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Tesco has  doubled its space for beetroot
Tesco has doubled its space for beetroot
Cricket Club adopt the Beetroot Diet - and win the county championship
Beetroot sales have doubled during the past year

Beetroot has always been a bit of a poor relation to other, trendier species in the vegetable world. Now all that is changing. According to Tesco, beetroot sales have doubled during the past year and its stores are now having to devote extra space to the raw variety in their vegetable aisles. Beetroot has now been anointed by health experts as a "superfood" - virtually fat free, rich in iron and magnesium and possibly cancer-preventing to boot.

It even boasts its own diet, in which followers have to eat beetroot three times a day, alongside other vegetables and whole foods. Dismiss it as yet another food fad if you will, but Warwickshire County Cricket Club adopted the Beetroot Diet in 2004 - and won the county championship that season.

Beetroot was known as a delicacy in Ancient Greece, where the leaves were cooked with honey and wine. The root was prized for its medicinal qualities and was used as a treatment for fevers, skin problems and digestive complaints.

Those well-known gourmets, the Romans, also ate beetroot. Apicius, the Jamie Oliver of his day, recommended that it be made into a salad with a dressing of mustard, oil and vinegar - not so very dissimilar from the 21st-century recipes common today.

In the 16th century, it was given as a "blood builder" to people who were pale and run down. At the time, doctors and patients may not have known why it was so efficaceous, but health experts now know that its high iron content can help to treat anaemia and fatigue.

It is also rich in folic acid, which is known to be helpful in reducing the risks of birth defects if taken before conception and in the early stages of pregnancy.

Catherine Zeta Jones is reported to have become addicted to beetroot after eating it while pregnant with her two children.

The weight-conscious actress may also have appreciated the vegetable's lack of fat and the fact that there are only 36 calories per 100 grams. In addition to B vitamins, iron and zinc, beetroot is a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, as well as protein and fibre.

The vegetable that was once seen as peasant fare has come a long way. Dietician Helen Andrews said: "It is interesting because beetroot was originally seen as a poor person's vegetable because it could be grown in your own garden. Now it has become quite trendy, probably partly due to people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall being on television and talking about things you can grow yourself.

"It is also affordable, at a time when one of the complaints people have about eating more fruit and vegetables is that it can be expensive."

She added: "Beetroot does contain lots of vitamins and minerals and is high in soluble fibre, which plays a role in preventing heart disease, so it is very good for you as part of a balanced diet."

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