Seasonal Produce Spotlight: Health Benefits of Swiss Chard

Nutrition Information and How to Eat It.

For anyone trying to eat a lot of leafy greens, Swiss chard is a must. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is so packed with nutrients that it’s not only ranked as one of the healthiest greens, it’s considered to be one of the healthiest foods overall1. Here’s a look at the health benefits of Swiss chard, its nutrition information and some tips on how to eat it. 

Photo of Swiss chard

What is Swiss chard?

Swiss chard is a member of the Amaranthaceae plant family2, which also includes beets and spinach. It has beautiful colored stems that can be white, yellow, orange or various shades of red. Rainbow chard is simply different kinds bunched together.

Swiss chard was first traced to Sicily and is very popular with Mediterranean cooks3. According to the University of Illinois Extension’s Watch Your Garden Grow series, the word “Swiss” was “used to distinguish it from French charde by nineteenth century seed catalogues publishers and the name stuck3.”

Swiss chard generally grows when temperatures are a little cooler in the spring or fall, but The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that it’s very tolerant of hotter temperatures too4. That’s why you can find it at local farmers’ markets in the summer, even when it’s too hot for other greens. You can usually find it year-round in the refrigerated produce section at your grocery store. 

Nutrients in Swiss chard

The many health benefits of Swiss chard come from the fact that it’s packed with nutrients. Consequently, it ranks among the top five nutrient dense foods on Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)1

Health benefits of Swiss chard

Swiss chard is high in antioxidants and is widely used as an antidiabetic in traditional medicine in many cultures around the world6,7,8,9.  One of the studies that looked at the antidiabetic properties also looked at the possible antibacterial activities of different extracts and isolated flavone C-glycoside compounds from Swiss chard leaves. Researchers found that the leaves can be used as “a natural source of antibiotic and hypoglycemic drugs8.” Still another study found that some of the phytochemicals in chard help to inhibit cancer cell growth and that extracts help treat high blood pressure9. All traits that make Swiss chard a truly functional food9

How to store and eat Swiss chard

Swiss chard should be eaten fairly soon after it’s bought. Because it’s highly perishable, storing it in the refrigerator is best. You’ll also want to wait to wash the leaves until you’re ready to use them.

You can store Swiss chard in a sealed refrigerator-safe bag for 2-3 days (although I’ve had it keep for as long as 7 days before and it still tasted perfectly fine.) You can also eat the stems. If they’re stored separately from the leaves, they’ll last longer. 

Swiss chard leaves taste a little earthy and are a great substitute for spinach. You can eat them either raw or cooked. I often include them with the kale in my smoothie just to add additional nutrients. The stems taste wonderful roasted with just olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Here are some of my favorite recipes that use Swiss chard:

Cost of Swiss chard

Swiss chard, like other leafy greens, is usually sprayed heavily with pesticides and fungicides. As a result, it’s best to buy organic if at all possible. The price I pay at the farmers’ market for organic is $3/bunch. That is cheaper than the $3.50-$3.75 that I would pay for conventional that the mainstream grocery store charges. Somewhat surprisingly, I can buy organic at Whole Foods for as little as $2.49. That’s cheaper than both the farmers’ market and the regular grocery store. No matter where you buy it, Swiss chard is an inexpensive way to add plenty of nutrients to any meal. 

Lean on your community

What is your favorite way to use Swiss chard? Be sure and let us know in the comments below. 

Sources

  1. Joel Fuhrman, MD. ANDI Food Scores: Rating the Nutrient Density of Foodshttps://www.drfuhrman.com/elearning/eat-to-live-blog/128/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods
  2. Food Source Information. Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence. Swiss Chard. https://fsi.colostate.edu/swiss-chard/#zp-ID-4095-176389-KAQM9ISV
  3. University of Illinois Extension. Watch Your Garden Grow series. Chard. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/veggies/chard.cfm
  4. The Old Farmer’s Alamanac. https://www.almanac.com/plant/swiss-chard
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Centralhttps://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169991/nutrients
  6. Mzoughi Z, Chahdoura H, Chakroun Y, et al. Wild edible Swiss chard leaves (Beta vulgaris L. var. cicla): Nutritional, phytochemical composition and biological activities. Food Res Int. 2019;119:612-621. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2018.10.039 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30884696/
  7. Sacan O, Yanardag R. Antioxidant and antiacetylcholinesterase activities of chard (Beta vulgaris L. var. cicla). Food Chem Toxicol. 2010;48(5):1275-1280. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2010.02.022 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20184938/
  8. Mohammed HS, Abdel-Aziz MM, Abu-Baker MS, Saad AM, Mohamed MA, Ghareeb MA. Antibacterial and Potential Antidiabetic Activities of Flavone C-glycosides Isolated from Beta vulgaris Subspecies cicla L. var. Flavescens (Amaranthaceae) Cultivated in Egypt. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2019;20(7):595-604. doi:10.2174/1389201020666190613161212 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31203800/
  9. Ninfali P, Angelino D. Nutritional and functional potential of Beta vulgaris cicla and rubra. Fitoterapia. 2013;89:188-199. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2013.06.004 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23751216/


