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Celery

Celery has become a common household staple along with carrots, onions and potatoes. Its crunchy texture and distinctive flavor makes it a popular addition to salads and many cooked dishes. Although it is available throughout the year, you will enjoy the best taste and quality of celery during the summer months when it is in season and locally grown varieties can be easily found in the markets.

Celery grows to a height of 12 to 16 inches and is composed of leaf-topped stalks arranged in a conical shape that are joined at a common base. It is a biennial vegetable plant that belongs to the Umbelliferae family whose other members include carrots, fennel, parsley and dill. While most people associate celery with its prized stalks, the leaves, roots and seeds can also be used as a food and seasoning as well as a natural medicinal remedy.

 


Health Benefits

Celery contains vitamin C and several other active compounds that promote health, including phalides, which may help lower cholesterol, and coumarins, that may be useful in cancer prevention.

Vitamin C

Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C, a vitamin that helps to support the immune system. Vitamin C-rich foods like celery may help reduce cold symptoms or severity of cold symptoms; over 20 scientific studies have concluded that vitamin C is a cold-fighter. Vitamin C also prevents the free radical damage that triggers the inflammatory cascade, and is therefore also associated with reduced severity of inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. As free radicals can oxidize cholesterol and lead to plaques that may rupture causing heart attacks or stroke, vitamin C is beneficial to promoting cardiovascular health. Owing to the multitude of vitamin C's health benefits, it is not surprising that research has shown that consumption of vegetables and fruits high in this nutrient is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Pthalides

Celery’s beneficial blood pressure-reducing action has long been recognized by Chinese medicine practitioners, and now scientists have discovered how it works.

Celery contains active compounds called pthalides, which relax the muscles of the arteries that regulate blood pressure, allowing these vessels to dilate. Pthalides also reduce stress hormones, one of whose effects is to cause blood vessels to constrict. When researchers injected 3-n-butyl phthalide derived from celery into test animals, the animals’ blood pressure dropped 12 to 14 percent. In humans, an equivalent dose would be supplied in about 4 stalks of celery.

Cholesterol-lowering Benefits

In studies of animals specially bred to have high cholesterol, celery's cholesterol-lowering activity has been demonstrated. In eight weeks, aqueous solutions of celery (like celery juice) fed to specially bred high cholesterol animals significantly lowered their total cholesterol by increasing bile acid secretion.

Diuretic Activity

The seeds of celery's wild forebears, which originated around the Mediterranean, were widely used as a diuretic. Today, we understand how celery, which is rich in both potassium and sodium, the minerals most important for regulating fluid balance, stimulates urine production, thus helping to rid the body of excess fluid.

Cancer Prevention

Celery contains compounds called coumarins that help prevent free radicals from damaging cells, thus decreasing the mutations that increase the potential for cells to become cancerous. Coumarins also enhance the activity of certain white blood cells, immune defenders that target and eliminate potentially harmful cells, including cancer cells. In addition, compounds in celery called acetylenics have been shown to stop the growth of tumor cells.

Description

Celery is a biennial vegetable (meaning it has a normal life cycle of two years) that belongs to the Umbelliferae family, whose other members include carrots, fennel, parsley and dill. While most people associate celery with its prized stalks, its leaves, roots and seeds are also used as a food and seasoning as well as a natural medicinal remedy.

Celery grows to a height of 12 to 16 inches and is composed of leaf-topped stalks arranged in a conical shape and joined at a common base. The stalks have a crunchy texture and a delicate, but mildly salty, taste. The stalks in the center are called the heart and are the most tender. In the United States, we are used to celery appearing in different shades of green, but in Europe they also enjoy a variety that is white in color. Like white asparagus, this type of celery is grown shaded from direct sunlight, so the production of its chlorophyll content, and hence its green color, are inhibited.

History

The celery that we know today was derived from wild celery, which while thought to have its origins in the Mediterranean regions of northern Africa and southern Europe, is also native to areas extending east to the Himalayas. Wild celery differed a bit from its modern day counterpart in that it featured less stalks and more leaves.

Celery has a long and prestigious history of use, first as a medicine and then later as a food. The initial mention of the medicinal properties of celery leaves dates back to the 9th century B.C., when celery made an appearance in the Odyssey, the famous epic by the Greek poet, Homer. The Ancient Greeks used the leaves as laurels to decorate their renowned athletes, while the ancient Romans used it as a seasoning, a tradition that has carried through the centuries.

