Many of us know celery best as the things left on the crudite platter when the carrots, red peppers, and cherry tomatoes are gone. Or the bite in an immune-boosting cold-weather soup. Or the perfect vehicle for peanut butter and raisins. But what are some celery health benefits? Is it healthy enough to include as a regular part of your diet? And if so, what are some delicious and creative ways to prepare and eat it?
The Popularity of Celery
Celery belongs to a family known as the “umbellifers.” Some members of this family, like carrots and parsnips, are well known and delicious root vegetables. Other members include some of our favorite spices, including coriander, cumin, caraway, dill, and parsley. And there are even a tiny few, like hemlock, that can be poisonous.
Celery has been around for a long time and is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There’s evidence that humans were moving celery seeds all over the globe way back in 4,000 B.C., finding its way to Switzerland and elsewhere. It’s had a lot of uses throughout history, too. Celery and celery seed extract has been used medicinally for centuries in China, India, Egypt, and Rome for things like gout, arthritis, and pain relief.
Most of us are familiar with the common stalk celery known as green or Pascal celery. But did you know that it didn’t always look this way? Until the 17th century, celery had a much more bitter taste and was hollow inside. The Italians developed the sweeter, milder green stalk celery that we know today,
While we’re much more familiar with the parts of this vegetable that grow above ground, the root is also a delicious and valued food source. Known as celeriac (and nicknamed, uncharitably, “the ugly root”), the underground part of the celery plant adds body and flavor to many winter soups and stews.
Since the celery stalk is mostly water (95% by weight), you’d be forgiven for assuming that it contains very little in the way of nutrition. One myth is that celery is a “negative calorie food.” That is, you supposedly burn more calories chewing it than you take in from consuming it. While this isn’t actually the case, it is true that celery does pack a fair amount of nutritional benefits in a very low-calorie package.
Just because it takes a lot of chewing and is a great water source doesn’t mean you should turn up your nose at it. Celery contains a welcome dose of some important vitamins and minerals. For example, a mere stalk can provide 25% of your daily vitamin K needs. And it contains 5% of your daily needs for vitamin A, folate, and potassium. In lesser amounts, you’ll find calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. It’s also full of fiber — around 1 gram per stalk. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve ever gotten fibrous celery strings stuck in your teeth. (Dental floss, anyone?!)
Not only is celery a good source of antioxidants and other healthy, disease-fighting plant compounds like phytonutrients and flavonoids, it’s also high in electrolytes. Electrolytes are chemicals in water that are essential for bodily functions. They help with hydration, maintaining healthy blood pressure, repairing tissue damage, and making sure your muscles and nerves work correctly.
One of those electrolytes is in the form of sodium. Theoretically, this could be a problem for those on a low-sodium diet for medical reasons like high blood pressure or fluid retention. However, one stalk only contains 50 mg of sodium. So unless you’re eating a great deal of it on top of an already salt-rich diet, there’s probably not much to worry about here.
5 Surprising Celery Health Benefits
Besides its positive nutritional profile, here are five celery health benefits you may want to consider.
1. It may help fight cancer
Celery is rich in antioxidants, which help remove cancer-promoting free radicals from your cells. In fact, celery extract has been studied for two potential anticancer compounds: apigenin, and luteolin. Apigenin destroys free radicals in the body and can promote cancer cell death. It also appears to promote autophagy, a process in which your body removes dysfunctional cells or components, helping to prevent disease.
Research also suggests that luteolin, a plant flavonoid in celery, could be responsible for its potential anticancer effects. In one study, researchers found that luteolin supplementation dropped mice tumor rates by almost half. And it slowed the progression of the remaining tumors. And if that’s not enough, studies from China are reported to suggest that eating two stalks per week could reduce your risk of lung cancer by up to 60%. Other research suggests that eating celery may be effective in fighting cancers of the breast, ovary, pancreas, liver, and prostate. Wow!
2. It may reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease
Celery seed extracts have been long used and studied for their anti-inflammatory properties on the body. Various preparations of celery and its seed extract have been used to treat inflammation throughout history. Some research suggests that celery seed extract is as effective as drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen in treating arthritis symptoms. It may also have a pain-reducing effect. And it may be protective against stomach damage that can occur from taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Additionally, a 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois found that the luteolin in celery can significantly reduce brain inflammation. And it may have the potential for treating neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
3. It may reduce your risk of heart disease
Eating this crunchy veggie may be protective of your heart by improving common heart disease biomarkers. A 2009 study in rats found that, when given celery extract for 60 days, rats experienced a significant reduction in their blood lipids, including total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides. Celery may also be able to lower your blood pressure, even though it’s fairly high in sodium — a fascinating paradox. A mixture of celery juice and honey has been used in China for this purpose for a long time with success. In South Africa, celery juice mixed with vinegar is given to pregnant women to help them lower high blood pressure.
4. It may support male fertility
A 2017 review of 16 studies on celery and fertility found that celery can have a protective effect against substances that can damage sperm count. Similarly, a 2015 study on the effects of celery on fertility in rats found that 30 days of celery leaf extract could potentially improve sperm count. This may be because it appears to have inhibitive effects against free radicals, which can adversely impact fertility. However, it hasn’t been determined how much celery you would need to eat or drink to see these benefits.