Seasonal Produce Spotlight: Health Benefits of Bok Choy

If you’ve seen bok choy at the grocery store or farmer’s market but have never tried it, you’re in for a treat. But before you try it, you should know what the health benefits of bok choy are; why it’s a good, budget-friendly vegetable; and how to eat it. 

Photo of bok choy to show the health benefits of bok ahoy

What is Bok Choy?

Bok choy is also known as pak choi or pok choi and is a type of Chinese cabbage. It’s a leafy green that’s part of the cruciferous family of vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables also include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens. 

Bok choy is a cooler season vegetable, so it’s in season in the spring and early summer and in the fall. It has a mild taste and both the leaves and stalks can be eaten. 

If you see it listed as baby bok choy, Gardening Know How1 explains that this just means that it was harvested earlier, so the leaves are small and tender. Baby bok choy is usually sweeter than regular-sized bok choy. 

Nutrients in Bok Choy

No matter the size, the health benefits of bok choy are numerous. It’s low in calories and is packed with the all-important Vitamins A, C and K. 

Health Benefits of Bok Choy

The health benefits of bok choy stem from all of the nutrients it contains. Its high level of Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, helps wounds to heal through its ability to make collagen and helps the immune system to work properly3. Vitamin K found in bok choy helps with blood clotting and bone growth4. And the Vitamin A is important for vision, immune function, reproduction and cellular communication5

Bok choy and other cruciferous vegetables are also being looked at by cancer researchers because they contain a group of sulfur-containing chemicals that may help to prevent cancer6. In addition, in 2014, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that bok choy ranks second in nutrient density out of 41 Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables. Watercress was first with a score of 100, bok choy came second with a score of 91.99, and chard was third with a score of 89.277.

How to Store and Prepare Bok Choy

Bok choy does not keep well for a long time, so the best way to store it is in the refrigerator. I’ve found that putting it in a gallon baggie with another baggie covering it from the other end keeps it fresh for the longest amount of time. It should be used within 3-5 days. 

Bok choy can be eaten raw, steamed or in a stir-fry. When I use it in a stir-fry, I include the stalks with the vegetables that take longer to cook and then add the leaves at the last minute. Bok choy can also be substituted for cabbage in most recipes.

Here are several of my favorite bok choy recipes:

Cost of Bok Choy

Bok choy is very affordable. Since very few pesticides are used on it, it’s not necessary to buy it organic. Even if you do go for the organic version though, the price is very reasonable for the amount of food that it provides. 

The price of bok choy usually ranges from $1.35 for conventionally grown to $3.50 for organic. 

Lean on Your Community

Have you tried bok choy? If so, be sure and let us know in the comments below how you like to fix it. 

Sources:

  1. Gardening Know How. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/bok-choy/what-is-baby-bok-choy.htm
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168390/nutrients
  3. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/
  4. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin K.  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Vitamink-HealthProfessional/
  5. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin A. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  6. National Cancer Institute. Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet
  7. Di Noia J. Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130390. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.130390


Seasonal Produce Spotlight: Health Benefits of Asparagus

There are many reasons to look forward to late April and May but getting to have fresh asparagus is right at the top of the list as far as I’m concerned. For a few brief weeks each year in most areas of the United States, fresh asparagus is at its best. Not only is it a delicious way of getting to put a check in the vegetable column, the nutrition and health benefits of asparagus are numerous.

Photo of roasted asparagus laying in a dish as an example of the health benefits of asparagus

What is Asparagus?

Asparagus is part of the lily family, which includes garlic, onions, leeks and chives. They come in white, green and purple varieties. Green asparagus has a slight woody taste, the white variety is milder, and purple is a bit sweeter. According to the University of Illinois Extension’s Watch Your Garden Grow series, if you’re eating it in Europe, you should expect white asparagus. If you’re eating it in the U.S., you should expect the green or purple varieties. The health benefits of each of these is about the same.

Nutrients in Asparagus

Asparagus is low-calorie and packed with nutrients – especially Vitamin K and Folate.

