Chard as Nails — Should Popeye Prefer Swiss Chard?

When I think about chard, I think of eating leafy greens … like spinach. Once upon a time, everyone knew about spinach because Popeye the Sailor Man ate it by the can to keep his biceps Olive-worthy (for those not steeped in 60s/70s/80s cartoon  culture, Olive was his girlfriend). Quite the ad campaign, eh!? (indeed, spinach sales soared!).

But, cans of leafy greens? Blech! 

Today just about everyone knows spinach is good for you even if Popeye hasn’t been seen on TV for years! Meanwhile, its healthier cousin, chard, lacked the powerful cartoon promotion, which reduced its market demand. Maybe chard’s time is coming, though, because chard is so healthy, NASA even takes it into space.

Heck, even kale is a fad food (talk about overcoming a bad rap!), yet few people have even heard of chard. And that’s really just too bad because chard is amazing.

So, where did chard come from? Is it just another fad?  . . . Well, let’s visit history — and I’m talking about ancient history here. Swiss chard first shows up as a cultivated food about 2,500 years ago.

Chard’s been used in Mediterranean cooking for centuries. It’s a favorite added to soups or tossed with pastas or legume/bean dishes.

To me, it tastes earthier than spinach. In fact, it turns out that it’s a close cousin to beets, so if you try the two side-by-side, you probably will notice that their leaves have similar taste and texture.

Medicinally, chard is in the chenopod family of veggies; chenopod vegetables have been used for their medicinal benefits for centuries in some traditional forms of folk medicine.  We’ll explore this soon in another blog.

When cooked, chard leaves wilt down into nothing, which is the better (sometimes the only) way to eat the mature stems, but baby chard is an incredible nutritional storehouse that you can eat raw and juice raw.

Chard Fun Facts

  • Swiss chard fits into a category of plants called “biennials.” Growing chard requires a primary growing season, a wintering, and then a secondyear of growth to establish itself!
  • In other parts of the world, chard is known by different names: silver beet, spinach beet, perpetual spinach, bright lights, crab beet, seakale beets, Roman kale, and strawberry spinach.
  • Chard gets its name from the Latin cardus, for thistle, because it kind of looks like a thistle, but isn’t thorny.

Minerals A-go-go

Studies have shown that Swiss chard is particularly adept at transporting minerals out of the soil and up into its leaves, providing us with remarkable mineral benefits that travel up, up, up through their often colorful stems, and splay out in nutritional sequences that look like ladders across its leaf structure.

For the essential minerals, few foods top Swiss. It is a legit vitamin K powerhouse. Get this: just 1 cup of chopped chard equals 700% of your daily K1 needs (and at only 35 calories) – now that’s nutrient density. Plus, let’s not forget that it is also rich in vitamins A and, C, as well as magnesium, iron, manganese, and copper, it has high amounts of calcium and phosphorus, and it is high in zinc.

Chard is also a good vegetable to remind us why it’s important to get organic greens from healthy, uncontaminated soils. When we enjoy the large ruby-verdant portions of this vegetable, the very fact that chard is virtually a mineral straw sucking up nutrients out of the ground means that it is going to suck up the lesser things, too. So good, clean soil is a great place to start if and when you are planting chard.

Centennial Favorite

If you’re interested in longevity, one of the suggestions from people who live in the Blue Zones of the world is to eat foods that have been eaten for many, many generations. We’re pretty sure that 2000 years will suffice! While history shows it was first eaten in Sicily, across time chard has come to be especially well known for its unique chemical properties; they help our bodies’ process free radicals, detoxify our liver, and are a total superstar for preventing diabetes by regulating blood sugar due to its role in the enzyme activity of alpha-glucosidase, which controls the slow release of glucose.

Here’s Where You Can Help…  

For two years, I’ve scoured the Internet seeking sources that can back up the health and benefit claims of fruits, vegetables, and supplements (sometimes called “boost”).  

In the chart below are the health claims I and others have discovered about chard. Where you see a footnote, you’ll find a link to the source.  If there is not a footnote, then that means that the specific health claim is made, but neither I nor anyone I know has been able to locate sources of research or credible anecdotes to back up the claim.

So, if you are aware of a direct source of research or anecdotes to back up the claims, please post them in the comments.  I’ll check them out and if they meet our standards, I’ll make sure that they’re included in the next edition of the blog and give you a shout-out!

Reported Health Benefit Claims of Chard:

Anti-inflammatory [5]

Improves brain function

Antioxidant [1][2][3][4][5]

Lowers blood pressure [5]

Strengthens bones

Strengthens heart [5]

Improves cardiovascular system [5]

Improves eyesight

Prevents some forms of cancer [5]

Prevents osteoarthritis

Quick Oxalate Tip

One word of CAUTION for this class of greens (including spinach): If you have kidney stones or issues with oxalate prescriptions, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, stay away from juiced and raw chard.