Swiss Chard: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks
Swiss chard, like other leafy greens, is a powerhouse vegetable. As part of the beet family, it’s packed with nutrients, vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that can benefit your overall health. Swiss chard is scientifically known as Beta vulgaris L. var. cicla, but is more commonly referred to as spinach beet, silverbeet, crab beet, or mangold.
Its rich color and flavor make it a great addition to many dishes—from salads to casseroles. Plus, the nutrients found in Swiss chard can help support bone, endocrine, and heart health, among other health benefits.
Research has shown that low potassium, calcium, and magnesium levels can be linked to high blood pressure. Each mineral helps regulate blood pressure through its own unique mechanism, and Swiss chard contains all three.
Calcium helps regulate blood volume through its role in blood vessel contraction, helping blood vessels contract and relax when necessary. Potassium also affects blood vessel contraction through its role in muscle function. It plays an essential role in electric signaling in the sympathetic nervous system and the heart. Magnesium, on the other hand, regulates sodium and potassium in and out of the cells.
Swiss chard can’t replace medications recommended by your healthcare provider, but it may be a beneficial vegetable for those making lifestyle changes to lower their blood pressure.
Bones lose toughness as you age, putting you at an increased risk of fractures. Eating leafy greens like Swiss chard can help increase calcium in your diet, but the true benefit lies in its vitamin K content. Swiss chard is rich in vitamin K, which plays a very influential role in bone health. Vitamin K can help improve calcium absorption and reduce the urinary output of calcium, thereby increasing bone mineral density, and preventing osteoarthritis.
Vitamin K is a cofactor for the enzymatic reactions involved in protein synthesis for blood clotting and bone metabolism. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adult men and women is 120 and 90 micrograms (mcg), respectively. One cup of Swiss chard provides 299 mcg of vitamin K, meaning even a small portion can provide enough vitamin K for the day.
Swiss chard is rich in alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), an antioxidant linked to improved insulin sensitivity and lower glucose levels. ALA supplementation can positively affect insulin secretion and nerve conduction, making it a commonly prescribed compound for individuals with diabetic polyneuropathy, which affects sensory and motor nerves that branch out from the spinal cord into the arms, hands, legs and feet.
Current studies indicate that ALA can increase glucose uptake by activating insulin receptors, but there is a need for continued research to better understand its role in glucose metabolism. Furthermore, ALA may offer protective benefits for pancreatic beta cells, which play a critical role in insulin secretion.
ALA may be more effective in supplement form than through diet, but researchers aren’t counting it out. Swiss chard may be a beneficial green veggie for those living with diabetes. However, it cannot replace insulin therapy as prescribed by a healthcare provider.
Swiss chard contains chlorophyll, which is believed to exhibit anti-cancer properties, even though evidence in humans remains sparse. Chlorophyll may inhibit carcinogen uptake and bioavailability and help eliminate carcinogens that haven’t been metabolized.
High-fiber diets have also been linked to a reduced risk of cancer. Research continues to point to fiber’s protective role in preventing many forms of cancer, including gastric, esophageal, colon, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers, among others. Dietary fiber can increase stool volume while simultaneously decreasing stool transit time, efficiently removing waste from the body.
One cup of Swiss chard contains approximately 0.6 grams (g) of fiber. While that may not seem like a significant amount of fiber, one cup of the leafy green vegetable contains 1.35 g of carbohydrates, meaning it is a nutrient-dense veggie. Swiss chard may benefit those trying to increase their fiber intake without consuming excess carbs.
Recent research points to a beneficial relationship between dietary nitrates and muscle efficiency. Nitrates can healthy cardiovascular effects by opening up blood vessels and therefore improving oxygen consumption when doing a physical activity. Leafy greens are among some of the best foods rich in nitrates, and Swiss chard has a higher concentration of nitrates than many, including spinach and lettuce.
More research is needed regarding nitrates and their effects on athletic performance. However, athletes who want to improve their cardiovascular performance through increased intake of dietary nitrates may benefit from adding Swiss chard to their meals or snacks. You can add Swiss chard to your protein shakes or other supplements.
Swiss chard is a nutrient-dense leafy green. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central, one cup of raw Swiss chard provides:
- Calories: 6.8
- Fat: 0.07 g
- Carbohydrates: 1.35 g
- Fiber: 0.6 g
- Protein: 0.65 g
- Sodium: 76.7 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin C: 10.8 mg
- Vitamin A: 110 mcg
- Vitamin K: 299 mcg
- Calcium: 18.4 mg
- Potassium: 136 mg
- Magnesium: 29.2mg
Swiss chard, low in calories and rich in nutrients, is an efficient way to add fiber and micronutrients to a well-balanced diet. For example, one cup provides 12% of the daily value of vitamin A and vitamin C. However, those who need to moderate their vitamin K intake may need to monitor their consumption of Swiss chard, as one cup provides 249% of the vitamin’s daily value.
Vitamin K can counteract the anticoagulation effects of blood thinner medications, so those who benefit from the medication should seek guidance from their healthcare provider or registered dietitian before incorporating the vegetable into their diet.
Those taking blood thinning medications, such as Coumadin or warfarin, should be mindful of their vitamin K intake. Vitamin K plays a significant role in blood clotting and can affect your international normalized ratio (INR), a value that highlights how quickly your blood clots.
However, those on blood thinners do not have to eliminate vitamin K-rich foods like leafy greens completely. The key is consistency. Those on blood thinners should not suddenly increase or decrease their intake of the vitamin.
One cup of Swiss chard provides 249% of vitamin K’s daily value, a significant uptick in the vitamin for those who don’t consume it regularly. A registered dietitian can help navigate vitamin K levels in food and recommend ways to safely incorporate foods into a healthy diet.
Swiss chard can make a great addition to a well-balanced diet. Tips for consuming this nutritious vegetable include:
- Swiss chard that are deep green in color and have firm leaves will provide the most flavor.
- Smaller leaves will be more tender and have a mild taste.
- Store Swiss chard in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.
- Swiss chard can be enjoyed raw in salads and on sandwiches.
- Swiss chard can be boiled, sautéed, braised, or added to soups, casseroles, and stir-fries.
Swiss chard, a leafy green vegetable from the beet family, is often overlooked despite its many health benefits. It’s low in calories and rich in micronutrients that can support overall health through multiple mechanisms. For example, one cup of Swiss chard provides 12% of the daily value for vitamins A and C and 249% for vitamin K.
Thanks to its ALA content, Swiss chard can help manage blood glucose control for those living with diabetes, and through its antioxidant properties, it can help fight oxidation in cells and protect against certain cancers. And while a serving of Swiss chard doesn’t contain significant portions of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, it contains all three minerals, which can help lower blood pressure.
Swiss chard can be incorporated into a balanced diet in many ways. However, those on blood thinners should monitor their intake and ensure they consume it consistently to avoid changes in their INR. A registered dietitian dietitian is well-equipped to answer questions regarding leafy greens and their role in a healthy diet.