Jillian Levy, CHHC
August 20, 2019
Swiss chard is one of the most impressive and nutrient-dense vegetables out there. The range of antioxidants in Swiss chard nutrition can be seen both in its deeply colored green leaves and also in the reds, purples and yellows of its vibrant, multicolored stalks and veins.
What are the benefits of eating Swiss chard?
These include obtaining its many forms of polyphenol, betalain and carotenoid phytonutrients, which are powerful at fighting free radical damage, inflammation and disease development.
Swiss Chard Nutrition Facts
Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable in the Amaranthaceae plant family that has the scientific name Beta vulgaris. Its name may be a bit misleading, because it actually isn’t a plant that is native to Switzerland — rather it was “discovered” by a Swiss botanist in 1753.
It’s actually native to regions in the Mediterranean, where it’s still a very popular vegetable today.
Today, Swiss chard goes by other names around the world, such as:
- sea beet
- spinach beet
- crab beet
In fact, South Africa Swiss chard is actually called spinach.
It’s believed that Swiss chard has been included in the diets of Mediterranean populations for thousands of years. Even Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about Swiss chard nutrition.
Ancient Greek and Roman populations frequently grew and ate these greens, as they were aware of the many healing properties. Swiss chard has been used in folk medicine as a natural decongestant, allergy reliever, constipation reliever and joint pain reducer (likely because it reduced inflammation) for many years.
Swiss chard is now widely used in the food industry as a rich source of sugar, and it’s even being grown in space! It’s among the first crops being grown in planetary space stations for astronauts and was chosen due to its extremely valuable nutrient profile, as well as its ease of being harvested.
Like most foods, the Swiss chard nutrition profile changes depending on whether or not you consume it raw or cooked.
One cup (about 36 grams) of raw Swiss chard nutrition contains approximately:
- 6.8 calories
- 1.3 grams carbohydrates
- 0.6 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 0.6 grams fiber
- 299 micrograms vitamin K (374 percent DV)
- 2,202 international unit vitamin A (44 percent DV)
- 10.8 milligrams vitamin C (18 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams manganese (7 percent DV)
- 29.2 milligrams magnesium (7 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams iron (4 percent DV)
- 136 milligrams potassium (4 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligrams vitamin E (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams copper (3 percent DV)
Meanwhile, one cup (about 175 grams) of boiled Swiss chard nutrition contains approximately:
- 35 calories
- 7.2 grams carbohydrates
- 3.3 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 3.7 grams fiber
- 573 micrograms vitamin K (716 percent DV)
- 10,717 international units vitamin A (214 percent DV)
- 31.5 milligrams vitamin C (53 percent DV)
- 150 milligrams magnesium (38 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams manganese (29 percent DV)
- 961 milligrams potassium (27 percent DV)
- 4 milligrams iron (22 percent DV)
- 3.3 milligrams vitamin E (17 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligrams copper (14 percent DV)
- 101 milligrams calcium (10 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams riboflavin (9 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (7 percent DV)
- 57.8 milligrams phosphorus (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams thiamine (4 percent DV)
- 15.7 micrograms folate (4 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams zinc (4 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams niacin (3 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligrams pantothenic acid (3 percent DV)
Some of the many phytonutrients and antioxidants found in Swiss chard nutrition include:
- carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are crucial for eye health
- volatile oils and acids like myricitrin, coumaric acid and rosmarinic acid
- flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, which act as antihistamines and reduce allergic reactions and inflammatory responses
Research shows that chard is also one of the best sources of betalains, water-soluble plant pigments that have a wide range of desirable biological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
On top on this, chard packs an impressive amount of potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, and even more vitamins and minerals. And with high levels of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and many trace minerals, there’s almost no health condition that Swiss chard nutrition is incapable of helping.
Types and Facts
Chard plants come in many varieties and colors, such as deep green, red, yellow, orange, purple and multicolored Swiss chard. The vibrantly colored leaves grow on top of thick, celery-like long stems.
Some of the many varieties in existence include:
- Winter King
When different colored chards are bunched together, this is known as “rainbow chard.”
Many people are unaware that the Swiss chard plant is a variety of the beet, both of which are cool-weather veggies grown for their edible leaves and leafstalks. Nutrition experts believe that Swiss chard and other chenopod vegetables, like beets, can be a highly renewable and cheap source of nutrients for many populations.
Swiss chard nutrition is so prized because not only can the plant can be grown in a range of soils and require little light and water, but it also provides such a high amount of essential vitamins and minerals.
