Date: Thursday, February 07 @ 00:47:39 EST
If you have become accustomed to thinking about celery as a crunchy, low-cal vegetable but not a key part of your health support, it is time to think again. Recent research has greatly bolstered our knowledge about celerys anti-inflammatory health benefits, including its protection against inflammation in the digestive tract itself. Some of the unique non-starch polysaccharides in celery—including apiuman—appear especially important in producing these anti-inflammatory benefits. (Unlike starchy polysaccharides that provide plants with a way to store simple sugars, these non-starch polysaccharides in celery help provide this vegetable with its unique structure and are not made from simple sugars but rather from pectines.)
In addition to well-known antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids, scientists have now identified at least a dozen other types of antioxidant nutrients in celery.
These antioxidants include dihydro-stilbenoids like lunularin as well as furano-coumarins like bergapten and psoralen. The antioxidant support we get from celery is largely due to its phenolic nutrients that have been shown to help protect us against unwanted oxygen damage to our cells, blood vessels, and organ systems.
If you are planning to steam vegetables as part of your meal, you can include celery without having to worry about excessive loss of its phenol-based antioxidants. In a recent study, researchers compared the impact of steaming (10 minutes) versus boiling (10 minutes) versus blanching (3 minute submersion in boiling water) on the total phenolic antioxidant nutrients in celery. Both boiling and blanching resulted in substantial loss of these antioxidants, in the range of 38-41%. With steaming, however, 83-99% of these antioxidants were retained in the celery even after 10 minutes. While we encourage the practice of steaming as a cooking method of choice for many vegetables, its great to see how nutrient-preserving steaming can be in the case of celery.
Based on multiple recent studies involving nutrient changes in stored, refrigerated celery, we recommend a period of 5-7 days as a window of time for consuming fresh celery. While some nutrients appear to be stable in whole, refrigerated celery for longer periods of time, several studies show greater losses of phenolic antioxidants in celery after this week-long period. In addition, based on changes in flavonoid content, we also recommend that you wait to chop up your celery just before you are adding it to a salad or cooked dish (rather than chopping it up the night before and leaving it stored in the refrigerator overnight). This will help to preserve its maximum nutrient potential.
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Celery provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Celery can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Celery, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Support
Celery is an important food source of conventional antioxidant nutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and manganese. But its "claim to fame" in terms of antioxidant nutrients may very well be its phyto[-nutrients. Many of these phyto-nutrients fall into the category of phenolic antioxidants and have been shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well. Below is a representative list of the phenolic antioxidants found in celery.
In animal studies, celery extracts containing the above-listed phyto-nutrients have been shown to decrease risk of oxidative damage to body fats and risk of oxidative damage to blood vessel walls. In addition, these celery extracts have been shown to prevent inflammatory reactions in the digestive tract and blood vessels. Interestingly, there is also some animal research showing the ability of celery extracts to help protect the digestive tract and liver following consumption of acrylamides. (Acrylamides are potentially toxic substances formed in food through a reaction of sugars and amino acids, usually through the process of frying.)
While most of the research above involves animals versus humans, we have also seen studies showing the importance of celery in diets that are considered to be high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits. For example, we"ve seen one recent study showing celery to provide 7% of all flavonol and flavone antioxidants in the diet of adults in China. In addition, mechanisms of anti-inflammatory support have also been shown in human studies. For example, we"ve seen research showing the ability of celery juice and celery extracts to lower the activity of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), as well as the activity of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB). Decreased levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin 1B (IL-1B) and interleukin 8 (IL-8) have also been seen in these studies. All of these four messaging molecules play a key role in the bodys inflammatory responses, and keeping them in check is an important step in the prevention of unwanted inflammation.
