Swiss chard

What's New and Beneficial About Swiss Chard

WHFoods Recommendations

Swiss chard is not only one of the most popular vegetables along the Mediterranean but it is one of the most nutritious vegetables around and ranks second only to spinach following our analysis of the total nutrient-richness of the World's Healthiest vegetables. It is also one of only three vegetables that we recommend boiling to help reduce its concentration of oxalic acid. Slice leaves 1-inch wide and the stems 1/2-inch wide and boil for just 3 minutes. We only recommend eating the stems of varieties with white stems; colored stems are very tough. For more on the Nutrient-Rich Way of Cooking Swiss Chard, see the How to Enjoy section below.

Foods belonging to the chenopod family—including beets, chard, spinach, and quinoa—continue to show an increasing number of health benefits not readily available from other food families. The red and yellow betalain pigments found in this food family, their unique epoxyxanthophyll carotenoids, and the special connection between their overall phytonutrients and our nervous system health (including our specialized nervous system organs like the eye) point to the chenopod family of foods as unique in their health value. While we have yet to see large-scale human studies that point to a recommended minimum intake level for foods from this botanical family, we have seen data on chenopod phytonutrients, and based on this data, we recommend that you include foods from the chenopod family in your diet 1-2 times per week. In the case of a leafy food like Swiss chard, we recommend a serving size of at least 1/2 cup, and even more beneficial, at least one full cup.

Swiss Chard, chopped, boiled
1.00 cup
(175.00 grams)
Calories: 35
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin K636%

 vitamin A60%

 vitamin C42%

 magnesium38%

 copper32%

 manganese29%

 potassium27%

 vitamin E22%

 iron22%

 fiber15%

 choline12%

 vitamin B212%

 calcium10%

 vitamin B69%

 phosphorus8%

 protein7%

 pantothenic acid6%

 zinc5%

 vitamin B15%

 vitamin B34%

 folate4%

 selenium3%

Health Benefits

Although chard has not been studied as extensively as other chenopod vegetables (like beets and spinach), there's no question about the valuable role that chard can play in support of our health, or about its routine inclusion in healthy diets worldwide. The amazing variety of phytonutrients in chard is quickly recognizable in its vibrant colors, including the rich, dark greens in its leaves and the rainbow of reds, purples, and yellows in its stalks and veins. Virtually all of these phytonutrients provide antioxidant benefits, anti-inflammatory benefits, or both. In addition, many provide health benefits that are more specific and of special important to particular body systems. Best researched in this area are phytonutrient benefits provided by chard for our body's blood sugar-regulating system.

Blood Sugar Benefits of Swiss Chard

Multiple studies on animals have shown that chard has unique benefits for blood sugar regulation. In addition, chard may provide special benefits in the diets of individuals diagnosed with diabetes. Although large-scale human studies have yet to be conducted in this area, lab studies and animal studies show that syringic acid—one of chard's premiere flavonoids—has the ability to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. Alpha-glucosidase is an enzyme used to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars. When this enzyme gets inhibited, fewer carbs get broken down and blood sugar is able to stay more steady. This blood sugar-steadying process seems to be particularly true following a meal. In addition to its syringic acid, chard contains a very good amount of fiber (over 3.5 grams per cooked cup) and a very good amount of protein (once again, nearly 3.5 grams per cooked cup). Fiber and protein-rich foods are an excellent way to help stabilize blood sugar levels, since they help regulate the speed of digestion and keep food moving at the right pace through our digestive tract.

Also unique among the health benefits from this chenopod vegetable has been its ability to help pancreatic cells regenerate. At this point research on the beta cells of the pancreas has been restricted to animal studies, and instead of food-form chard, extracts from this plant have been used to evaluate potential benefits for the pancreas. Even though it's impossible to generalize from laboratory animals fed chard extracts to humans eating fresh chard, it's encouraging to see chard extracts providing this support to pancreatic beta cells. These cells, after all, are the cells responsible for production of insulin, and it's impossible for our blood sugar to be optimally regulated without the help of insulin. Expect to see follow-up research on the health benefits of chard for humans in this very important area of blood sugar regulation.

Although researchers aren't certain as to the exact nutrients involved, repeated studies on animals have also shown the ability of chard extracts to help protect the liver from damage in the case of animals with experimentally induced diabetes. Because liver protection can be an important goal in the management of diabetes in humans, this ability of chard to help protect the liver may be one additional reason why intake of this vegetable should be thought of as providing special benefits for blood sugar regulation and perhaps for dietary management of diabetes as well.

Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Swiss Chard

As an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and the mineral manganese, and a good source of the mineral zinc, Swiss chard offers an outstanding variety of conventional antioxidants. But these conventional antioxidants are only part of chard's fantastic health benefits with respect to prevention of oxidative stress and diseases related to chronic, unwanted oxidative stress. Equally outstanding are chard's phytonutrient antioxidants. These phytonutrient antioxidants range from carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin to flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol. But the range of phytonutrients in chard is even more extensive than researchers initially suspected, and at this point in time, about three dozen antioxidant phytonutrients have been identified in chard, including betalains (both betacyanins and betaxanthins) and epoxyxanthophylls. Many of these antioxidant phytonutrients provide chard with its colorful stems, stalks, and leaf veins.

