Diet food and healthy food, celery (Apium graveolens) is a popular option for healthy eaters across the world. With excellent amounts of vitamin K and a good dietary mineral and folate content, the vegetable reveals itself as a precious aid for hypertension, high cholesterol and weight control. Moreover, emerging studies appear to shed light on the digestive and mild laxative properties, anti-inflammatory effect and diuretic activity of the vegetable.
Celery also boasts a generous flavonoid content which has sparked great interest. Research into the anticancer properties of apigenin and luteolin suggests the two flavonoids and major contituents in celery are the ones responsible for its anticancer properties. Celery is also a particularly rich source of vitamin K, a nutrient that prevents blood loss by encouraging blood clotting and contributes to bone health.
What does celery look like? Celery is a bizzare vegetable in the sense that it has been bred to look like two completely different vegetables. Apium graveolens var. dulce is the North American preferred variety, with large, light green, crispy, parallel stalks, a moderate to generous deep green cluster of leaves and a small, bulb-shaped main root. This variety is also known as the Pascal celery and is clearly depicted in the image below. Because it it bred for its stalks alone, which can easily reach 1 meter in height, the root and even the leaves are almost always discarded.
Apium graveolens var. rapaceum is the European variant of celery, also called celeriac. It distinguishes itself from the American variety by its enormous bulb-shaped, light brown, knobbly root with extremely tough skin (the bigger the celery, the tougher its skin) and fine, creamy white flesh. This fleshy, bulbous variety of celery is incorrectly called celery root, to distinguish it from the celery grown for its stems. The nutritional profile of celery differs from that of celeriac because, well, they are not the same vegetable part and thus have different characteristics and nutritional values. In view of a more accurate and complete description, today’s article will deal with celery alone, leaving celeriac for another, not-so-distant time (see article on benefits of celeriac here).
What does celery taste like? Celery, and I am referring to the variety with prominent stalks, doesn’t have much of a flavor when raw, just crispness. It does, however, have a slight peppery and sometimes sweet taste, somewhat reminiscent of fennel and a wonderful crunch to it. Depending on when you harvest it, it may become watery, yet preserve its crisp texture. Cooked celery leaf stalks can preserve their firmness if you keep cooking time short, otherwise they become mushy and blend in with the rest of the vegetables.
Overall, celery is a moderately nutritious vegetable, with a good vitamin and mineral content. However, it stands out thanks to its generous flavonoid content. Here is a list of the most noteworthy nutrition facts and health benefits of celery (stalks):
1) Rich source of vitamin K. 100 g of celery contains 29.3 µg of vitamin K, about 30% of the RDA. Vitamin K is pivotal for good blood coagulation, encourages bone remineralization, prevents arterial calcification and reduces Interleukin-6 (an inflamation marker) levels, contributing to a lower risk of developing chronic disease.
2) Lowers high blood pressure. Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that 3-n-butylphthalide was the biologically active compound in celery responsible for the vegetable’s blood pressure lowering effect (Hypotensive and hypocholesterolemic effects of celery oil may be due to BuPh.) Another study, Cardiovascular pharmacology of 3-n-butylphthalide in spontaneously hypertensive rats, shows the compound in celery possesses both vasodilating and diuretic properties and thus contributes to lowering blood pressure levels.
A study published in the Natural Medicine Journal (A Pilot Study to Evaluate the Antihypertensive Effect of a Celery Extract in Mild to Moderate Hypertensive Patients) points to celery as a highly promising natural hypertension treatment. The vegetable also contains good amounts of dietary potassium which regulates body fluids and indirectly contributes to lowering high blood pressure.
3) Lowers blood cholesterol levels. According to research (Dose-response relationship of blood pressure and serum cholesterol to 3-n-butylphthalide, a component of celery oil), celery extract contributes to lowering high blood cholesterol levels, further contributing to cardiovascular health. Moreover, with 1.6 g of dietary fiber, the vegetable stalks indirectly help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by partially preventing the intestinal absorption of fatty compounds from food.
4) Helps relieve constipation and promotes weight loss. The dietary fiber in celery (stalks) acts like a mild natural laxative, adding bulk to stools and regulating bowel movements, thus relieving constipation. Dietary fiber together with the high water content of the vegetable (95.43%) and low energy value (only 16 kcal/100 g) represent wonderful tools to fight weight gain and encourage weight loss.
5) Exhibits diuretic properties. As mentioned above, celery is a natural diuretic, promoting water excretion through urine, making it ideal for weight loss, kidney function maintenance and blood pressure control. Moreover, celery stalks are a good source of dietary potassium, a mineral which regulates body fluids and thus prevents water retention and lowers blood pressure.
6) Improves hydration and digestion. With 95.43% water, raw celery stalks make a great hot summer day snack because they hydrate the body further and supply it with small amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. Keep in mind that excessive sweating during hot weather causes the body to lose dietary minerals, predisposing us to mineral deficiencies, fatigue, fainting and a generalized feeling of being unwell.
According to the NCBI (Gastric antiulcer, antisecretory and cytoprotective properties of celery (Apium graveolens) in rats), celery extract was shown to gratly protect the stomach lining against ulcer lesions. Also, researchers at the University of Maryland recommend consuming foods rich in flavonoids such as cranberries and celery to inhibit Helicobacter pylori growth and reduce gastritis and peptic ulcer risks.
7) Excellent natural anti-inflamamtory. The antioxidant flavonoids in celery (luteolin) have been shown to significantly reduce the activity of several inflammation markers such as the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-A) and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-KB) (source: Flavone deglycosylation increases their anti-inflammatory activity and absorption). Luteoling also appears to inhibit COX-2, a protein linked to inflammation (source: Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory activity of luteolin in experimental animal models). Juice made from celery stalks appears to be far more effective than consuming the vegetable as it is.
8) Exhibits anticancer properties. Research suggests that apigenin and luteolin, two major flavonoid compounds in celery, can be used as a pre-treatment for two aggressive pancreatic cancer cell lines, prior to chemotherapy, to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the respective cancer cells. Based on these results, the consumption of flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables is believed to offer great protection against various cancer forms. Other antioxidant compounds found in celery are alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), vitamins C and A, umbelliferone, etc.
Celery is especially good during hot summer days when water needs, and dietary mineral requirements increase significantly. However, be very careful to avoid celery in all its forms (stalks, bulb, seeds, baked, boiled, juiced, etc.) if you know or suspect you are allergic to it as it can cause severe allergic reactions that often build up to anaphylactic shock. Also, celery is one of those foods which tend to make one bloated and gassy, so watch out how much of it you eat.