With the bikini season about to kick-off, many of us will make a mental note to embark on a fitness plan that will get our legs, arms and tums ready for when we begin to shed the winter layers (gulp).
But if you want to boost your fitness levels while you’re at it, one group reckons they’ve discovered a superfood that’ll help you do just this – the humble beetroot.
Researchers from St Louis University in the US claim that the purple root vegetable contains a huge amount of nitrate, the chemical that is essential for rejuvenating sluggish muscles and improving exercise performance.
During the study, researchers asked a handful of volunteers to run 5km on a treadmill, half an hour after eating a portion of baked beetroot.
After the participants completed the first run, they were then asked to chomp on cranberry relish that contains the same amount of calories but less nitrate.
Researchers discovered that the runners who ate baked beetroot before their run, averaged a speed of 12.3km per hour compared to 11.9km per hour after they ate the cranberry relish.
Overall, runners were able to maintain their speed and run for longer after scoffing beetroot. Scientists believe this could be down to the nitrate’s ability to widen blood vessels, which improves oxygen supply to the muscles.
But before you go and slice up a beetroot, another study has discovered a fellow workout superfood that boasts exercise super power..
Scottish scientists from Edinburgh Napier University discovered that peppery-tasting watercress has vital nutrients that can help people run faster for longer.
Researchers believe that watercress helps restore energy levels and relieve the natural stress on our body following a workout.
“Although we are all aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill, lifting weights, or doing high-levels of training can take its toll,” Dr Mark Fogarty said in a statement.
“What we’ve found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies, and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit.”
Artichokes are a rich source of iron and antioxidants. The Jerusalem variety has the highest levels of iron, helping to beat fatigue, aid concentration and maintain a healthy metabolism.
Black garlic is aged for a month in a fermentation process under high heat (hence its darker colour) and tastes sweeter than normal garlic so it doesn't leave a pungent taste in your mouth. It contains twice as many antioxidants than traditional raw garlic and has high levels of S-Allycysteine, a natural compound that has been proven to help prevent cancer.
This blue-green algae is packed full of iron and vitamin B12, which are great for maintaining energy levels and fighting fatigue. This tiny aquatic plant is packed, ounce for ounce, with more Vitamin A than carrots and is a rich source of phytochemicals, which are said to help reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation and joint pain, improve metabolism and keep the heart healthy. They also contain a more digestible form of protein than milk and eggs. Eat them raw in salads or grind them with a pestle and mortar and sprinkle them over baked foods or cereals. Hemp seeds can be also be found in an oil form which can be used for cooking or a salad dressing.
The 'twig tea' is made of the stems and stalk from the Kukicha plant and is a herbal remedy used for reducing bloated stomachs and boosting the immune system with its high levels of disease-beating antioxidants. Typically found in tea form, it is low in caffeine, which helps keep the blood pressure levels down.
Adzuki beans contain more protein and less fat than any other pulse. They also contain high levels of potassium which helps lower the risk of strokes and high blood pressure, fibre for good digestion and zinc, which protects the body from inflammation of the joints and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Although notoriously high in fat, this clarified butter used in Indian cooking is thought to improve memory, digestion and boost the immune system. Ghee is made by simmering unsalted butter in a pot until all the water has boiled. Ghee is the milk solids that has settled to the bottom of the pot and is best enjoyed in moderation.
Commonly used in Indian cuisine, fenugreek is used as both a herb and a spice and is said to be good for reducing cholesterol, improving the symptoms of diabetes and soothing menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms.
This creamy-fleshed fruit, which is part of the cocoa family, is being billed as the new 'super fruit' with its high levels of antioxidants. It can found in health juices or in a pill. It is a rich source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, fatty acids and at least nine antioxidants (including Vitamins A and C). The fruit has a similar effect on the body as caffeine without the caffeine content, so it energises the body the natural way. You don't have to eat it to reap the benefits as it can be found in face and body creams too.
These tiny brown seeds are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, great for maintaining healthy energy levels. They are also said to help lower blood pressure and the risk of inflammation, as well as helping slow down premature ageing by reducing the risk of free-radical damage to the skin. Sprinkle Chia seeds on salads, include them in your dipping sauces or salad dressings, throw them in stews or heat them up until they go soft and gel-like and then use as a spread for sandwiches or include in baking recipes.
