Chard: The Healthy Leafy Vegetable

Swiss chard is a vegetable classified as a leafy green vegetable. It is related to spinach and kale. Chard is low in calories, high in fiber, and an excellent source of folate.

Swiss chard: Healthy super vegetables from the Middle East

The Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) is an ancient cultivated plant that was cultivated in Mesopotamia (West Asia) thousands of years ago. The tasty vegetable quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean region and was valued by the ancient Romans and Greeks both as food and as a medicinal plant.

The chard arrived in Central Europe as early as late antiquity and was one of the most important vegetable plants in the Middle Ages. But while it was becoming less and less important in this country from the 19th century onwards, the leafy vegetable was happily cultivated and eaten without interruption in southern climes. Recently, however, more and more health-conscious people and gourmets in German-speaking countries have been interested in the forgotten vegetable.

The chard in medicine

The chard was already highly praised in ancient times for its healing properties. The most famous doctor of antiquity – Hippocrates of Kos – used the large chard leaves to bandage wounds. And the ancient Romans used it to make a delicious soup with a laxative effect. Other areas of application were bronchitis, pneumonia, and mood swings.

Chard reached Central Europe in the luggage of Roman legionnaires. There it was used in the Middle Ages for numerous ailments such as anemia and skin diseases. And to this day, chard still has its well-deserved place in traditional folk medicine. While the leaves i.a. for gastrointestinal problems, anemia, and nervousness, chard root juice is prescribed for earaches.

The healing effect of leafy vegetables is attributed to a whole range of bioactive substances, which are now also recognized by scientists.

Betalains: Colorful and healthy

The chard was already a popular ornamental plant in antiquity due to its imposing appearance and its blaze of color. While the leaves are mostly green, the stems and leaf veins shine in bright yellow, orange, red and purple, depending on the variety. This colorfulness is based on the betalains, which, along with anthocyanins (blue) and carotenoids (yellow-orange), are among the vegetable pigments. All three color groups are represented in Swiss chard.

From a pharmacological point of view, the betalains are non-toxic alkaloids that have antioxidant properties and are therefore also of medical interest.

A study at Tarbiat Modares University found that foods containing betalains make excellent adjunctive therapy for conditions related to oxidative stress, inflammation, and dyslipidemia. These include the u. atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Chlorophyll promotes health

The deep green color of chard leaves, on the other hand, is based on the pigment chlorophyll. The so-called leafy green fulfills very important tasks in plants. for absorbing the light energy of sunlight. But humans can also benefit from chlorophyll in many ways by putting green leafy vegetables on the menu more often.

Numerous studies have shown that chlorophyll helps the liver detoxify, fights infections, aids digestion, aids in weight management, protects the skin, reduces inflammation, and even reduces the risk of cancer.

Does chard help against cancer?

In addition, there are a number of flavonoids in chard, which also belong to secondary plant substances. According to studies at the University degli Studi Carlo Boin Urbino (Italy), these include rutin, apennines, and vitexin. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihypertensive effects and inhibit the growth and division of cancer cells.

The researchers also stated that Vitexin in combination with the betalains protects against breast, liver, bladder, and colon tumors. In addition, the toxicity of cancer drugs can be reduced and the resistance of tumor cells to therapeutic substances can be weakened. So it’s no wonder that Swiss chard is also recommended as regular food for those suffering from cancer.

Swiss chard or spinach

Unlike spinach, chard is unknown to many people today. Even in the German vegetable harvest statistics, it is simply counted as spinach. The Swiss chard looks a little bit like spinach, but it is prepared in the same way and also belongs to the foxtail family. And yet it is very closely related to the beetroot and actually belongs to the beets, i.e. it is a cultivated form of the beet.

Why has spinach outstripped chard? It is considered “finer” and incorrectly considered much healthier. In reality, however, chard is in no way inferior to spinach in terms of nutritional content.

Nutrients in chard

The chard is truly a light meal, because it consists of 90 percent water, contains virtually no fat at all, has little sugar and only has 25 kilocalories per 100 grams. The nutrient profile for 100 grams of raw chard is as follows:

  • 0 grams of fat
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3 grams of dietary fiber

Swiss chard contains more fiber than most other leafy greens, such as lettuce. Dietary fibers have the great advantage that they increase the feeling of satiety and bind bile acids in the intestine. As a result, cholesterol levels are lowered. In addition, fiber contributes to digestion and thus to intestinal health.

