The World's Healthiest Foods
Swiss chard

Similar to spinach and beets with a flavor that is bitter, pungent and slightly salty, Swiss chard is truly the vegetable valedictorian with its exceptionally impressive list of health promoting nutrients. Although Swiss chard is available throughout the year, their 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 belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile: it has the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavor of spinach leaves. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible.

 


Health Benefits

Both the leaves and the roots of Swiss chard have been the subject of fascinating health studies. The combination of traditional nutrients, phytonutrients – particularly anthocyans, plus fiber in this food seems particularly effective in preventing digestive tract cancers. Several research studies on chard focus specifically on colon cancer, where the incidence of precancerous lesions in animals has been found to be significantly reduced following dietary intake of Swiss chard extracts or fibers. Preliminary animal research also suggests that Swiss chard may confer a protective effect on the kidneys of those with diabetes through reducing serum urea and creatinine levels.

If vegetables got grades for traditional nutrients alone, Swiss chard would be the vegetable valedictorian. The vitamin and mineral profile of this leafy green vegetable contains enough "excellents" to ensure Swiss chard's place at the head of any vegetable Dean's List. Our rating system awards Swiss chard with excellent marks for its concentrations of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. Swiss chard also emerges as a very good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, protein, phosphorous, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid.

Helping You Bone Up

The vitamin K provided by Swiss chard - 306.3% of the daily value in one cup of cooked Swiss chard - is important for maintaining bone health. Vitamin K1 activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. Therefore, without enough vitamin K1, osteocalcin levels are inadequate, and bone mineralization is impaired.

Swiss Chard Gets an A+ for its Pro-vitamin A

Our food ranking system qualified Swiss chard as an excellent source of vitamin A on account of its concentrated beta-carotene content. Once inside the body, beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A, so when you eat Swiss chard, it's like getting both these beneficial nutrients at once. One cup of Swiss chard contains just 35 calories, but provides 109.9% of the daily value for vitamin A.

Both vitamin A and beta-carotene are important vision nutrients. In a study of over 50,000 women nurses aged 45 to 67, women who consumed the highest dietary amount of vitamin A had a 39% reduced risk of developing cataracts. Beta-carotene has also been the subject of extensive research in relationship to cancer prevention and prevention of oxygen-based damage to cells. Beta-carotene may help to protect against certain forms of cancer since it belongs to the family of phytochemicals known as carotenoids. In population studies, consuming foods high in carotenoids is consistently found to be associated with a lower risk for various epithelial cancers. (The epithelium includes the cells that cover the entire surface of the body and line most of the internal organs.) In one Australian study, researchers examined the diets of 88 men who had been treated for skin cancer and 88 men without cancer. The researchers found that men who ate more foods rich in beta-carotene, like Swiss chard, had a statistically lower risk of developing skin cancer.

Swiss Chard's Pro-vitamin A Provides Protection against Emphysema

If you or someone you love is a smoker, or if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as Swiss chard, part of your healthy way of eating may save your life, suggests research conducted at Kansas State University.

While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency.

Baybutt's earlier research had shown that rats fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. His latest animal studies indicate that not only does the benzo(a)pyrene in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, but that a diet rich in vitamin A can help counter this effect, thus greatly reducing emphysema.

In his initial research, Baybutt took just weaned male rats and divided them into two groups, one of which was exposed to cigarette smoke, and the other to air. In the rats exposed to cigarette smoke, levels of vitamin A dropped significantly in direct correlation with their development of emphysema. In the second study, both groups of rats were exposed to cigarette smoke, but one group was given a diet rich in vitamin A. Among those rats receiving the vitamin A-rich foods, emphysema was effectively reduced.

Baybutt believes vitamin A's protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. "There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. "Why? Probably because of their diet…The implications are that those who start smoking at an early age are more likely to become vitamin A deficient and develop complications associated with cancer and emphysema. And if they have a poor diet, forget it." If you or someone you love smokes, or if your work necessitates exposure to second hand smoke, protect yourself by making sure that at least one of the World's Healthiest Foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as Swiss chard, is a daily part of your healthy way of eating. (October, 21, 2004)

Bone Up on Swiss Chard

Magnesium, yet another nutrient on Swiss chard's "Excellent Source" list, helps regulate nerve and muscle tone by balancing the action of calcium. In many nerve cells, magnesium serves as Nature's own calcium channel blocker, preventing calcium from rushing into the nerve cell and activating the nerve. By blocking calcium's entry, magnesium keeps our nerves (and the blood vessels and muscles they ennervate) relaxed. If our diet provides us with too little magnesium, however, calcium can gain free entry, and the nerve cell can become overactivated, sending too many messages and causing excessive contraction. Insufficient magnesium can thus contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways symptomatic of asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness and fatigue.