Mini gourmet doughnuts are being subbed as the next cupcake. Leading bakeries, like <a href="http://www.mollybakes.co.uk/" target="_hplink">Molly Bakes</a>, are predicting they'll be big this year, with crème brûlée and chai latte, plus a modern twist on the coffee doughnut with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
With the West's appetite for exotic flavourings, this new food trend will see two or more cultural dishes merge into one. Already a growing favourite in the US, the Korean Tacos may soon be on its way to the UK, combining Asian spices with traditional Mexican dishes.
Traditional 'pub grub' pork scratchings haven't got a reputation of being nutritious, but this new wave of the salty snack will be pork scratchings with a difference. The Great British 'Posh' Pork Scratchings made from British pigs and no MSG (Monosodium glutamate - a common food additive), and have been created by Tom Parker Bowles and Matthew Fort, who want to bring pork scratchings back on the menu for 2012.
'Edible dirt' will start appearing on our plates this year, particularly in restaurants, predicts food blogger, Andre Dang. Using dried, dirt-like infusions of pine needles, douglas fir and eucalyptus to flavour sauces and broths, adding an earthy taste to our dinner. We'll also see edible landscapes pop up in restaurants - for example, oysters served on rock and mushrooms served in edible forests.
Ceviche is a citrus infused dish from Peru which consists of raw, cured fish sliced in fine, pieces served with a plentiful of onion, and is set to become <em>the</em> dish of 2012. Peruvian food is going to have a moment in this year, with two restaurants opening in London as well as across the pond in New York. Also look out for other Peruvian dishes such as 'Causa' (layered mash and tuna salad), 'Aji Amarillo' (a kind of chilli pepper) and 'Cuy' (whole roasted guinea pig).
Already a hit in certain areas of France, the 24-hour baguette dispenser offer pre-cooked loaves of bread - and could be coming to the UK soon if predictions prove correct. "This is the bakery of tomorrow," says creator Jean-Louis Hecht.
This foodie trend is already a hit in Australia and is predicted to take off in the UK as the number of iPhone takeaway eaters grow. Soon hungry phone users will be able to download an App, select their favourite dish and have it delivered straight to their door from the touch of their fingertips.
Forget macarons, the next sweet thing to tantilise our taste buds at tea time will be alfajores - a tasty Argentinian treat. These consist of two round, sweet biscuits joined together with mousse or jam, coated in white chocolate or powdered sugar.
Matcha green tea is a more powerful version of the existing tea and comes in a fine powder form in vibrant green. This will be the next big tea trend, predicts nutritionist Louise Thomas-Minn. "Matcha green tea is going to be a big hit this year. Green teas get hardcore as this powdered form is even more powerful than green tea."
Following on from the huge cake-pop trend (cakes on a stick), the latest craze will be pie-pops, with miniature pies on sticks popping up at parties and restaurants as appetisers.
Gourmet snacks on the go will be a busy persons port of call, according to Andy bates from the <a href="http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/" target="_hplink">Food Network</a>, who predicts that the traditional scotch egg is set for a revival and revamp with new black pudding flavours.
We've already got the option to food shop online, but soon we could visit 'virtual supermarkets'. This involves simply scanning the item you want on your phone using a QR code from the virtual supermarket shelf, and have them delivered to your home within hours. Tesco already launched a version of this in South Korea - could we soon see it popping up in the UK?
These gorgeous-looking gelatine deserts are set to become a hit in the UK this year. These jelly-like, fondant-stuffed paperweight type desserts are almost too pretty to eat. No-fat (but loaded with sugar) they are Mexican by origin and first gained a fan base in the US.
Following recent stories that Vitamin D deficiency is leading to a rise in health problems, such as rickets and MS - '<a href="http://www.modernmilk.co.uk/" target="_hplink">Modern Milk</a>' will become the latest health drink craze for those wanting to top up their vitamin D levels.
Heston Blumenthal's scientific approach to his culinary creations has given rise to spin-off molecular cookery that provides a gastronomic sensation to engage and excite the diner. In 2012, a noticeable increase will be seen in restaurants choosing to showcase the science behind their food, with theatrical performances and scientific processes executed at the diner's table. Keep your eyes peeled for spherification - a process of shaping a liquid into spheres, plus cold cooking with liquid nitrogen and the steady emergence of edible paper (think vegetable paper) and food packaging.