We recommend that you treat Swiss chard as a nutrient-rich and health-supportive food that can help to round out your daily intake of green vegetables. At WHFoods, our outstanding level of green vegetable intake is 8 servings per day. Many days on our 7-Day Menu reach or exceed this amount and can be used as guidelines for your personal green vegetable choices. The many different types of green vegetables available to provide you with exceptional nourishment are nothing short of astonishing! Swiss chard is not only a member of the green vegetable family but also of the vegetable group known as the chenopod/amaranth vegetables. (Other green vegetables in the chenopod/amaranth group include spinach and beet greens.) Of course, when you are trying to reach our optimal green vegetable intake level of 8 servings per day, there are many green vegetables to choose from! Along with Swiss chard, your choices here include green cruciferous vegetables (for example, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, or collards), green leguminous vegetables (like green beans or green peas), green squash/gourd vegetables, (including zucchini and cucumber) green parsley/umbelliferous vegetables (like fennel and celery), green allium vegetables (like leeks), and green lettuces (like romaine). Rather than relying exclusively on any one of these green vegetable subgroups, we recommend that you consider including green vegetables from all of these groups when putting together your weekly meal plan.
Some people might wonder about the inclusion of Swiss chard as part of our red/purple or yellow/orange vegetable subgroups. While this approach would not be wrong, we believe that the large green leafy portion of this vegetable is its most consistent feature across its many different varieties. It's for this reason that we have recommended our green vegetable guidelines for incorporating Swiss chard into your meal plan.
We use our WHFoods rating system to evaluate the nutrient richness of all 100 foods that we profile on our website. There are 29 total nutrients that we evaluated in our rating system, and Swiss chard earns rankings of "excellent," "very good," or "good" for 22 of these 29 nutrients; this equals 75%! Not only does Swiss chard score high in total nutrients but also in many key nutrient categories. Most B vitamins are found in this list, including vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, folate, and choline. A long list of minerals is also provided, including magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. Vitamin E and Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) are included in the fat-soluble vitamin category, and both fiber and protein are included among the macronutrients. A key antioxidant vitamin—vitamin C—is also provided at an excellent level.
It's also worth noting that as a food with 22 total nutrient rankings, Swiss chard is only surpassed on our website by spinach (23 total rankings) and broccoli (24 total rankings).
In addition to the outstanding variety of conventional nutrients provided by Swiss chard are its equally health-supportive phytonutrients. At the top of this list, many researchers have focused on the flavonoids provided by Swiss chard. Included here are catechin, epicatechin, myricetin, quercetin, kaempferol, and rutin.
A somewhat more unusual flavonoid found in Swiss chard is the apigenin flavonoid known as vitexin. Numerous plants containing vitexin have been studied from a medicinal standpoint, and Swiss chard vitexin has been studied in the lab and in animals for its anti-cancer properties. Along with the other flavonoids listed above, vitexin has been determined to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
After flavonoids, the most widely researched phytonutrients in Swiss chard are its betalain pigments. Included in this phytonutrient category are reddish-purple betacyanins like betanin and yellowish-orange betaxanthins like indicaxanthin. These phytonutrients are better studied (and present in larger amounts) in beet root than in Swiss chard, and their concentration can vary widely among the many difference varieties of Swiss chard. However, the presence of betalains in Swiss chard is also something that we can see since these pigments typically contribute to the red, purples, oranges and yellows that are sometimes present in the veins and stalks of Swiss chard. At the same time, varieties of Swiss chard like Silverado—featuring rich green leaves and white stalks—may contain only trace amounts of betalains. For chard varieties that do contain betalains, studies have confirmed their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. These benefits include the ability of betalains in Swiss chard to inhibit activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes like cyclo-oxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX). Additionally, betalains in Swiss chard are able to scavenge free radicals, including hydroxyl radicals.
Antioxidant phenolic acids are also provided by Swiss chard. This group of phytonutrients includes syringic, caffeic, and vanillic acid.
From a research standpoint, Swiss chard lags a good bit behind its fellow chenod vegetables such as beetroot (Beta vulgaris subsp. rubra) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea) in terms of total health-related studies and human health-related studies. In fact, most of the health studies that we have seen on Swiss chard have been conducted on rats and mice or in cell studies in a lab setting. (And when mice and rats have been studied, they have typically been fed Swiss chards extracts rather than a less processed form of the vegetable.) What we have yet to see are large-scale human studies in which people enjoyed Swiss chard as part of their regular meal plan.
