Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla) is an exquisite ornamental variety of green leafy vegetable belonging to the plant order Caryophyllales and the family Amaranthaceae. It is very attractive to look at, as it comes in a variety of colors, like red, white, yellow and orange. However, all the varieties have deep green leaves. It is only the fleshy midribs that differ in their color. For instance, the ‘Bright Light’ variety of the vegetable has midribs of red, white, mauve, pale orange, bright gold and pink, while the ‘Ruby Red’ and ‘Argentata Swiss Chard’ have pearlescent white midribs. Whether taken in the form of salads or well cooked and sautéed, chards have a distinct bitter, pungent and salty flavor, very similar to that of their close kins, spinach and beets. However, proper cooking reduces some of the bitterness in the vegetable. Due to their remarkable effects in promoting human health and hygiene, chards are regarded as one of the valedictorians among the many vegetables and vegetable products. The best season for their cultivation and consumption is from the June to August, although they are available all round the year. Due to their high protein and mineral content, they provide resistance against a host of illnesses and diseases that affect the human immune system. Read on to explore more about the health benefits of Swiss chards.
Health Benefits Of Eating Swiss Chards
- The riboflavin present in Swiss chard is a very important co-factor in the regeneration of one of the most important antioxidants in the body, glutathione. A major effect of glutathione is that it defends certain lipids, like cholesterol, from free radical attack. It is only after the lipid has been attacked by the radicals that it poses a threat to blood vessel walls.
- Another effect of riboflavin is that it aids in the proper functioning of Vitamin B6 in the body. Vitamin B6, on the other hand, is necessary for the conversion of homocysteine (a potentially dangerous molecule) into the amino acid, methionine. This is done through an intense cellular process called methylation. Riboflavin acts as a catalyst in this process.
- A single cup of Swiss chards supplies about 14.7% of the daily fiber requirement of the human body. Regular fiber intake is associated with the reduction in high cholesterol levels and the subsequent prevention of atherosclerosis. It also helps maintain the normal blood sugar levels in the body and is therefore, excellent for the people with diabetes.
- Prevention of colon cancer is yet another beneficial effect of the fiber containing Swiss chards.
- Chards serve as an excellent source of vitamin A and are therefore, very beneficial for proper optic function.
- Research has indicated that regular consumption of the vitamin Beta carotene, which is present in Swiss chards, helps prevent certain forms of cancer and also protects cells from oxygen-based damage.
- In case you are a regular smoker or are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, be sure to incorporate lots of vitamin A-rich Swiss chards in your daily diet. This is due to the fact that vitamin A helps counteract the harmful effects of the carcinogen, benzo(a)pyrene, present in cigarette smoke. Subsequently, it prevents the occurrence of lung inflammation and emphysema.
- As a natural calcium blocker, the magnesium present in chards prevents the rush of calcium into nerve cells and thus, the activation of the nerve as well. Thus, it helps keep the nerves relaxed. Over-activation of these cells leads to excessive contraction, resulting in conditions like muscle cramps, soreness, fatigue, high blood pressure, migraines and muscle spasms.
- Magnesium as well as calcium, both of which are there in chards, is necessary for healthy bones. They also contribute to the maintenance of their natural physical structure.
- Swiss chards also serve as a good source of the mineral, iron. This mineral combines with protein to form the oxygen carrying molecule, hemoglobin. Thus, chards contribute to the maintenance of a healthy immune system and help the body generate energy.
- Swiss chards contain considerable amount of oxalates, which when too concentrated in the body, can crystallize and create health problems. So, avoid the consumption of chards, if you have an existing or untreated kidney and gall bladder problem. Besides this, oxalates also interfere with the absorption of calcium from the body.
- To remove dust and sand, wash the Swiss chards properly, by immersing them in a bowl of cool water and rinsing them thoroughly. Repeat the process several times.
- For cooking chards, remove the lower portion of the stalk. In case, the stalk is very fibrous, make an incision close to the base of the stalk, peel the fibers and then use the remaining portion.
- Avoid cooking Swiss chards in aluminum pots, as the oxalates present in the vegetable react with the metal and cause discoloration of the pot.
- Prior to cooking the leaves of Swiss chards, cook the stalks, as they are thicker and require longer time to cook.
- Always opt for quick boiling of the vegetable, instead of steaming, as this helps to free the oxalic acids. It also removes the bitterness from the vegetable and makes it sweeter.