only for cattle feed, swedes are bang on-trend this year. Low in calories and a source of protein and fibre, they also contain a host of plant chemicals, which emerging research suggests may help reduce the proliferation of cancer cells, at least in the test tube.

Slow cooker sweet potato and root vegetable hot pot

Tasty tips for roots

Enjoy roots boiled, baked, steamed, grilled, mashed, spiralised or cubed and roasted with a little olive oil sprinkled with herbs and/or spices – think thyme, rosemary, caraway seeds, cumin or chilli flakes.

For an occasional treat, roots make great crisps, wedges or fries.

6 Radish

Another brassica, radish is an abundant source of glucoraphanin, a plant chemical with a chemical by-product that has anti-cancer properties. A study suggests that Japanese daikon radishes – aka mooli – may help improve blood vessel elasticity and moderate blood pressure.

The Hairy Dieters' vegetarian poke bowl

7 Parsnips

Belonging to the same family as carrots, celery and parsley, and with an especially high fibre content, they’re a great source of folate, needed for a healthy brain and nervous system, as well as for the synthesis of DNA, the genetic material in our cells, and for red blood cells called erythrocytes.

Carrot and parsnip soup with cumin and chilli butter

8 Potatoes

Untrendy as they are, white skin-on potatoes contain fewer calories and more fibre, iron, vitamin C, folate and vitamin B6 than cooked pasta or brown rice. They also supply more blood pressure-lowering and bone-friendly potassium than any other vegetable. Plant chemicals in skins may curb oxidative stress and inflammation. Eat boiled potatoes cold to increase resistant starch, which is linked to good gut health.

Baked potatoes with smoked haddock and cheddar

9 Sweet potatoes

Boiled, they have a low glycaemic index (GI), a measure of the effect of foods on blood glucose. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of polyphenols and other plant chemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. Baking sweet potatoes can push up GI, so best to boil them.

Baked sweet potato with chorizo, mushrooms and fried egg

10 Turnips

Yet another member of the brassica family, turnips are high in fibre, needed for a healthy gut, as well as plant chemicals called glucosinolates, which are hailed for their antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-cancer activity.

Leek and lamb cobbler with turnip

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.