Within this limited research context, however, the findings about Swiss chard and health have been consistently positive, especially in the areas of blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular health. The potential of Swiss chard to improve blood sugar regulation should come as no surprise since this vegetable provides an outstanding array of B-vitamins that are helpful in the processing of sugars and other carbohydrates. In addition, Swiss chard is a very good source of fiber and has a very low glycemic index (GI) value. All of these characteristics point to a food that can improve blood sugar regulation. In some animal studies, there is preliminary evidence that intake of Swiss chard extracts may be able to improve insulin secretion.
In the area of cardiovascular health, it should not be surprising that a food with such a rich concentration of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients would be able to help protect blood vessels from oxidative stress and unwanted levels of inflammation. Blood cells themselves may also be protected from oxidative damage by intake of Swiss chard. However, to date, these results have been primarily demonstrated in animal (versus human) studies. Additionally, some animal studies have shown the ability of Swiss chard extracts to help improve regulation of blood pressure and to help reduce elevated levels of total and LDL cholesterol.
Two other particularly interesting areas of health research on Swiss chard involve its anti-cancer and neuroprotective properties. In the anti-cancer context, it has been the betalain phytonutrients that have received most attention. The apigenin flavonoid vitexin has also been studied in this regard. However, there is much more research to date on beetroot (Beta vulgaris subsp. rubra) than on Swiss chard. In addition, when Swiss chard has been studied, a special focus has been placed on the seeds of the plant rather than its leaves or stalks. Hopefully, research in this anti-cancer area will be greatly expanded in the near future and we will have more evidence to provide you about cancer-preventing benefits that you can enjoy by including Swiss chard in your regular meal plan.
In animal studies, intake of chard extracts has been associated with inhibition of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. Because the blocking of this enzyme has been a special research strategy in treatment of several neurodegenerative diseases (including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and senile dementia), scientists have speculated about the ability of Swiss chard to help lower risk of these chronic health problems. We look forward to human studies on intake of Swiss chard in this important area of potential health support.
What's perhaps most striking about Swiss chard is its rainbow of colors. While most chard leaves come in a rich shade of green, the veins on its leaves (called midribs) and its stalks (called petioles) come in a potpourri of colors, from whites and beiges to yellows and oranges to pinks and reds and purples. The many different color mosaics of Swiss chard correspond to different combinations of phytonutrients. But you can count on each of these color mosaics for outstanding nutrient benefits.
Some of the most common varieties of Swiss chard in supermarkets are Ruby chards and Rhubarb Red chards. These varieties feature rich green leaves and reddish-purple veins and stalks. Pink Passion is another chard variety whose veins and stalks feature the color that gives this variety its name. Orange chard features yellowish-orange stalks and veins while the stems and veins of Silverado are a shimmery white.
The final leaf size of Swiss chard can also vary widely from variety to variety. For example, one of the most popular varieties of large-leafed Swiss chard is the Fordhook variety.
If you have noticed a great similarity between Swiss chard and beet greens, you are right on target. Swiss chard and beets belong not only to the same family of foods (called the Chenopod/Amaranth family) but also to the exact same genus and species of plant (Beta vulgaris). Plant varieties are what separate beets from Swiss chard—but they are remarkably similar in many respects. Swiss chard does not form a root bulb in the same way as beets but its leaves can look quite similar to beet greens. It's worth noting that another of our WHFood's vegetables—spinach—is a member of this Chenopod/Amaranth family as is amaranth, a plant that has become best-known in the supermarket as a grain. (In science terms, this overall family of plants is called the Chenopodiaceae/Amaranthaceae family.)
Swiss chard is classified as a biennial plant. This classification means that it takes two years for Swiss chard to complete its natural life cycle. It grows during year one and produces normal roots, leaves, and stalks; it becomes dormant while remaining alive through the winter, and then it continues growing during year two, when it not only produces more leaves and stalks but also goes on to flower and make seeds. As a general rule, the younger leaves produced during both years tend to be especially nutrient-rich. Of course, the larger and more mature leaves also provide more food to eat, so both forms of Swiss chard make good choices.
The word "Swiss" in Swiss chard is somewhat misleading since this plant is believed to be native to countries bordering directly on the Mediterranean, including countries on the north coast of Africa; the southern regions of France, Italy, and Greece; Croatia; and the Middle Eastern countries of Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. (Some scientists have speculated that the name "Swiss" was derived from the nationality of the botanist who first characterized the key feature of this plant.) On a worldwide basis, you can find this vegetable being referred to not only as Swiss chard but also as silver beet, spinach beet, seakale beet, crab beet, perpetual spinach, and mangold. In some regions, what we call Swiss chard may also be referred to simply as "spinach." In addition, the simple name "chard" is also quite common. None of the spinach-related names for Swiss chard should be surprising since Swiss chard and spinach are both members of the same plant family.