Swiss Chard vs. Kale vs. Spinach
Calorie for calorie, compared to Swiss chard nutrition, kale offers a similar amount of vitamin K but more vitamin A and C. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable that is rich in antioxidants and vital nutrients that support detoxification, heart health, cancer prevention and brain development.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the secret behind the cancer-killing ability of cruciferous veggies is that they’re rich in glucosinolates — a large group of sulfur-containing compounds
How does spinach nutrition compare to Swiss chard greens?
Both have a mild taste and are less bitter/spicy than greens like mustard greens, kale or arugula. The two are similar in terms of calories, fiber, protein and carbs.
Both are great sources of vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C. Spinach is also a great source of folate, manganese, calcium, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium.
1. High in Antioxidants
Swiss chard nutrition is thought to contain up to 13 different types of polyphenol antioxidants alone. In 2004, researchers were also able to identify 19 different types of betaxanthin antioxidants in Swiss chard nutrition, as well as nine types of betacyanins among the different varieties of chard.
One of the primary flavonoid antioxidants found in the leaves of chard is called syringic acid. Syringic acid is known for regulating blood sugar levels, making it the object of much research over recent years as diabetes diagnosis rates have continued to increase.
Something else noteworthy about Swiss chard nutrition? Its anti-aging antioxidants also help prevent cancer, heart disease, eye and skin disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, and much more.
2. Protects Heart Health
A 2016 meta analysis found evidence that regular intake of leafy greens leads to a significant (15.8 percent) reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease.
The range of antioxidants found in Swiss chard benefits heart health in multiple ways, such as by lowering levels of inflammation and normalizing blood pressure, since Swiss chard can help turn off pro-inflammatory reactions. These reactions can worsen high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and increase the risk of suffering from a heart attack, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease.
Swiss chard is considered an anti-hypertensive vegetable because it contains many trace minerals that are crucial for proper circulation, blood vessel health and heartbeat regulation. Magnesium, potassium, copper, iron and calcium, for example, are all minerals found in Swiss chard nutrition that work together to aid in red blood cell formation, nerve signaling, blood vessel constriction and help control blood pressure levels.
Research shows that people with hypertension (elevated blood pressure) who consume nitrates from nitrate-rich whole foods, including beets and chard, benefit from improvements in blood pressure levels. Nitrates can help reduce platelet aggregation (blood clots) and support functions of the tissue lining the interior of blood vessels, called the endothelium.
Animal studies have also shown that extracts derived from chard leaves have hepatoprotective effects and hypolipidemic activity, meaning they can help regulate liver function and cholesterol levels.
3. Fights Cancer
A key benefit to Swiss chard nutrition is that its leafy greens contain many cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients. In fact, it is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet.
Some of the most notable include beta-carotene, apigenin flavonoids like vitexin, quercetin, numerous carotenoids, and a range of betalains.
Studies show that Swiss chard extract has the ability to inhibit proliferation of human cancer cells and stabilize fibroblasts, which are important cells that make up connective tissue. The antioxidants found in Swiss chard nutrition are associated with the ability to stop growth of cancer cells from breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, endometrial and lung tumors.
Because of Swiss chard’s powerful ability to fight cancer, researchers have begun testing the seeds of Swiss chard, in addition to extracts taken from Swiss chard leaves, to identify if they can be used as a natural chemo-protective treatment.
4. Helps Prevent Diabetes
Swiss chard nutrition has been praised for making the leafy green a powerful blood sugar regulator. Swiss chard has nutrient properties that are believed to be one of the best vegetables for people with prediabetes, diabetes, or other forms of metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance.
Certain flavonoids found in Swiss chard help inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase, which breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars. Therefore, studies show that Swiss chard consumption may make it easier to maintain a steadier blood sugar level.
This makes Swiss chard an anti-hypoglycemic vegetable and one of the best foods to incorporate into a blood sugar-stabilizing diet.
Another unique benefit of Swiss chard is its effect on pancreatic beta cells. Beta cells in the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar.
It’s believed that Swiss chard may help pancreatic beta cells regenerate and therefore helps control insulin production more effectively.
In addition to its special phytonutrient abilities, Swiss chard is high in fiber, with almost four grams per one-cup serving of cooked chard. Fiber helps slow down the release of sugar in the bloodstream following a meal, in addition to having heart health and digestive health benefits.
5. Maintains Bone Health
Swiss chard is a great source of vitamin K and calcium, two key nutrients needed to maintain a strong skeletal structure. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium is stored within the bones, where it is needed to help maintain bone strength and mineral density and prevent weak bones that can lead to fractures.