Mangold also with fructose intolerance

The fructose content of Swiss chard is 0.6 g per 100 g. The glucose content is at 1.5 g per 100 g. Other sources give different values, which can always be the case with fresh food due to natural fluctuations, e.g. B. 0.37 g fructose and 0.31 g glucose.

Chard can usually be well tolerated in the case of fructose intolerance due to the relatively low fructose levels – like all leafy vegetables. If necessary, use the leaves rather than the stalks, as the latter has a higher sugar content than the leaves.

Can you eat chard if you have histamine intolerance?

While spinach is one of the vegetables that are not so well suited to people with histamine intolerance (it contains relatively high histamine levels), chard can usually be tolerated much better. It is one of the sometimes tolerated foods for histamine intolerance.

Is chard contaminated with pesticides?

If the environment (soil, water, air) is polluted with dangerous heavy metals, this inevitably affects the quality of the food grown there. Unfortunately, according to analyzes by the North Rhine-Westphalia State Office for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection, chard is one of those types of vegetables – like any other leafy vegetable – that accumulate particularly strongly cadmium, but also arsenic, lead, chromium, nickel, and mercury.

Cadmium is a by-product of the chemical industry and also ends up on agricultural land through fertilizers and pesticides. The heavy metal, which is classified as very toxic, is mainly ingested by humans through food, gradually accumulates in the body, and can cause chronic poisoning that is difficult to detect.

Numerous studies have shown that cadmium is carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic, weakens the immune system, attacks the bones, and the cardiovascular and nervous systems, and impairs the filter function of the kidneys. When you buy Swiss chard, you obviously don’t see whether it is contaminated with heavy metals or not.

Chard from conventional cultivation is heavily contaminated with pesticides

In 2017, the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office in Stuttgart examined a total of 1,072 samples of fresh vegetables from conventional cultivation for residues of over 700 different pesticides and found that leafy vegetables – including Swiss chard – had the highest residue content of all types of vegetables.

Four out of five chard samples were contaminated with multiple residues and one was above the permitted maximum level. The substances nicotine and chlorate were identified. While nicotine has been banned since the 1970s due to its high toxicity, chlorate has not been permitted in the EU since 2008.

According to an international study, chard and co. are so often contaminated with pesticides because they grow above ground and offer a large target. The researchers recommend washing the vegetables well before consumption. If you cook leafy vegetables, some of the toxins end up in the water. However, since valuable vital substances are lost again as a result, cooking is not an ideal solution. It is better to buy organic Swiss chard.

Organic chard is less often contaminated

Researchers from Newcastle University have statistically evaluated more than 300 studies on the ingredients of organically and conventionally cultivated crops and have found that organic chard was around 50 percent less cadmium-contaminated on average.

According to an international research team, you should always wash the chard and other types of vegetables well under running water before eating and remove the outer leaves.

Is the oxalic acid in Swiss chard a problem?

Swiss chard has also been criticized for its high oxalic acid content. 100 grams contain between 110 and 940 milligrams. However, oxalic acid is contained in countless types of fruit and vegetables, so certainly not only in chard. Many also contain more oxalic acid than chard, especially spinach with up to 1,330 milligrams.

The content of oxalic acid varies so considerably because it e.g. B. depends on the variety, the climate, the location, the fertilization, the age of the tissue, and the time of harvest. Young chard leaves generally contain much less oxalic acid than older ones. There is more of it in summer chard than in autumn chard, as dry periods encourage accumulation.

Where does the name Mangold come from?

Mangold may have received its German name in the Middle Ages. At that time there was the name Managold, which comes from Old High German and translates as “many rulers”. This could be due to the fact that vegetables were an integral part of the diet at the time. Other sources do not believe in any connection between mana gold, which is actually used as a personal name, and a green leafy vegetable.

There are these types of chard

There are different types of Swiss chard on the market, which are real eye-catchers simply because of the variety of colors. For example, “Feurio” impresses with its narrow red stems or leaf veins and dark green leaves, while “Glatte Silber” has very broad, silver-white stems and deep green leaves. The “Bright Lights” variety transforms your garden into a veritable sea of ​​color with its yellow, orange, violet, and red stems.