Nutrition Facts(2):
(.5 cup or about 6 medium spears)

Calories 20
Protein 2 grams
Fat 0.2 g
Carbohydrate 4 grams
Fiber 2 grams
Vitamin C 7 mg (8% of DV)
Vitamin A 45 ug (6% of DV)
Potassium 202 mg (4% of DV)
Folate 134 ug (34% of DV; 22% of DV for women who are planning pregnancy or who are pregnant)
Vitamin K 46 ug (28% of DV)

Health Benefits of Asparagus

Because of all of these nutrients, there are many health benefits of asparagus. One of the most significant of these is the amount of Folate it contains. Folate is a major player in making DNA and other genetic material 3. That’s why eating vegetables high in this vitamin, like asparagus, is so important if you’re planning to become pregnant or during early pregnancy. Folate helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects,4 which are birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord5.

According to Ohio State University Extension’s Live Smart Ohio series, Asparagus also provides antioxidants to help prevent cancer, and it contains substances that reduce inflammation, which can lead to heart disease6.

It’s important to know that studies show there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to Folate. The established upper level for Folate is 1,000 mcg (or ug) per day. Beyond this, high amounts of folic acid could lower immune system defenses needed to fight viral infections and cancer7.

How to Buy and Retain the Health Benefits of Asparagus

There are several things to consider when you’re buying asparagus. These tips are a combination of my experience and suggestions from Ohio State University’s Live Smart Ohio series.

  1. Stalks and spears should be firm – not limp or drooping. If they are limp or flexible and rubbery feeling, don’t buy them.
  2. Buy local if at all possible because asparagus is highly perishable. While it’s kept chilled in transport, the shorter distance your asparagus has to travel, the better.
  3. Don’t be scared off by the tough, woody base of each stalk. These can be removed before you cook them.
  4. Don’t buy asparagus that doesn’t have a small and pointed tip. If the tip is flaring out at all, don’t buy it.

How to Prepare Asparagus

Asparagus can be boiled, steamed or roasted. It can also be served raw, but I’ve never tried it that way, so I can’t recommend it one way or the other. My favorite way to fix it to retain the health benefits of asparagus is roasting.

  1. Simply, snap the ends off by holding toward the bottom with both hands. You’ll feel where it automatically gives, and that’s where you snap.
  2. Lay it out in a single layer in a baking dish or baking sheet.
  3. Drizzle some olive oil on it and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Cover with tin foil
  5. Cook it at 400° Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the foil and let it cook for another 10 minutes.

**This is for thicker spears. For thin spears, check after 5 minutes of cooking while they’re covered. If it looks like they’re cooking fairly quickly, go ahead and take the foil off and cook for another 5 minutes.

Cost of Asparagus

I’m going to say it right here. Asparagus is not cheap. It takes a long time to grow and has a relatively short season. It’s a springtime delicacy that’s perfect for a healthy splurge. Asparagus can be served by itself on the side, or it can be paired with brown rice to make it a little heartier. Either way, even in my frugal (cheap!) estimation, I think its wonderful taste and many health benefits are worth the extra price I pay for the 3-4 weeks that it’s available.

The Environmental Working Group includes asparagus on its Clean Fifteen list, which means it’s not high in the amount of pesticide residue that it contains. That’s important to know if you’re having to be cost-conscious about which vegetables to buy organic.

The cost of organic asparagus is usually around $4.50/lb and conventionally grown is usually about $4/lb. Since a pound is about 12 spears or so (if they’re thick), it would take 1.5-2 lbs to make four .5 cup servings. If you buy conventional, that’s about $6-$8 to have asparagus as a side dish for a family of four.

Lean on Your Community

Do you love asparagus? If so, be sure and let us know in the comments below how you like to fix it.

Sources:

  1. University of Illinois Extension. Watch Your Garden Grow
  2. S. Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168390/nutrients
  3. S. Department of Health & Human Services. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/
  4. Wilson RD; GENETICS COMMITTEE; MOTHERISK. Pre-conceptional vitamin/folic acid supplementation 2007: the use of folic acid in combination with a multivitamin supplement for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies [published correction appears in J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2008 Mar;30(3):193. Goh, Ingrid [corrected to Goh, Y Ingrid]].J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2007;29(12):1003‐ doi:10.1016/S1701-2163(16)32685-8 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18053387/?from_term=health+benefits+of+asparagus&from_pos=6
  5. S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/neuraltubedefects.html
  6. Ohio State University Extension. Family and Consumer Sciences Live Smart Ohio. https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/food/williams-973osu-edu/appetizing-asparagus/
  7. Tufts University. https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/high-folic-acid-intake-aged-mice-causes-lowered-immune-response