Before leaving this topic of chard names, we want to mention one interesting name you will find for some varieties of Swiss chard—"perpetual chard." Like their name suggests, these varieties can be particular effective at reproducing a new leaf after an existing leaf has been picked. As general rule, these perpetual chard varieties are more spinach-like in flavor and appearance than other varieties.
From a science standpoint, Swiss chard belongs not only to the Beta vulgaris genus/species of plant but also to the vulgaris subspecies. Within this subspecies are two distinct groups: the Cicla-Group and Flavescens-Group. As a general rule, the Cicla group includes leafier and smaller-stalked varieties and it is both more common in supermarkets and better researched in food science. The Flavescens group tends to include varieties with larger and flatter stalks. Rather than describing these two groups as belonging to the same subspecies of plant, however, some researchers treat these groups as subspecies in their own right. In other words, whereas most older studies tended to use the name Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, newer studies often use the names Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla and Beta vulgaris subsp. flavescens.
As mentioned in the Description section, Swiss chard is not native to Switzerland but to many countries further south. Many of these countries border (or come very close to bordering) on the Mediterranean Sea. They include Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia on the north coast of Africa; the southern regions of France, Italy, and Greece; Croatia; and the Middle Eastern countries of Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.
The first use of Swiss chard as a food appears to date back approximately 2,500 years. This much-loved plant quickly became naturalized to most regions of the world and is enjoyed today on virtually all continents and in many different cuisines.
Tracking worldwide production of Swiss chard is a more complicated task than tracking production of other vegetables. Most of the difficulty is related to the overwhelming dominance of sugar beets in commercial production of Beta vulgaris and the fact that both sugar beets and Swiss chard both belong to this same genus/species of plant. In addition, when Swiss chard production is tracked, it is often tracked in a group of several vegetables collectively referred to as "greens." Within the U.S., commercial production of "greens" typically includes production of beet greens, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, broccoli rabe (rappini), and other green leafy vegetables. So it is difficult to find accurate information that is specific to Swiss chard.
Within the U.S., the states of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, California, and Arizona produce the most "greens" as described above. Among "greens" imported into the U.S. from other countries, most come from Mexico. However, "greens" are a group of foods that rely heavily on domestic production, with U.S. grown-versions representing about 90% of all "greens" consumed by U.S. consumers.
Choose chard that is held in a chilled display as this will help to ensure that it has a crunchier texture and sweeter taste. Look for leaves that are vivid green in color and that do not display any browning or yellowing. The leaves should not be wilted nor should they have tiny holes. The stalks should look crisp and be unblemished.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and Swiss chard is no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including Swiss chard. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells Swiss chard but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown Swiss chard is very likely to be Swiss chard that displays the USDA organic logo.
Do not wash Swiss chard before storing as the exposure to water encourages spoilage. Place chard in a plastic storage bag and wrap the bag tightly around the chard, squeezing out as much of the air from the bag as possible. Place in refrigerator where it will keep fresh for up to 5 days. If you have large batches of chard, you can blanch the leaves and then freeze them.
Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating Swiss chard. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare Swiss chard the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
In comparison with other foods, Swiss chard has been consistently determined to have a relatively high oxalate content. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide variety of foods, and in the case of certain medical conditions, they must be greatly restricted in a meal plan to prevent over-accumulation inside the body. Our comprehensive article about oxalates will provide you with practical and detailed information about these organic acids, food, and health. Note, as we shared in the What's New and Beneficial section at the beginning of this food profile, younger leaves of Swiss chard have been found to have less oxalate content than older leaves.
Swiss Chard, chopped, boiled
GI: very low
|vitamin K||572.77 mcg||636||327.3||excellent|
|vitamin A||535.85 mcg RAE||60||30.6||excellent|
|vitamin C||31.50 mg||42||21.6||excellent|
|vitamin E||3.31 mg (ATE)||22||11.3||excellent|
|fiber||3.67 g||15||7.5||very good|
|choline||50.23 mg||12||6.1||very good|
|vitamin B2||0.15 mg||12||5.9||very good|
|calcium||101.50 mg||10||5.2||very good|
|vitamin B6||0.15 mg||9||4.5||very good|
|phosphorus||57.75 mg||8||4.2||very good|
|protein||3.29 g||7||3.4||very good|
|pantothenic acid||0.29 mg||6||3.0||good|
|vitamin B1||0.06 mg||5||2.6||good|
|vitamin B3||0.63 mg||4||2.0||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%