Swiss chard is grown in two cultivars that can be prepared differently:

  • Leaf or cut chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. cicla) is also known as Roman cabbage or biting cabbage. It is characterized by its narrow veins and broad leaves and is prepared like spinach. Young, tender leaf chard can be wonderfully enjoyed raw in a salad. The larger the leaves are, the more pronounced the bitter note.
  • The stem or ribbed chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. flavescens) is known under the name Krautstalk. You can recognize it by its thick, fleshy stems. These can be processed like asparagus, which is why stem chard is also known as winter asparagus. If the stems are very fibrous, you should peel them with a vegetable peeler. The leaves, which are up to 45 centimeters long, are of course also a pleasure. Since the stalks take longer to cook (about 15 minutes) than the leaves, put the chopped stalks into the pot first, followed by the chopped leaves after a few minutes.

The season of Swiss chard

The best chard season in our region (Switzerland, Germany, Austria) is from June to August. During this time, you get local outdoor produce, which, according to a Korean study, is richer in secondary plant substances than the chard from the greenhouse.

Sometimes there are regional chards as early as May and also in September to October – depending on the climate of your region, of course. From December to February, the vegetables are mainly offered from southern Italian growing regions.

You should pay attention to this when buying chard

When buying, always make sure that the leaves and stems look crisp, are brightly colored, and have no brown spots. We also recommend that you go for organic quality – regardless of whether you buy local or imported chard.

How to store Swiss chard?

Swiss chard is not a vegetable for storage and should, therefore – this is the general advice to retailers, which can of course also be implemented in private households – under optimal storage conditions (i.e. at 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius and 95 percent humidity) at the latest 6 days after harvest sold. The longer the vegetables are stored, the greater the loss of nutrients such as vitamin C and chlorophyll.

You should use the Swiss chard as soon as possible after purchasing it, but it can be stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about 3 days. It is best if you wrap it in a damp cloth. If you grow your own chard or would like to enjoy regional vegetables all year round, you can also freeze them.

Can you freeze chard?

It is advisable to wash the leaves and stems well under running water, cut them open, and blanch them in boiling water for about 1 to 2 minutes. Then shock the vegetables in ice water, drain them well and freeze them in portions.

How do you clean Swiss chard?

You can eat almost everything that is on it when you buy the chard, i.e. the entire leaf and also the stalk. You only cut off a centimeter from the stem at the end, which begins to dry up after harvesting. Then the vegetables are washed, chopped up, and can go straight into the pot or salad bowl.

How to prepare the chard?

Chard demonstrates diversity in the kitchen. Like spinach, it is usually cooked, i.e. blanched, steamed, or boiled. The stalks can also be fried. Sometimes they are also prepared separately from the leaves, like asparagus, and peeled first with a vegetable peeler – if they are fibrous.

You can also use the chard for a delicious risotto, minestrone, or pasta sauce. Swiss chard is also good in vegetable curry or in puff pastry strudel. Larger chard leaves, like cabbage leaves, are also perfect for making tasty roulades.

A simple basic recipe with the Swiss chard

A simple basic recipe is to heat some oil in a saucepan, sauté onions in it, then add the finely chopped chard (leaves and stalks) and possibly a small amount of water. Then you let the chard steam for about 10 to 15 minutes, season it with a little grainy broth, salt, and pepper, or, if desired, with the herbs and spices mentioned below.

Can you eat chard raw in a salad?

Despite all the joy of cooking, don’t forget that the heating inevitably affects heat-sensitive vitamins and secondary plant substances and that water-soluble substances end up in the cooking water. A Spanish study at the University of Murcia showed, not surprisingly, that the antioxidant power of chard decreases with all cooking methods.

Since the chard can also be eaten raw, it is simply served as a salad if you want to enjoy all of its vital substances. It goes particularly well with chicory.

It is ideal if you marinate the chard before eating it raw (at least its thick stalks) – e.g. B. in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, and garlic. Now you could also put the chard on the grill for a few minutes without – compared to cooking – there would be too much loss of nutrients.

Why does Swiss chard turn brown when cooked?

With colored chard, the declining antioxidant power is even visible to the eye. Because if you boil the colorful chard in water, the bright yellow, red, or purple quickly turns into unsightly brown tones as the natural coloring agents such as the betalains are washed out.

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Written by Micah Stanley

Hi, I'm Micah. I am a creative Expert Freelance Dietitian Nutritionist with years of experience in counseling, recipe creation, nutrition, and content writing, product development.

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