At first glance, celery might seem boring. After all, the veggie is mostly made of water, so it tastes pretty mind. However, when it comes to nutrition, celery is anything but bland. In fact, it’s worth every bite. Read on to learn about the health benefits of celery, along with ideas for celery recipes.
What Is Celery?
A member of the parsley family (alongside carrots, fennel, and, yup, parsley), celery is a cool-weather vegetable that’s native to the Mediterranean, according to Cornell University. Although its leaves are edible, it’s mostly grown and eaten for its crunchy, ribbed stalks. Some varieties, though, are cultivated for their globe-shaped root — aka celeriac, celery root, or knob celery — and eaten as a root vegetable (such as potatoes and turnips), according to the University of Arkansas. For the sake of simplicity, “celery” in this article will refer to the type grown for its green ribbed stalks.
Celery mainly consists of water, meaning it’s not exactly teeming with vitamins and minerals, according to registered dietitian nutritionist Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. The stalks and leaves both offer some nutrients (think: vitamin C and magnesium) in small amounts. The only exception is vitamin K, which is abundant in celery, says Feller. In the body, vitamin K is crucial for proper blood clotting (to prevent excess bleeding) and bone building. Celery also contains gut-friendly fibre — both insoluble and soluble — which are vital for healthy digestion, according to Isa Kujawski, MPH, RDN, registered dietitian and founder of Mea Nutrition.
Here’s the nutritional profile of 1 cup of chopped celery (~101 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture:
- 14 calories
- < 1 gram protein
- < 1 gram fat
- 3 grams carbohydrate
- 2 grams fibre
- 1 gram sugar
Health Benefits of Celery
TBH, if you’re on a mission to up your intake of micronutrients, celery won’t be a major contributor, says Feller. Remember, celery is mostly H2O! But does that mean you should skip the veggie? Not necessarily. Celery can add colour and crunch to your meals, and the nutrients it does have are still worth calling out. Ahead, check out the health benefits of celery, according to registered dietitians and research.
Offers Some Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Celery has modest amounts of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and flavonoids (eg luteolin and apigenin), according to Feller. The veggie also contains caffeic acid, an antioxidant found in coffee, tea, and wine. This is worth noting because antioxidants are beneficial compounds that combat free radicals (harmful molecules) that — when present in excess — cause oxidative stress and inflammation, aka major causes of chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Even the leaves contain some antioxidant flavonoids, according to a 2017 article in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine.
Promotes Digestive Health
Celery contains both soluble and insoluble fibre, says Kujawski — both of which can pave the way for healthy digestion, but they work in different ways. Soluble fibre, which attracts water, turns into a gel-like substance in your gastrointestinal tract. This can help firm up loose stool or soften hard stool, ultimately improving the consistency of your number two. “Soluble fibre is also a prebiotic, which means it acts as a food for beneficial gut bacteria,” explains Kujawski. These “good” bacteria are in charge of myriad digestive functions, such as breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and controlling gut inflammation — just to name a few. Thus, getting your fill of soluble fibre (via foods such as celery) can help ensure your good gut buggers have enough food to thrive and keep your tum healthy. On the flipside, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, so it stays intact in your gut. This adds bulk to stool, which can help “ease constipation and promote regularity,” notes Kujawski.
Supports Heart Health
“Celery contains a compound called phthalide, which has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood pressure,” according to registered dietitian Symone Moodoo, RD. Specifically, phthalides relax blood vessels, thus improving blood flow to your heart and other vital organs. This may help reduce high blood pressure, aka a major risk factor of heart disease, says Moodoo. Oh, and here’s a fun fact: Phthalide is responsible for the flavour and smell of celery, according to a 2016 scientific review.
Celery’s soluble fibre can lend a hand, too, adds Moodoo. It works by attaching to excess cholesterol in the GI tract; when the fibre is excreted in the faeces, it brings along cholesterol, ultimately decreasing blood cholesterol levels, according to a 2019 article. This is key because high blood cholesterol is another risk factor of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Manages Blood Sugar
If you’re on a mission to control your blood sugar, celery is an excellent choice, says Kujawski. Not only is it naturally low in sugar, but it also contains soluble fibre. As mentioned earlier, this type of fibre turns into a gel in the gut. This gel-like material can help slow down the digestion of sugar, says Kujawski, which may help prevent blood sugar spikes and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, a 2016 study notes that regularly consuming soluble fibre can benefit blood sugar levels if you already have type 2 diabetes. This is a BFD, as blood sugar management is key for staving off type 2 diabetes complications such as heart disease and nerve damage.
Maintains Healthy Bones
ICYMI above, celery contains a notable amount of vitamin K. In fact, 1 cup of chopped celery holds 29.6 micrograms of the nutrient, which is about one-third of the recommended daily amount for women (90 micrograms) and one-fourth for men (120 micrograms). This is great news for your bones, as the vitamin is required to make osteocalcin, a protein involved in bone strength. Osteocalcin is in charge of depositing calcium into your bone, a key step in bone development, according to a 2020 scientific article. Celery’s impressive amount of vitamin K can help support this process, as osteocalcin production depends on the nutrient.
Drinking water isn’t the only way to stay hydrated, you guys. Some foods, such as watermelon and cucumbers, are so high in H2O that they can help contribute to your overall hydration needs. (That’s about four to six cups of water per day for generally healthy adults, by the way.) The same can be said for celery, which is made of 95 percent (!!!) water, says Feller. Staying hydrated is crucial for overall health, as water regulates your body temp, lubricates your joints, and helps remove wastes from the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2021 article also notes that celery contains potassium and sodium — two important electrolytes that can help maintain normal fluid balance in your cells, ensuring your body gets the fluid it needs.