As a rule, the phytonutrient antioxidants in chard also act as anti-inflammatory agents. Sometimes they lower risk of chronic, unwanted inflammation by altering the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes. At other times, they help prevent the production of pro-inflammatory messaging molecules. Because chronic low level inflammation (especially when coupled with excessive oxidative stress) has repeatedly been shown to increase our risk of obesity, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and several forms of arthritis, chard is very likely to show up in future studies on humans as a key vegetable for lowering risk of these health problems.

Swiss Chard Support of Bone Health

With its very good supply of calcium and its excellent supply of magnesium and vitamin K, chard provides standout bone support.

Although many people have already learned about the connection between minerals like calcium and health of bones, the role of vitamin K in support of bone has not received nearly as much media attention. Vitamin K1 helps prevent excessive activation of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone. Additionally, friendly bacteria in our intestines convert vitamin K1 into vitamin K2, which activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. All of these vitamin K-related mechanisms point to the importance of vitamin K-rich foods for bone health.

Description

Chard is a tall leafy green vegetable commonly referred to as Swiss chard and scientifically known as Beta vulgaris. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and slightly salty. Swiss chard is truly one of the vegetable valedictorians with its exceptionally impressive list of health-promoting nutrients. Although Swiss chard is available throughout the year, its peak season runs from June through August when it is at its best and in the greatest abundance at your local supermarket.

Swiss chard—along with kale, mustard greens and collard greens—is one of several leafy green vegetables often referred to as "greens". It is a tall leafy green vegetable with a thick, crunchy stalk that comes in white, red or yellow with wide fan-like green leaves.

Chard has a thick, crunchy stalk to which fan-like wide green leaves are attached. The leaves may either be smooth or curly, depending upon the variety, and feature lighter-colored ribs running throughout. The stalk, which can measure almost two feet in length, comes in a variety of colors including white, red, yellow and orange. Sometimes, in the market, different colored varieties will be bunched together and labeled "rainbow chard."

History

Swiss chard isn't native to Switzerland. Its actual homeland of chard lies further south, in the Mediterranean region; in fact, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle wrote about chard in the fourth century B.C. This is not surprising given the fact that the ancient Greeks, and later the Romans, honored chard for its medicinal properties. Chard got its common name from another Mediterranean vegetable, cardoon, a celery-like plant with thick stalks that resemble those of chard. The French got the two confused and called them both "carde."

How to Select and Store

Choose chard that is held in a chilled display as this will help to ensure that it has a crunchier texture and sweeter taste. Look for leaves that are vivid green in color and that do not display any browning or yellowing. The leaves should not be wilted nor should they have tiny holes. The stalks should look crisp and be unblemished.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and Swiss chard is no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including Swiss chard. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells Swiss chard but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown Swiss chard is very likely to be Swiss chard that displays the USDA organic logo.

Do not wash Swiss chard before storing as the exposure to water encourages spoilage. Place chard in a plastic storage bag and wrap the bag tightly around the chard, squeezing out as much of the air from the bag as possible. Place in refrigerator where it will keep fresh for up to 5 days. If you have large batches of chard, you can blanch the leaves and then freeze them.

Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating Swiss chard. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Swiss Chard

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare Swiss chard the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Oxalate Content

Swiss chard has consistently been determined to have high oxalate content. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide variety of foods, and in the case of certain medical conditions, they must be greatly restricted in a meal plan to prevent over-accumulation inside the body. Our comprehensive article about oxalates will provide you with practical and detailed information about these organic acids, food, and health.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Swiss Chard, chopped, boiled
1.00 cup
175.00 grams
Calories: 35
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K572.77 mcg636327.3excellent
vitamin A535.85 mcg RAE6030.6excellent
vitamin C31.50 mg4221.6excellent
magnesium150.50 mg3819.4excellent
copper0.29 mg3216.6excellent
manganese0.58 mg2914.9excellent
potassium960.75 mg2714.1excellent
vitamin E3.31 mg (ATE)2211.3excellent
iron3.96 mg2211.3excellent
fiber3.67 g157.5very good
choline50.23 mg126.1very good
vitamin B20.15 mg125.9very good
calcium101.50 mg105.2very good
vitamin B60.15 mg94.5very good
phosphorus57.75 mg84.2very good
protein3.29 g73.4very good
pantothenic acid0.29 mg63.0good
zinc0.58 mg52.7good
vitamin B10.06 mg52.6good
vitamin B30.63 mg42.0good
folate15.75 mcg42.0good
selenium1.57 mcg31.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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