One interesting aspect of celerys antioxidant phyto-nutrients involves its furano-coumarins. Prior to harvest - when celery is still growing in the ground - it responds to stress by producing furano-coumarins in greater amounts. These substances help protect it in its natural living conditions. Even after celery has been harvested, however, and you start to chop it up on your kitchen counter top, it will still increase its production of furano-coumarins, and you will get greater amounts of these phyto-nutrients for this reason. (However, it is incorrect to assume that the chopping of celery makes it nutritionally "better" than it was before you chopped it. Thats because other phyto-nutrients decrease simultaneously with the increase in furano-coumarins. The net result is basically a change in the composition of the celery phyto-nutrients, an interesting topic about which we hope to see more research on in the future.)
Digestive Tract Support
In addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients that help protect the digestive tract as a whole, celery contains pectin-based polysaccharides that can provide the stomach with special benefits. We"ve become accustomed to thinking about polysaccharides as starchy molecules that are used by cells as a way to store up simple sugars. But there are other types of polysaccharides in plants, including the non-starch, pectin-based polysaccharides found in celery. (Pectin is a sugar-related molecule that is largely formed from a substance called glucuronic acid.) The pectin-based polysaccharides found in celery —including apiuman—appear to have special importance in producing anti-inflammatory benefits. In animal studies, celery extracts containing apiuman have been shown to improve the integrity of the stomach lining, decrease risk of stomach ulcer (gastric ulcer), and better control the levels of stomach secretions. We look forward to future research that may confirm these stomach support benefits in humans based on dietary intake of celery in its whole food form.
Given the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of celery described earlier in this section, its not surprising to see the interest of researchers in the cardiovascular benefits of celery. Oxidative stress and inflammation in the bloodstream are critical problems in the development of many cardiovascular diseases, especially atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, most of the studies we"ve seen in this area have involved animals. Still, we"ve seen promising connections between the pectin-based polysaccharides in celery and decreased risk of inflammation in the cardiovascular system. We"ve seen these same types of connections between celery flavonoids and decreased risk of cardiovascular inflammation.
Phthalides are a further category of phyto-nutrients found in celery that seems important to mention as providing potential cardiovascular benefits. Phenolic substances found in celery, phthalides are a major contributor to the unique flavor of this vegetable. (Sedanenolide and butyl-phthalides are examples of phthalides found in celery.) Researchers have demonstrated that celery phthalides can act as smooth muscle relaxants, most likely through their impact on the flow of calcium and potassium inside cells and related nervous system activity involved with muscle relaxation. Of course, relaxation of smooth muscles surrounding our blood vessels allows them to expand and the result is a lowering of our blood pressure. (This overall process is called vaso-dilation.)
Phthalides in celery may also act as diuretics, further helping to lower the pressure inside our blood vessels. Unfortunately, most of the research weve seen in this area involves celery seeds, celery oil, or celery extracts - not the whole food itself. So its not yet clear if these muscle-relaxant properties and blood pressure-lowering properties of celery phthalides will be provided to us if we include celery in our meal plans in everyday food amounts. But we will be surprised if future research on dietary intake of celery does not show some type of cardiovascular benefit directly related to celery phthalides.
Other Health Benefits
Because chronic oxidative stress and excessive inflammation are key risk factors for the development of many cancer types, its not surprising to see scientists interested in the potential benefits of celery intake for cancer prevention. While we"ve seen speculation about celery benefits for stomach cancer, colon cancer, and bladder cancer, we"ve been unable to find actual human research studies in any of these areas. Hopefully, future research studies will address the potential cancer-related benefits of celery much more closely.
In most U.S. markets, its the Pascal family of greenish to pale-green celery cultivars that we"ve become most accustomed to finding in the produce section. Pascal celery is larger than most other celery types, with firm, solid stalks and leafy ends. Yet even within this particular scientific type of celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce), there are many other options including Matador, Red Stalk, Tango, and Sonora. Celery actually comes in a variety of colors from sheer white to vibrant gold to rich red and deep green.
In this genus/species of plant (Apium graveolens) are also found two other important types of celery. The first is celeriac (also called root celery, turnip-root celery, or knob celery). Just like the name suggests, root celery is characterized by a large root ball, which is especially prized for its unique somewhat nut-like taste. (The scientific name for celeriac is Apium graveolens var. rapaceum.) The second type of celery is leafy celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum), which looks very similar to parsley but tastes like celery! Root and leaf celery are valued worldwide for their unique flavors and aromas; they are often "main plate" vegetables rather than salad or soup additions.
Regardless of which celery variety you choose to buy or grow, there are nutrient benefits to be found in all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stalks, roots, and seeds. "Celery hearts" usually refers to the innermost stalks of Pascal celery. These stalks are typically the most tender.
The bigger family of plants that houses celery is what scientists call the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. It is also commonly known as the parsley or carrot family. (Just compare leafy carrot tops or parsley leaves with celery leaves and you"ll see why.) In addition to celery, carrots, and parsley, this plant family also includes dill, fennel, cilantro/coriander, parsnip, anise, caraway, chervil, c u m in, angelica, and asafetida.
Over time, many different types of plants across the world have been referred to by the common name "wild celery." Most of these plants—although not all of them—belong to the same family (Apiaceae/Umbellerifereae) as the Pascal celery found in U.S. markets. You"ll find Australian celery, Vietnamese celery, Indian celery, Maori celery, and water celery all being referred to as "wild celery" in various cultures.
The direct ancestors of Pascal celery were cultivated in parts of Europe and the Mediterranean as early as 1000 BC, and we have evidence of celery being used as a medicinal plant in ancient Egypt. Theres also evidence that ancient Greek athletes were awarded celery leaves to commemorate their winning.
Today over 1 billion pounds of celery are produced each year in the United States, with California, Michigan and Florida accounting for about 80% of all celery production. The average U.S. adult eats about 6 pounds of celery per year. A substantial amount of celery in the U.S. comes from Mexico, and the U.S. exports about 200 million pounds of celery to Canada each year.
On a worldwide basis, celery is often served as a "major plate vegetable" rather than an additive to salads or soups. In addition, root celery varieties of this food (chosen for their large root balls rather then their stalks) are often cultivated over the large stalk Pascal varieties that have become most popular in the U.S.
How to Select and Store
Choose celery that looks crisp and snaps easily when pulled apart. It should be relatively tight and compact and not have stalks that splay out. The leaves should be pale to bright green in color and free from yellow or brown patches. Sometimes celery can have a condition called "black-heart" that is caused by insects. To check for damage, separate the stalks and look for brown or black discoloration. In addition, evaluate the celery to ensure that it does not have a seed stem, the presence of a round stem in the place of the smaller tender stalks that should reside in the center of the celery. Celery with seed stems are often more bitter in flavor.
Most people use plastic produce bags to bring celery (and other fresh vegetables) home from the market. If this method is the one you use, you can leave your celery in the plastic produce bag, squeeze out any extra air, and close the bag securely for storage in your refrigerator. While food storage in plastic bags can create health risks under certain cir c u m stances, 5-7 days of refrigerator storage for an uncut head of celery is not one of them. The refrigerator temperature is too cold (about 40°F/4°C), the time period too short, and the celery-to-plastic surface contact too moderate to create a substantial health risk from this use of a plastic produce bag. If possible, please recycle the plastic bag after using.
We recommend a period of 5-7 days as a window of time for refrigeration of fresh celery. While some nutrients appear to be stable in whole, refrigerated celery for longer periods of time, several studies show greater losses of phenolic antioxidants in celery after this week-long period. In addition, based on changes in flavonoid content, we also recommend that you wait to chop up your celery just before you are adding it to a salad or cooked dish (rather than chopping it up the night before and leaving it stored in the refrigerator overnight). If you find yourself needing to cut up celery far ahead of time, in a way that requires overnight storage in your refrigerator, we recommend that you place the cut celery into a hard plastic or glass container instead of a soft plastic bag. Since the cutting of celery will expose more of its surface area, you can avoid increased contact of more celery surfaces to the less stable materials that are found in soft plastic bags by using more sturdy containers for your cut celery.
Freezing will make celery wilt and should be avoided unless you will be using it in a future cooked recipe.
Tips for Preparing and Cooking
Tips for Preparing Celery
To clean celery, cut off the base and leaves, then wash the leaves and stalks under running water. Cut the stalks into pieces of desired length. If the outside of the celery stalk has fibrous strings, remove them by making a thin cut into one end of the stalk and peeling away the fibers. Be sure to use the leaves—they contain the most vitamin C, calcium, and potassium—but use them within a day or two as they do not store very well.
Celery should not be kept at room temperature for more than several hours. Thats because warm temperatures will encourage its high water content to evaporate, causing the celery to have have a tendency to wilt too quickly. If you have celery that has wilted, sprinkle it with a little water and place it in the refrigerator for several hours to help it regain some of its crispness.
How to Enjoy
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
Add chopped celery to your favorite tuna fish or chicken salad recipe.
Enjoy the delicious tradition of eating peanut butter on celery stalks.
Use celery leaves in salads.
Braise chopped celery, radicchio and onions and serve topped with walnuts and your favorite soft cheese.
Next time you are making fresh squeezed carrot juice give it a unique taste dimension by adding some celery to it.
Add celery leaves and sliced celery stalks to soups, stews, casseroles, and Healthy Stir-Fries.
Consider the purchase of celery in its non-Pascal varieties. Root celery can be served as a major plate vegetable all its own, and leaf celery can be substituted for parsley in almost any recipe.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Some health problems are related to a phenomenon called "cross-reactivity" in which a person with environmental allergies also develops allergies to certain foods. In most of these cases, a small area on the surface of a food protein is exactly like a small area on a protein found in a plants pollen. If a persons immune system reacts to the pollen, it will react to the food as well. In the case of celery, researchers have identified a syndrome called birch mugwort celery syndrome in which this exact type of cross reactivity occurs. (In technical terms, they have found that the Api g 1 epitope on some celery proteins is a homologue for the Bet v 1 epitope in birch pollen.) If you are a person with a known allergy to birch trees or mugwort, celery should definitely be excluded from your meal plan. If you are a person who suspects that you might have environmental allergies but dont know for sure, you may want to consult with an allergy specialist who can help you determine if you have allergies and what plants are involved. Finally, if you are a person who suspects that you might be having allergic reactions to celery, you may want to check and see whether you test positively for environmental allergies to birch and mugwort pollen as well. While birch-mugwort-celery syndrome is relative rare, it can sometimes be quite severe and is worth identifying if you suspect any of the allergies described above.
Celery and Pesticide Residues
Virtually all municipal drinking water in the United States contains pesticide residues, and with the exception of organic foods, so do the majority of foods in the U.S. food supply. Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well do c u m ented. The livers ability to process other toxins, the cells ability to produce energy, and the nerves ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. According to the Environmental Working Groups 2012 report "Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce," celery is among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. Therefore, individuals wanting to avoid pesticide-associated health risks may want to avoid consumption of celery unless it is grown organically.
Celery is a rich source of phenolic phyto-nutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These phytonutrients include: caffeic acid, caffeoylquinic acid, cinnamic acid, coumaric acid, ferulic acid, apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, kaempferol, lunularin, beta-sitosterol and furano-coumarins. Celery is an excellent source of bone-healthy vitamin K. It is a very good source of heart-healthy dietary fiber, potassium, and folate; immune-supportive vitamin A and vitamin C; and enzyme-promoting molybdenum and manganese. Celery is also a good source of bone-building calcium and magnesium as well as energy-producing vitamin B2 and vitamin B5.
Celery also contains approximately 35 milligrams of sodium per stalk, so salt-sensitive individuals can enjoy celery, but should keep track of this amount when monitoring daily sodium intake.
In-Depth Nutritional profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Celery is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.