Potential Risks of Celery
As mentioned above, celery is high in fibre. Thus, if you have a sensitive GI tract, eating too much of the veggie too fast might cause digestive issues (think: gas, bloating, constipation), says Feller. In this case, you’ll want to start with a small amount, then slowly increase your intake of celery (and fibre in general).
Also, “it’s possible to be allergic to celery,” shares Feller. Common symptoms of a food allergy include vomiting, stomach cramps, wheezing, hives, and oral swelling. You’re more likely to have a celery allergy if you’re also allergic to birch pollen, according to the Mayo Clinic. The reason? Some of the proteins in celery are similar to the allergy-causing proteins in birch pollen. So, if you’re new to the veggie and have a history of birch pollen/food allergies, you’ll want to approach it with caution. If you’re unsure, chat with an allergist first.
It’s also important to note that while vitamin K “has not been shown to cause any harm,” it can interact with some medications, such as warfarin (a blood thinner), according to the National Institute of Health. Vitamin K, found in celery, helps your blood clot to prevent excessive bleeding, while drugs such as warfarin work in opposition to prevent potentially dangerous blood clots to vital organs. Because the two work against each other, it’s important to keep your vitamin K intake consistent and moderate when taking warfarin to ensure the meds effectively thin your blood (as they’re prescribed to), according to the University of Michigan Health System. So if you’re taking warfarin, be sure to talk to your doctor before suddenly adding celery to your diet or increasing the amount of celery you already eat regularly.
How to Buy and Eat Celery
In the supermarket, celery is most commonly sold raw in the produce section. You can buy it as whole heads (ie stalks with the leaves and bottom) or as celery hearts, which are the tender inner stalks of the plant. (The outer stalks tend to be tough and fibrous, so keep that in mind if you decide to buy a whole head.) When buying raw celery, look for bright green stalks that are straight and firm; the head should have a fresh, slightly aromatic smell, according to the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Avoid ones with limp, mushy, or discoloured stalks, as this might indicate spoilage.
The veggie is also available dried which can be added to soups, stews, and casseroles. It’s also found as an ingredient in packaged foods, such as soup or bottled juice. Celery juice, in particular, is currently super trendy — so much so that you can often find the drink on its own. Keep in mind that pre-packaged foods often contain added sugar and/or sodium, though. Should you want to limit your intake of such ingredients, check the ingredient labels first.
But wait — why is celery juice so popular, anyway? The drink’s recent increase is largely due to social media and celebrity endorsements, explains Moodoo. And while “celery juice and whole celery have similar nutritional contents, celery juice [is] lower in fibre,” says Kujawski. (That’s because much of the fibre is in the solid part of celery, which is discarded during juicing.) This is a bit of a bummer, considering fibre’s digestion helping effect is one of the main health benefits of celery. That said, if you want to get the most out of your celery, Moodoo recommends blending it in a smoothie so you can enjoy its fibre content.
When kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, raw celery should stay fresh for about two weeks, according to the University of Wyoming. Avoid washing it until you’re ready to eat, as the moisture will speed up spoilage. When that time comes, wash the head under running water and chop off the round white bottom; this will help separate the individual stalks. From there, chop off the tough white ends of each stalk. Then cut each stalk into spears or bite-sized pieces. You can also chop off the leaves.
But don’t be so quick to toss those bottoms and leaves. The chunky round bottom, along with the white end of each stalk, can be used to make homemade vegetable broth. The white stalk ends can also be peeled and blanched or sauteed, then paired with your fave dip or spread, says Moodoo. (This part of celery is normally bitter, but cooking will help tone it down.) As for the leaves? Use ’em just like fresh parsley — after all, they “are delicious as a garnish, sauces, and salsas,” says Feller. They’re also tasty in sofrito (a seasoning sauce used in the Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine) or Trinidadian green seasoning. You can also add celery leaves to raw or cooked greens, blend them in homemade juices, or add them into pesto, sauces, and soups, says Feller.
Now, on to celery preparation. Since heat can degrade some nutrients, “eating celery raw is a great way to ensure all its nutrients stay intact,” according to Moodoo. But if you prefer cooked celery, they suggest blanching, steaming, or stir-frying, all of which will help retain most of the nutrients in the veggie. In terms of nutritional content, boiling may be the least ideal, as the method often causes water-soluble nutrients (eg vitamin C and B vitamins) in vegetables to leach out into the water, says Moodoo.
Celery Recipe Ideas
The flavour of celery is fresh and mild, meaning it can work well in a variety of dishes without overpowering other ingredients. So, what is celery good for, exactly? Here are some tasty ways to eat the veggie at home:
In salads. Add a satisfying crunch to your next salad by including some fresh celery, such as in the shredded cabbage, chickpea, and celery salad. Another option is to make shaved celery and celery leaf salad, which calls for celery stalks and leaves.
With dips. Raw celery stalks make for a delightfully crispy snack. Pair them with hummus or guacamole, depending on your mood. Need a quick party app? Fill each piece of celery with a tasty dip. Or take a walk down memory lane by making the ants on a log.
In smoothies. Stay hydrated with a refreshing celery smoothie. In this form, the veggie’s fibre will remain intact, which will be a real treat for your gut. Try this celery smoothie by food blog Madhu’s Everyday Indian; the combo of green apple, ginger, and lemon juice will complement the celery beautifully.
In soup. When making a homemade soup, sauté sliced celery along with the onions. Craving something creamy? Sauté the celery with the other ingredients as usual, then blend it up. Or, if you need to use a whole head of celery, check out this vegan creamy celery soup by The Simple Veganista.
This story first appeared on www.shape.com
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