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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10 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Swiss Chard”

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  1. Actually, swiss chard is not in the same family as kale and mustard greens. Those two are in the brassica family which includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. I love em all. Italians treat the leaves and rib (stalk) as two separate vegetables. The rib takes more cooking to tenderize except in young chard. Separate it out, chop, and saute first before adding the leaves, or use it in other recipes whole.

  2. Two nifty factoids:

    1. Chard is not just in the same family as beets, they are the same species!

    2. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and collards are all also in the same species. (Different species from chard and beets, though.)

    Don’t believe me? Look it up!

  3. The new Worker Bee is learning the ropes of internet research. Rule #1: Don’t believe everything that you read. There is a lot of misinformation out there that can steer the well-intentioned in the wrong direction.

    Thanks for clarifying the nuances of Swiss Chard’s “roots”! Amendments to come…

  4. How *much* Folate does a typical serving of Swiss Chard provide though? I know that there’s concerns for men about having too much Folate intake, but for women, it appears to be very, very important, particularly when we’re pregnant.

    There’s a lot of other information out there that points out how much we need as women, but I’m curious, what’s everyone else’s perspective on this… I mean, as tasty as it is, there’s onl SO much Swiss Chard one can eat, right? 🙂

  5. My fave 3 ways to eat Swiss Chard deliciously:

    1. Saute chopped stems in olive oil, then add minced garlic and chopped leaves and saute some more (the volume reduces quickly and dramatically), then stir in leftover cooked noodles and parmesan cheese. You can add any tasty high-protein bits: I go for half a can of smoked oysters.

    2. Chop or chiffonade the leaves (roll up and slice into thin strips) and add to bean soup.

    3. Saute and put a spicy garlic-ginger-peanut-butter based sauce on it, Thai or Indonesia-style. Sounds weird, yes? But it is fantastic.

    1. I love Ava’s expression in this icrtupe. I’m not exactly sure what’s transpiring here, but if I had to guess, I’d say she’s thinking (if not saying) I’m the big sister, I can do this but you’re too little to do it . I’ve only seen this look a hundred times from Ryan. Or, she’s giving a full narrative to Olivia on how it’s done! Hehe.

  6. Throw some almonds and water into a blender. Whip until you have almond milk. Now throw in 10 or so chard leaves including the stems and whip some more. You now have a delicious green milkshake. Its so good, its almost sinful.