Swiss Chard: Health Benefits and Nutritional Value
Swiss chard is a member of the beet family, but it doesn't produce an edible bulbous root. The dark green leaves and the juicy leaf-stalks (petioles), however, are completely edible and have high nutritional value. Thanks to its broad range of nutrients, Swiss chard is a real superfood with a whole range of health benefits.
There are a number of Swiss chard varieties, some of which have white, yellow, or orange stalks while others have red, pink, or purple stalks. Some of the most common varieties with white stems include Perpetual Spinach (also known as Leaf Beet), Witerbi Mangold, Fordhook Giant, Lucullus, Orea, and White King. If you're planning to grow your own chard and would like to add some color to your garden, you may want to try some of the more colorful varieties such as Rhubarb Chard (deep-crimson stalks), Bright Yellow, Magenta Sunset (pink ribs and veins), Orange Fantasia, Golden Sunrise, or Rainbow Chard (a mix of white, orange, and red chard varieties).
Regardless of which chard variety you choose, your taste buds will be tickled with an intriguing flavor that's a lot like spinach, with a hint of beet. Due to its spinach-like flavor and texture, Swiss chard is often used as a substitute for spinach in recipes, but there are also a whole host of chard recipes out there, covering everything from smoothies and cold soups to stir-fries and salads.
But, before you head to the kitchen to whip up a tasty chard dish, let's take a look at some of the most interesting nutritional properties and health benefits of Swiss chard:
Swiss Chard Contains Almost As Much Vitamin K as Collard Greens
The gorgeous green leaves and the juicy stems of the Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla) are packed full of vitamin K. In fact, eating a handful of fresh Swiss chard provides your body with almost as much vitamin K as eating a handful of collard greens. As you may already know, collard greens are considered a superfood par excellence, and they are particularly famous for their extremely high vitamin K content.
So how much vitamin K do these nutrient-packed greens provide then, and why do we need vitamin K, anyway? According to USDA's Nutrition Facts data, one ounce of cooked and drained Swiss chard contains a whopping 115% of the Daily Value for vitamin K, while an equal serving of collard greens provides 154%. Vitamin K is a versatile nutrient that can offer a whole range of health benefits, particularly for your heart and overall cardiovascular system.
Tip: Eating more vitamin K containing green leafy vegetables, such as Swiss chard, is just one way to give your cardiovascular system a health kick. For more ideas, check out the article What Are the Best Vitamins for Cardiovascular Health?.
A Low Calorie Food with Weight Loss Benefits
Eating Swiss chard may also help you lose excess body fat, when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Swiss chard contains practically no fat, and it is very low in calories: one ounce of cooked and drained Swiss chard providing only 6 calories! In addition, Swiss chard contains a good amount of vitamin C which may indirectly promote weight loss through its ability to stimulate the synthesis of carnitine, a compound that has been linked to improved fat burning.
Swiss Chard Packs a Carotenoid Punch (Good for Your Eyes!)
Did you know that Swiss chard is supercharged with pro-vitamin A (carotenoids), with one ounce of boiled and drained Swiss chard supplying your body with a staggering 34% of the Daily Value for pro-vitamin A (according to USDA's nutrition facts data for Swiss chard). Carotenoids and vitamin A play several important roles in the human body, but their best-known health benefits relate to their eye health protecting properties. One case-control study found that the study participants who were in the highest quintile of carotenoid intake had a 43% lower risk for age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness, compared with those in the lowest quintile. These compelling findings were published in the November 1994 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Buying Swiss Chard / Growing Your Own from Seeds
Today, the regular chard with white stalks and green, ruffled leaves is available year-round in the supermarkets in the US, UK, and Canada. During its peak season, you may also be able to find some of the more exotic varieties of the Swiss chard at farmers' markets near you. Use the opportunity, and buy some less common chard varieties, such as red chard (e.g. Ruby Chard or Rhubarb Chard cultivars), or a bunch of rainbow chard which is typically a mix of white-stemmed Swiss chard, red chard, and golden chard.
Those with a green thumb may also want to grow their own Swiss chard, red chard, or rainbow chard (seeds can be purchased hassle-free through Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). And, don't worry if you don't have a garden – you can also grow Swiss chard indoors as baby greens or microgreens, any time of year.
Potential Side Effects Linked to Chard's High Oxalate Content
Like spinach, rhubarb, purslane, and some other green leafy superfoods, Swiss chard contains significant amounts of oxalates. In people with kidney problems, foods that contain high levels of oxalates may lead to severe health complications. In addition, people with certain medical conditions, such as Primary Hyperoxaluria and Enteric Hyperoxaluria, may be advised to limit their dietary intake of oxalate-rich foods, including Swiss chard and red chard, and to rotate green vegetables in their diets.