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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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
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
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.
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
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
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
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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