It was not until the Middle Ages that celery’s use expanded beyond medicine and seasoning into consideration as a food. And while today, for most people thoughts of celery conjure up images of dips and crudité platters, eating this delicious crunchy vegetable raw did not really become popular until the 18th century in Europe. Celery was introduced in the United States early in the 19th century.

How to Select and Store

Choose celery that looks crisp and snaps easily when pulled apart. It should be relatively tight and compact and not have stalks that splay out. The leaves should be pale to bright green in color and free from yellow or brown patches. Sometimes celery can have a condition called “blackheart,” which is caused by insects. To check for damage, separate the stalks and look for brown or black discoloration. In addition, evaluate the celery to ensure that it does not have a seedstem--the presence of a round stem in the place of the smaller tender stalks that should reside in the center of the celery. Celery with seedstems are often more bitter in flavor.

To store celery, place it in a sealed container or wrap it in a perforated plastic bag or damp cloth and store it in the refrigerator. If you are storing cut or peeled celery, ensure that it is dry and free from water residue, as this can drain some of its nutrients. Freezing will make celery wilt and should be avoided unless you will be using it in a future cooked recipe.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for preparing celery:

To clean celery, cut off the base and leaves, then wash the leaves and stalks under running water. Cut the stalks into pieces of desired length. If the outside of the celery stalk has fibrous strings, remove them by making a thin cut into one end of the stalk and peeling away the fibers. Be sure to use the leaves--they contain the most vitamin C, calcium and potassium--but use them within a day or two as they do not store very well.

Celery should not be kept at room temperature for too long since, because of its high water content, it has a tendency to wilt quickly. If you have celery that has wilted, sprinkle it with a little water and place it in the refrigerator for several hours where it will regain its crispness.

A few quick serving ideas:

Add chopped celery to your favorite tuna fish or chicken salad recipe.

Enjoy the delicious tradition of eating peanut butter on celery stalks.

Use celery leaves in salads.

Braise chopped celery, radicchio and onions and serve topped with walnuts and your favorite soft cheese.

Next time you are making fresh squeezed carrot juice give it a unique taste dimension by adding some celery to it.

Add celery leaves and sliced celery stalks to soups, stews, casseroles, and healthy stir fries.

Safety

Virtually all municipal drinking water in the United States contains pesticide residues, and with the exception of organic foods, so do the majority of foods in the U.S. food supply. Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented. The liver’s ability to process other toxins, the cells’ ability to produce energy, and the nerves’ ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. Individuals wanting to avoid these health risks may want to avoid consumption of celery unless grown organically, since celery is among the 20 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found.

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 amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Not all of our Daily Value standards are obtained from the FDA. In most instances, we used FDA Daily Values when available because they are widely recognized and apply to both men and women. However, when unavailable, we've used other science-based research to establish nutritional standards. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read more about our Food and Recipe Rating System.

 

Celery, Raw
1.00 cup
19.20 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 8.40 mg 14.0 13.1 excellent
potassium 344.40 mg 9.8 9.2 very good
folate 33.60 mcg 8.4 7.9 very good
dietary fiber 2.04 g 8.2 7.7 very good
molybdenum 6.00 mcg 8.0 7.5 very good
manganese 0.12 mg 6.0 5.6 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.10 mg 5.0 4.7 very good
calcium 48.00 mg 4.8 4.5 good
sodium 104.40 mg 4.3 4.1 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.06 mg 4.0 3.8 good
magnesium 13.20 mg 3.3 3.1 good
vitamin A 160.80 IU 3.2 3.0 good
tryptophan 0.01 g 3.1 2.9 good
phosphorus 30.00 mg 3.0 2.8 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.05 mg 2.9 2.8 good
iron 0.48 mg 2.7 2.5 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%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Celery

References

  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Finkelstein E, Afek U, Gross E, et al. An outbreak of phytophotodermatitis due to celery. Int J Dermatol 1994 Feb;33(2):116-8.
  • Khaw KT, Bingham S, Welch A, et al. Relation between plasma ascorbic acid and mortality in men and women in EPIC-Norfolk prospective study: a prospective population study. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Lancet. 2001 Mar 3;357(9257):657-63.
  • Kurl S, Tuomainen TP, Laukkanen JA et al. Plasma vitamin C modifies the association between hypertension and risk of stroke. Stroke 2002 Jun;33(6):1568-73.
  • Tsi D, Tan BK. The mechanism underlying the hypocholesterolaemic activity of aqueous celery extract, its butanol and aqueous fractions in genetically hypercholesterolaemic RICO rats. Life Sci 2000 Jan 14;66(8):755-67.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

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