Just one cup of cooked Swiss chard provides more than 700 percent of your daily vitamin K needs! Vitamin K is an essential nutrient for bone health.
It reduces fracture rates because it activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein that helps form bones. This nutrient found in Swiss chard helps modulate bone metabolism, aids in bone growth and protects the body from bone mineral loss common in the aging process.
Additionally, a number of other nutrients are found in chard that support skeletal health, including iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A and C.
6. Improves Digestion
Swiss chard benefits digestive health by helping reduce inflammation within the digestive tract and regulating bowel movements that draw toxins out of the body. Swiss chard’s phytonutrient betalains are excellent for supporting detoxification by acting as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants within the gut.
Swiss chard also contains about four grams of dietary fiber in just one cup of cooked greens, which helps regulate blood sugar levels, improves colon and digestive health, prevents constipation and diarrhea, and also helps you to feel fuller in the process.
7. Helps Maintain Healthy Brain Function
Many studies show that regularly eating vegetables with high betalain levels provides significant protection against certain oxidative stress-related disorders, which includes neuro-degenerative diseases. Betalains and the other antioxidants found in Swiss chard nutrition defend brain cells from mutation, protect from DNA damage, reduce free radicals and lower the risk of disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
A 2018 study published in Neurology concluded, “Consumption of approximately 1 serving per day of green leafy vegetables and foods rich in phylloquinone, lutein, nitrate, folate, α-tocopherol, and kaempferol may help to slow cognitive decline with aging.”
8. Protects Eye and Skin Health
Yet another benefit of Swiss chard nutrition is that this vegetable is an excellent source of carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been getting significant research attention lately due to their ability to protect vision and ward off eye disorders, such as glaucoma.
According to studies carried out by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, carotenoids are able to protect the retina and cornea and defend against age-related disorders of the eyes, including macular degeneration, glaucoma, night blindness and cataracts. They do this by absorbing damaging blue light that enters the eye before it can cause disturbances to the retina.
Betalains found in Swiss chard nutrition also protect the health of the nervous system, including specialized nerve signaling, which is crucial for the communication between the eyes and brain.
Swiss chard benefits skin by helping protect against free radical damage, such as the type caused by UV light. Studies show that eating nutrient-dense leafy greens may be one way to help reduce development of wrinkles, other signs of photo-aging and even skin cancer.
9. Benefits Nerve and Muscle Function
Swiss chard provides a high amount of magnesium, potassium, calcium and other minerals that are crucial for muscle and nervous system health. Swiss chard nutrition contains an impressive 38 percent of the daily magnesium needs for every one-cup serving of cooked chard, which helps improve circulation and reduce muscle cramps and pain that can result from a magnesium deficiency.
Swiss chard’s high level of magnesium can also help prevent stress-related symptoms that take a toll on the nervous system, including insomnia, mood disturbances, headaches, high blood pressure and an increased risk for diabetes.
How to Select, Cook and Get Into the Diet
Swiss chard can usually be found at farmers markets and in grocery stores available throughout the year, but technically its peak season is during the summer months, from June through August. This is when you’ll most likely find the best-tasting, freshest Swiss chard, especially at local farmers markets.
Chard plants grow mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and are known to be easy plants to grow, although they’re very perishable once fully grown and ripe.
Look for Swiss chard that has tall, vibrant leafy greens that do not have many signs of discoloration, wilting or holes. The stalk should be thick and crunchy and may come in colors other than green.
For example, Swiss chard can commonly be found in shades of white, red, purple, yellow or even be multicolored.
Here’s how to prepare Swiss chard before cooking it:
- Once purchasing Swiss chard, do not wash the greens right away, as this encourages them to wilt more quickly.
- Instead try putting them inside of a plastic bag and wrapping a damp paper towel around the stems, which will keep in moisture and prolong its freshness.
- Try to use Swiss chard within four to five days of buying it.
- You can always cook the greens and freeze them for later, which will preserve the nutrients and make a great addition to soups, stews or sauces down the road.
- When you’re ready to use Swiss chard, lightly wash/rinse the leaves and pat dry, or use a salad spinner to remove moisture.
What does swiss chard taste like?
Swiss chard tastes mild, although some find that it does have a somewhat bitter and strong flavor, especially when eaten raw.
Can you eat Swiss chard raw?