Magnesium, as well as calcium, is necessary for healthy bones. About two-thirds of the magnesium in the human body is found in our bones. Some helps give bones their physical structure, while the rest is found on the surface of the bone where it is stored for the body to draw upon as needed.

A cup of cooked Swiss chard will give you 37.6% of the daily value for magnesium along with 10.2% of the daily value for calcium.

A Healthy Dose of Vitamin C for Antioxidant Protection and Immune Support

Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamin C - just one cup of this cooked vegetable supplies 52.5% of the daily value for vitamin C. Vitamin C is the primary water-soluble antioxidant in the body, disarming free radicals and preventing damage in the aqueous environment both inside and outside cells. Inside cells, a potential result of free radical damage to DNA is cancer. Especially in areas of the body where cellular turnover is especially rapid, such as the digestive system, preventing DNA mutations translates into preventing cancer. This is why a good intake of vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer.

Free radical damage to other cellular structures and other molecules can result in painful inflammation, as the body tries to clear out the damaged parts. Vitamin C, which prevents the free radical damage that triggers the inflammatory cascade, is thus also associated with reduced severity of inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Free radicals also oxidize cholesterol. Only after being oxidized does cholesterol stick to artery walls, building up in plaques that may eventually grow large enough to impede or fully block blood flow, or rupture to cause a heart attack or stroke. Since vitamin C can neutralize free radicals, it can help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol.

Vitamin C, which is also vital for the proper function of a healthy immune system, is good for preventing colds and may be helpful in preventing recurrent ear infections.

Protect Your Heart with Potassium

An important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, potassium is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Swiss chard can promote your cardiovascular health by being an excellent source of not only mangesium but potassium, too. A one cup serving of Swiss chard provides 27.4% of the daily value for potassium along with its aforementioned 47% of the daily value for magnesium, making Swiss chard an especially good choice to prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis.

The effectiveness of potassium-rich foods such as Swiss chard in lowering blood pressure has been demonstrated by a number of studies. For example, researchers tracked over 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine the effects of diet on blood pressure. Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods, as well as foods high in magnesium and fiber - also well provided by Swiss chard - had a substantially reduced risk of stroke.

Iron for Energy

Swiss chard is an excellent source of iron, a mineral so vital to the health of the human body that it is found in every human cell. Iron is primarily linked with protein to form the oxygen-carrying molecule hemoglobin, which is why insufficient iron can quickly translate into anemia. Iron enhances oxygen distribution throughout your body, keeps your immune system healthy and helps your body produce energy. A cup of Swiss chard supplies 22.0% of the daily value for iron.

Anti-Inflammatory and Cardiovascular Benefits from Swiss Chard's Vitamin E

Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E travels throughout the body neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise damage fat-containing structures and molecules, such as cell membranes, brain cells, and cholesterol. By protecting these cellular and molecular components, vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, help decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes in women going through menopause, and help reduce the development of diabetic complications.

In addition, vitamin E plays an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin E is one of the main antioxidants found in cholesterol particles and helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol. Only after it has been oxidized is cholesterol able to adhere to blood vessel walls and initiate the process of atherosclerosis, which can lead to blocked arteries, heart attack, or stroke. Getting plenty of vitamin E can significantly reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis. In fact, studies show that people who get a good amount of vitamin E are at a much lower risk of dying of a heart attack than people whose dietary intake of vitamin E is marginal or inadequate. Just a cup of cooked Swiss chard contains 16.6% of the daily value for vitamin E.

An Excellent Source of Fiber

Swiss chard's health benefits continue with its fiber; a cup of Swiss chard provides 14.7% of the daily value for fiber, which has been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels thus helping to prevent atherosclerosis. Fiber can also help out by keeping blood sugar levels under control, so Swiss chard is an excellent vegetable for people with diabetes. Swiss chard's fiber binds to cancer-causing chemicals, keeping them away from the cells lining the colon, providing yet another line of protection from colon cancer. And the fiber in Swiss chard can help reduce the uncomfortable constipation or diarrhea in those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

Manganese - Energy Production Plus Antioxidant Protection

That same cup of Swiss chard will also provide you with 29.0% of the day's needs for manganese. This trace mineral helps produce energy from protein and carbohydrates, and is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids that are important for a healthy nervous system and in the production of cholesterol that is used by the body to produce sex hormones. Manganese is also a critical component of an important antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is found exclusively inside the body's mitochondria (the oxygen-based energy factories inside most of our cells) where it provides protection against damage from the free radicals produced during energy production.

