Chard: A source of chlorophyll

13 Oct 2023

Often overshadowed by kale or spinach, chard stands quietly amidst bustling farmers’ markets, waiting to add a burst of colour to your plate. It’s a real beauty with its delicate leaves and multi-coloured veins. Here’s why chard deserves a prime spot in your meals this season.

In a Nutshell

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Research Digest

Chard is one of your leafy greens

  • Strong evidence suggests protective effects of green leafy vegetable intake for cardiovascular health and type 2 diabetes.
  • Smaller studies found beneficial effects for bone health and cognitive health. Those consuming higher amounts of green leafy vegetables experienced cognitive decline equivalent to being 11 years younger, compared to those who rarely ate these vegetables.

How much? Higher intake of green leafy vegetables ranged from one serving (about 80g) to 200 grams per day.

To our plates, chard contributes:

  • Flavonoids, such as apigenin
  • Plant pigments with antioxidant activity like chlorophyll and betalains
  • Nitrates that can be converted to protective nitric oxide
  • Minerals, mainly potassium, calcium and magnesium, and vitamins C, K and A
  • Dietary fibres

Lab studies suggest that these compounds may help…

  • Regulate blood glucose
  • Regulate inflammation by inhibiting proinflammatory mediators
  • Prevent the development of cancer by reducing the proliferation and survival of cancer cells

Don’t forget the stems: Swiss chard stems are high in potassium, while the leaves have the highest content of fibre, magnesium, flavonoids and vitamin C.

Add diversity to your plate: Eating a variety of green leafy vegetables is recommended in our daily diets. Chard can add some diversity to your greens this season, beyond the usual spinach and kale. One portion is 1 cereal or dessert bowl.

Plant Tales

A Journey from the sea: Intriguingly, Swiss chard traces its ancestry back to the wild sea beet ​​​​ (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritime), a plant that is native to the coasts from Morocco to the North Sea and the Mediterranean region. The domestication history is not yet fully resolved as it’s not clear whether it goes back to a single attempt to take the sea beet into cultivation.

Why “Swiss”? Despite its name, this vibrant leafy green didn’t find its roots in Switzerland. The origin of the adjective “Swiss” is unclear. Some attribute the name to 19th-century Dutch seed merchants who added the word ‘Swiss’ to differentiate the plant from French spinach varieties.

Beet’s unusual cousin: Although chard belongs to the same botanical family as beetroot, it surprises by not producing an edible root. Instead, it’s grown for its leaves and leafstalks. The common names that cooks and cultures have used may get a bit confusing - it goes by Swiss chard, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, leaf beet or seakettle beet.

A rainbow palette: The most common type is Swiss chard but some cultivars, often marketed as rainbow chard, have colourful stalks that are particularly eye-catching. They can be red, orange, yellow or pale green.

Grow it at home: Chard is a home garden favourite. It does well in both cool and warm weather and is very prolific. Check out this guide or 1 min video for growing tips (even in pots!)

Buying: Chard grows quickly and easily during the cooler months of spring and fall and is harvested before the first frost. It’s favoured by small farms and difficult to ship to distant markets, which means local options are abundant, either through farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture farms (CSA) or seasonal veg boxes.

Tasty Tips

Around the world

Why we like chard: Swiss chard’s charm lies is in its nuanced flavours—a gentle bitterness when raw that dissipates into a mild earthy sweetness when cooked. It offers 2 veggies in 1 as the stalks and leaves can be used in cooking. While it’s slightly less popular, chard is milder than kale yet bolder than spinach, enhancing dishes without overpowering other ingredients. We think it’s a must-have addition to any kitchen repertoire.

How we like chard…

  • In salads: Slice into ribbons and add to a salad bowl together with roasted chickpeas, chopped apples, seasonal veggies and your favourite dressing.
  • Sautéed: With olive oil, seasoning and other greens, adding a splash of water if needed to soften the greens slightly.
  • With eggs: Chop the leaves and add to scrambled eggs, omelettes or quiche.
  • Stuffed: Blanch the leaves in boiling water until soft, place fillings in the centre and tightly roll to form a wrap.
  • In soups & stews: Add chopped chard to a hearty lentil soup or a minestrone. Saute the stems together with dice onion and other veggies. Stir in the chopped leaves with fresh herbs at the end of cooking.
  • Pickled: Swiss chard stems make colourful pickles to add to tacos, salads and sandwiches. Cut them into short sticks and add to a glass jar with a flavourful brine.

 A few recipes for the week ahead:

Dive Deeper

Human studies: Pollock et al. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 - Wang et al. Journal of diabetes investigation. 2016 - Morris et al. Neurology. 2018 - Sim et al. Bone reports. 2020

Compounds & mechanisms: Gamba et al. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2021

History & cultivation: RHS - Wascher et al. 2022 - Britannica



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