Yes, although most people greatly prefer the taste of Swiss chard when it’s cooked — and combined with seasonings like salt or garlic. Cooking Swiss chard brings out a natural sweetness and decreases bitterness, making it a great addition to a variety of hearty and savory recipes.
Is Swiss chard healthier cooked or raw?
Swiss chard nutrition is beneficial whether it’s raw or cooked, although it’s recommend that you try briefly steaming or boiling Swiss chard or lightly sautéing it before eating it. This helps decrease certain acids found in these greens and improve its taste and nutrient availability.
What’s the best way to cook chards?
You can use use fresh chard leaves in salad or wilt them like you would spinach if you don’t mind the taste. Some people like to cook the ribs separately from the leaves because they need a longer cooking time to become tender.
You can cook Swiss chard by quickly boiling the leaves for only two to three minutes in an open pot (don’t add a lid, which will hinder the process a bit) or by sautéing them in a pan with some olive oil, stock or coconut oil just until they are wilted.
Can you juice Swiss chard?
Yes, this is a great way to obtain chard’s nutrients easily. Swiss chard juicing benefits include supplying you with antioxidants, and vitamins K, A and C, just like if you ate the greens.
The only downside is that you miss out on the fiber.
Chards are biennial crops (they are available year-round) and can grow well in both cool and hot temperatures. You’ll be most successful at growing Swiss chard if you plant seeds in moist, humus-rich soil.
Here are other tips for growing chard:
- Chard can either be seeded (aim for 0.5 to 1.0 inches deep) or transplanted when the seedlings have 4 to 6 leaves.
- Germination typically occurs when the temp rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot summer temperatures diminish the quality of the crop, so ideally grow when the night temperature is still cool.
- Give chard plants full sun, which is about 8 to 10 hours a day.
- Plant in wide rows spaced 6 inches apart.
- Swiss chard grows best in soil that has a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
- Ensuring the plant has consistent moisture is also important. Mulching can be beneficial for retaining even moisture.
- Once the leaves are matured and about 8–12 inches long, you can harvest Swiss chard. Chard can be stored for one to two weeks, as long as it is refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below.
Here are some of Swiss chard recipe ideas to try:
What makes a good Swiss chard substitute?
Chards can be used in recipes the same way many other greens are used, such as escarole, kale, spinach, collard greens or mustard greens. All of those make great Swiss chard substitutes, especially spinach and escarole, which also have mild flavors.
Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
Is Swiss chard toxic?
While it’s a very healthy and totally edible leafy green, according to the Colorado University Food Safety Center of Excellence, “Swiss chard is often associated with the pathogens coli, Listeria, and Salmonella because the crop is a raw, fresh marketed product.”
To reduce your risk of catching harmful bacteria from chards, wash the greens thoroughly and be careful about using contaminated surfaces or utensils that can transfer microbes.
Some worry that Swiss chard stems are poisonous. Is there any truth to this claim?
No, the stems are edible and where many different nutrients can be found. However, chard stems do contain oxalates, like other vegetables within the same plant family.
Oxalates are normally not a health concern when eaten in normal, moderate amounts, but in rare cases eating high levels of oxalates can cause certain health problems.
Oxalates are most known for potentially interfering with the absorption of certain minerals, such as calcium. However, experts still agree that oxalates do not pose a threat for the vast majority of people, and their presence in vegetables like Swiss chard definitely does not outweigh the many health benefits of these foods.
People who have a history of kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating Swiss chard due to its oxalates, though, since these can aggravate symptoms in some cases.
If you have an allergy to chards you may experience a negative reaction when eating the stems or leaves. In this case, Swiss chard side effects may include tingling in your mouth or throat, stomach pains, itchiness, rash, etc.
If oxalates cause you any serious side effects, you may experience kidney stones, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, vomiting and a weak pulse.
- Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable in the Amaranthaceae plant family that has the scientific name Beta vulgaris. Chard plants come in many varieties and colors, such as deep green, red, yellow, orange, purple and multicolored Swiss chard.
- Why is Swiss chard good for you? Chards contain many different types of antioxidants, including polyphenols, betaxanthin, syringic acid, vitamins A and C, lutein, and other carotenoids.
- Swiss chard benefits include reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, fighting cancer and heart disease, protecting skin and eye health, maintaining brain health, improving digestion, and supporting muscle and nerve functions.
- You can eat these greens both raw or cooked. However, cooking chards improves not only the nutrient availability, but also the taste.
- Swiss chard is susceptible to foodborne pathogens, like other leafy greens, so be careful about washing this veggie thoroughly before preparing it.