Cardiovascular Protection Brought to You By Swiss Chard's Riboflavin and B6

A cofactor in the reaction that regenerates glutathione, riboflavin help ensure adequate levels of one of the body's most important antioxidants. Among glutathione's many beneficial activities, it protects lipids like cholesterol from free radical attack. Only after it has been damaged by free radicals does cholesterol pose a threat to blood vessel walls. In addition, riboflavin is necessary for proper functioning of B6. Vitamin B6 is involved in an important cellular process called methylation at the juncture where homocysteine, a dangerous molecule that can directly damage blood vessel walls, is converted into a helpful amino acid, methionine. Without riboflavin's assistance, vitamin B6 cannot change into the active form in which it catalyzes this conversion. Once again, we can rely on Swiss chard, which supplies us with both nutrients. A cup of Swiss chard contains 8.8% of the daily value for riboflavin along with 7.5% of the daily value for vitamin B6.

Description

Chard is a tall leafy green vegetable commonly referred to as Swiss chard and scientifically known as Beta vulgaris. 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 three colors: white, red and yellow. Sometimes, in the market, all three varieties will be bunched together and labeled “rainbow chard.”

Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile: it has the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavor of spinach leaves. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible.

History

Swiss chard isn’t native to Switzerland, but the Swiss botanist Koch determined the scientific name of this plant in the 19th century and since then, its name has honored his homeland. The actual homeland of chard lies further south, in the Mediterranean region, and 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

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Swiss Chard:

Wash the chard well to remove any sand or soil that may be hidden in the leaves. One way to do this is to immerse pieces of cut chard in a bowl of cool water, swirling them around to remove any dirt and then quickly rinsing them with cool running water. Trim the bottom end of the stalk. If you find the stalks to be more fibrous than desired, make incisions near the base of the stalk and peel away the fibers, like you would do with celery.

Do not cook chard in an aluminum pot since the oxalates contained in the chard will react with the metal and cause the pot to discolor. Since the stalks are thicker in texture, they will take longer to cook than the leaves, so their cooking should be started a few minutes earlier.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Wrap lightly steamed Swiss chard leaves around your favorite vegetable and grain salad and roll into a neat little package. Bake in a medium-heat oven and enjoy this nutrient-superstar alternative to stuffed cabbage.

Toss penne pasta with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and chopped steamed Swiss chard.

Add zest to omelets and fritatas by adding some steamed Swiss chard.

Use chard in place of or in addition to spinach when preparing vegetarian lasagna.

Safety

Swiss chard is among a small number of foods that contain any measurable amount of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating Swiss chard. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid Swiss chard, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat chard 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.

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. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Chard, Boiled
1.00 cup
35.00 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K 245.00 mcg 306.3 157.5 excellent
vitamin A 5493.25 IU 109.9 56.5 excellent
vitamin C 31.50 mg 52.5 27.0 excellent
magnesium 150.50 mg 37.6 19.4 excellent
manganese 0.58 mg 29.0 14.9 excellent
potassium 960.75 mg 27.4 14.1 excellent
iron 3.96 mg 22.0 11.3 excellent
vitamin E 3.31 mg 16.6 8.5 excellent
dietary fiber 3.68 g 14.7 7.6 excellent
copper 0.29 mg 14.5 7.5 very good
sodium 313.25 mg 13.1 6.7 very good
calcium 101.50 mg 10.2 5.2 very good
tryptophan 0.03 g 9.4 4.8 very good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.15 mg 8.8 4.5 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.15 mg 7.5 3.9 very good
protein 3.29 g 6.6 3.4 very good
phosphorus 57.75 mg 5.8 3.0 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.06 mg 4.0 2.1 good
zinc 0.58 mg 3.9 2.0 good
folate 15.05 mcg 3.8 1.9 good
biotin 10.50 mcg 3.5 1.8 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.63 mg 3.1 1.6 good
vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.29 mg 2.9 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

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This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 20:17:15
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation