Fall Greens: Swiss Chard

Named by a Swiss botanist but originating in Italy, Swiss chard is literally one of the healthiest foods in the world. This thriving summer leafy vegetable grows well into the fall until temperatures fall into the low 20s (F). Full of nutrients, Swiss chard helps regulate blood sugars, maintain healthy blood, eyes, bones, and brain, and may help prevent cancer.

Containing over 36 different antioxidants, Swiss chard is loaded with phytonutrients ready to prevent and fight disease in your body. One of its flavonoids in particular inhibits the breakdown of carbohydrate into simple sugars, allowing for more stable blood sugar levels, which is great news for diabetics and those with insulin-resistance weight issues! Many of the betalain pigments in chard have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support, which along with its abundance of vitamins and minerals, help prevent certain forms of cancer and many chronic diseases.

One cup of Swiss chard contains an amazing 9,276 mcg of lutein, an antioxidant that is essential for eye health. Consuming between 6,000 and 10,000 mcg of lutein per day may maintain the health of eyes and possibly prevent or delay the onset of age-related eye diseases.

One cup of chopped Swiss chard has just 35 calories, while providing significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. There is more than 700% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin K in just one cup of boiled chard, and 38% of the DV of magnesium. Vitamin K facilitates absorption of calcium into bones, and along with magnesium and calcium, it is critical for bone health. Vitamin K is also crucial for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, because it is essential for the formation of the protective layer around nerves, which is called the myelin sheath. Skip this vegetable if you’re taking blood thinners, however,  since the high amount of vitamin K it contains counteracts medicines like Coumadin (warfarin) and Plavix (clopidogrel).

Swiss chard also contains more than 200% of the daily value of vitamin A, 53% of the DV of vitamin C, 27% of the DV of potassium,  22% of the DV iron and 17% of the DV vitamin E. It’s also a great source of fiber (almost 4 grams in 1 cup), copper, choline, and calcium and a good source of tryptophan, vitamin B2, B6, and protein while also providing significant amounts of phosphorus, vitamin B1, folate, zinc, biotin, and vitamins B5 and B3.

While Swiss chard contains a high amount of oxalates (can contribute to kidney or gallbladder stones and thought to prevent calcium absorption in the body), newer research shows that the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is relatively insignificant.

Opt for quick-boiling Swiss chard in an uncovered pot for 2 to 3 minutes, instead of steaming, to help free the oxalic acids in Swiss chard and remove the bitterness while making it sweeter. Prior to cutting the chard, take about 20 stems and simply plop the greens in the boiling water with the stem bunches sticking out. After about 3 minutes, transfer the bunches of chard into a drainer by grasping the stems while using a hot pad. Squeeze out the excess water, and on a cutting board, chop the wet chard into small pieces until the leaves end. Of course, you will be including some of the stems in the cutting, which adds a nice crispness to Swiss chard recipes.

Enjoy the young leaves in salads, or use the larger ones in place of spinach in nearly any recipe. The stalks make a delicious and colorful celery substitute. The stems and leaves are also great added to soup. Try this easy Swiss Chard Potato Frittata as well as this family-friendly Swiss Chard Baked Pasta made with marinara sauce and goat cheese.

Sauté boiled and chopped Swiss chard with garlic, onion, a bit of stock, and fresh or canned tomatoes. Then add just a little browned, spicy sausage, like chorizo or Hungarian sausage. Season to taste with sea salt, fresh black pepper, ground pepper flakes, and fresh Parmesan cheese. On a different day, replace the sausage with cooked white beans or chickpeas and a squeeze of lemon and Parmesan, or instead use feta cheese and dried cranberries.

Take October’s (2012) Healthy Challenge and add Swiss chard to your diet. This beautiful green leafy vegetable tastes delicious and has amazing health benefits. It’s easy to grow, so you might even consider adding it to your garden.