Written by Jenni Hepburn for Agricultural Connections
There are lots of great reasons to eat locally—the food is fresher and tastes better, and buying locally-produced food helps support area farmers and stimulates your regional economy. When you buy local food produced in-season, you’re also getting fresh produce that packs a much more powerful nutritional punch. Fresh rainbow chard is a gorgeous riot of color with crisp leaves and crunchy stems—full of nutrients and a great flavor that pairs well with a wide range of foods and seasonings.
Nutritional Profile and Health Benefits
Chard is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables in the world, with high levels of many different vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of cooked chard provides between 10% and 60% of the daily requirement of nearly a dozen different nutrients.
Vitamin K: Needed for healthy bones, and may protect against heart disease.
Vitamin A: An antioxidant that helps protect against certain eye diseases.
Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts the immune system and is necessary for collagen production. Also enhances iron absorption.
Magnesium: Important in bone health and regulation of metabolism.
Copper: Enhances antioxidant activity, required for collagen production, and helps protect against anemia.
Manganese: Needed for healthy bones and skin, and plays a role in regulating blood sugar.
Potassium: This mineral is an electrolyte, and is essential to heart and nervous system function. It’s also important for regulating blood pressure and may help protect against the development of kidney stones.
Vitamin E: An antioxidant that helps protect against heart disease.
Iron: As a component of red blood cells this mineral is used to transport oxygen around the body.
Choline: Essential for healthy nervous system function.
Vitamin B2: Important for energy production, and helps protect against anemia.
Calcium: Essential for bone health.
As a leafy green vegetable with stalks in vibrant rainbow hues, rainbow chard is also full of plant-specific compounds called phytonutrients that have additional benefits. Phytonutrients in rainbow chard include syringic acid, beta-carotene, and lutein.
While the exact way in which some phytonutrients benefit health are not yet firmly established, it is thought that many of these compounds help repair DNA damage, reduce inflammation, improve cellular metabolism, enhance the immune response, and have antioxidant activity. Many studies indicate, for example, that carotenoids like beta-carotene help protect against heart disease, and that even a single daily serving of leafy greens can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Other studies show that eating foods that are high in lutein helps prevent age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that leads to vision deterioration and can cause blindness. Finally, syringic acid helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.
Ideas for Cooking with Rainbow Chard
Chard varieties are highly versatile. Just like spinach and kale, they can be used in a wide variety of ways, and in countless different dishes. Most varieties taste fairly similar, regardless of stalk color—a little sweet and very slightly bitter, similar to spinach but with a milder flavor. Flavors that go well with chard of all kinds include garlic, shallots and onions, vinaigrettes, cream-based sauces, and lemon. In general, anything you can do with spinach, you can also do with chard, but the cooking time for chard is slightly longer.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to cooking with chard. One says that the leaves should be treated in the same way as spinach, and the stalks in the same way as asparagus. The second doesn’t differentiate between stalks and leaves; instead, just chop the greens together, and chop the stalks more finely than the leaves to even out the cooking time. Choosing a method depends on personal preference and the dish you’re preparing—for some you may prefer to omit stalks, as they are somewhat tougher than leaves.
Some quick-and-easy ideas for cooking with rainbow chard include:
- Chopped raw chard can be added to salads, and pairs well with lemon-based vinaigrette.
- Use chard instead of spinach in vegetarian lasagna.
- Add chopped leaves and stalks to egg-based dishes like frittata and quiche.
- Sauté with garlic and olive oil, add toasted pine nuts, plate, and then dress with lemon juice. Alternatively, add grated parmesan and red pepper flakes in place of the pine nuts. Both options are perfect as a side dish or tossed with cooked pasta.
- Add finely-sliced stalks and leaves to chicken, pasta, or white bean soups, and simmer for a few minutes just before serving.
- Top pizza with a mixture of sautéed chopped chard, onions, and pancetta or bacon.
- Use the leaves (minus stalks) as wraps for spring rolls or as a substitute for vine leaves for stuffed vine leaf recipes.
- Try raw chard leaves in place of lettuce in lettuce leaf wraps.
101 Cookbooks. “Chard Recipes.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Healthy chard recipes using all-natural ingredients.
JM Hirsch, for The Food Network. “Off the Beaten Aisle: Rainbow Chard.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Cooking with chard.
Kwikmed. “Complete Video Guide to Heart Disease.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Dietary guidelines for cardio health.
Rita Klavinski, for MichiganStateUniversity. “7 Benefits of Eating Local Foods.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Why it’s better to eat local.
The World’s Healthiest Foods. “Swiss Chard.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Nutritional information for chard varieties.
United States Department of Agriculture. “Phytonutrient FAQ.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Information about plant-specific nutrients.
True Star Health. “Swiss Chard.” Accessed April 4 2014. Chard: Preparation, uses and tips.