Smart Fuel: Swiss Chard

It might be called Swiss chard, but would you believe that it doesn’t even hail from Switzerland? In fact, Swiss chard got its name from a Swiss botanist named Koch who in the 19th century, named the vegetable in honor of his homeland (even though it originally hails from the Mediterranean region).

Available year round, Swiss chard is related to belongs to the same family as kale, mustard greens, beets and spinach, a fact that is reflected in its taste, with the bitter side reminiscent of its beet roots (see what we did there?) and the slightly salty taste unmistakably a characteristic of the spinach.

But, if it’s vitamins you’re after, consider adding a little chard to your diet, because this vegetable packs a whopping 716% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin K in just one cup cooked. Why would this matter? Well, vitamin K is integral to bone health because it activates osteocalcin, a non-collagen protein that anchors calcium molecules inside the bone to promote bone mineralization. Sticking close to home on the muscle and bone front, Swiss chard is also an excellent source of magnesium, which helps balance the action of calcium to prevent overactivation of the nerve cells – and thus the muscles that they control. Too little magnesium in the diet, for example, can contribute to high blood pressure and migraines as well as muscle spasms, cramps, tension and soreness. In addition, one study found that magnesium, combined with potassium and fiber found in foods like chard, is correlated with a reduced risk of stroke in men.

More evidence of chards great vitamin prowess? It is an excellent source of vitamin A (providing almost 110% RDA) which is important for eye health (the beta carotene at least) and is also important for lung health, with some preliminary studies suggesting that it may offer a protective benefit against emphysema in some smokers. Meanwhile, chard is also an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C (at right about 52% RDA) and a great source of vitamin E, which conveys a number of anti-inflammatory benefits (which is why it is sometimes recommended for people with asthma, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions) and plays an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease by preventing free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol.

Moving away from the vitamins, chard is an excellent source of fiber which, when teamed with the phytochemicals in chard, offers a protective benefit against several types of cancer. In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggested that the consumption of leafy green vegetables is associated with a significant reduction in colon cancer risk in both men and women.

In addition, chard is an excellent source of manganese and iron and a very good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, protein, phosphorous, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid.

Sound like something you should be adding to your diet? Shop for chard in the chilled display in the grocery store produce aisle, looking for leaves that are vivid green without any signs of wilting, fresh in appearance, and free of any brown or yellow spots. The stalks, meanwhile, should be firm and can come in an array of colors, including white (which are generally the most tender), yellow and red. Once home, store unwashed in a plastic bag in your refrigerator, where they should stay fresh for several days.

When it comes to cooking, one easy rule of thumb is that if you can do it with spinach, you can do it with Swiss chard. As such, it can be served as a side dish when seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic or used as the wrap around vegetable parcels that are then baked in the oven. In addition, it can also be steamed to add flavor to omelets and frittatas.

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