5. It may support gut and digestive health
Celery is full of insoluble fiber, which can increase satiety and aid in weight loss and can also help promote regularity. In other words, it can prevent and treat constipation and help clean out your intestines. In a 2010 study, researchers looked at the impact of celery extract on the treatment of stomach ulcers. And they examined the overall protective benefits of it on the gastrointestinal system of rats. Rats who were pretreated with celery extract before they developed stomach ulcers experienced much less gastric damage than those not pretreated. The researchers suggest this is likely due to the antioxidant properties of celery, a conclusion that is echoed in other studies on celery and health.
Potential Downsides to Eating Celery
While including celery in your diet offers a lot of health benefits, there are some reasons you might want to exercise caution with it.
Celery is on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-contaminated produce. Pesticides get absorbed through the bottom of the stalks, where it absorbs water. While that doesn’t mean you should avoid it altogether (conventional produce is better than none at all), it’s one of those produce items you might want to buy organically — if you can. At the very least, check out this article to see the best way to wash fruits and vegetables to remove pesticides.
The fiber in celery is insoluble, meaning that it isn’t well digested by your digestive tract. In other words, it helps to move things right through your intestines. While getting enough insoluble fiber is a good idea for most people (and most of us don’t get enough fiber in general), there are instances in which getting too much could lead to diarrhea and loose stools.
Although quite rare, allergies to celery do exist. Most allergies are to celeriac root, with symptoms such as itchiness and swelling of the throat, lips, and tongue. And in the most severe cases, people with celery allergies may even experience anaphylactic shock. If you are one of the rare people who are allergic to this vegetable, then I don’t care what the studies say about its health benefits — don’t eat it!
How to Store Celery
If you’ve ever left celery out on the counter, or perhaps unprotected in the refrigerator for too long, you’ve probably seen it wilt. Eventually the stalks become limp and rubbery. If you plan to eat it within a few days, you can store your celery in a produce bin in your fridge. To keep it at the peak of freshness for as long as possible, here are a few options (all of which require refrigeration):
- Submerge the stalks fully in water. This works well due to celery’s high water content. You can actually reverse the wilting of old celery if you catch it fast enough. Put trimmed stalks in a glass or bowl under water and cover the container with a lid.
- Arrange the stalks in a glass or jar with water like a bouquet of flowers, and leave them uncovered with the tops sticking out.
- Wrap trimmed stalks in a damp towel covered with aluminum foil.
In the “cool kitchen science” department, you can grow celery at home. This might even be easier than growing it from a seed, as the plant does best in cooler temperatures or indoors.
Start with a celery bunch from the store; cut off the stalks and store them in the fridge. Then place the three-inch stump root-end down in a shallow glass of water. Change the water every few days. You can also add fertilizer to help it grow (totally optional). Within a few days, you should see new roots and leaves growing.
Watch how easy it is to regrow celery from scraps in this step-by-step video.
The Celery Juice Phenomena
The healing properties of celery juice have been popularized by Food Revolution Summit speaker and Medical Medium, Anthony William. According to William, celery juice, when consumed by itself on an empty stomach, contains undiscovered cluster salts that do the following:
- Rebuild the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which helps kill off harmful pathogens that lead to disease, including the Epstein-Barr Virus.
- Increases the strength and amount of bile in your body. The cluster salts act like antiseptics for any pathogens present.
- Restores your central nervous system by removing poisons and old toxins that build up in the body over time and wreak havoc.
- Clears your liver of pesticides, solvents, herbicides, toxic heavy metals, and all kinds of dangerous chemicals.
Some of this has validation by scientific research, while some of it hasn’t (at least, not yet). However, we do know that a lot of people swear that drinking celery juice changed their life for the better. Either way, there’s no disputing that celery itself is a healthy vegetable and is good for you.
Here’s a video of Anthony William talking about it:
And he’s written a book about it, too. Medical Medium Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide is available here.
If you are interested in trying celery juice, here are some tips for success:
Many people recommend avoiding high-speed blenders because of fears that it will destroy certain compounds in the celery, like antioxidants. Instead, celery juice fans suggest using a quality slow speed juicer. The slow speed, they say, prevents the celery from heating up and losing nutrients. As an added benefit, slow speed juicers are less likely to get clogged by its “strings.”
How to Use Celery
Whether or not you’re interested in drinking quarts of celery juice, don’t write off celery. There are many other ways to enjoy this unique and crunchy stalk vegetable, too.
Some of these include:
- Chopping it up to use in warm soups
- Dicing it for use in an organic tofu scramble
- Slicing it thinly for salads and wraps
- Chopping it for chickpea salad sandwiches or potato salad
- Adding it to stir-fries
- Snacking on it raw with almond, peanut, or cashew butter and sprinkling it with raisins or hemp seeds
- Adding it to smoothies
Here are some healthy, creative ways you can incorporate celery into your diet.
Celery Ginger Juice by Detoxinista — This is a bold combination of flavors that melds into a refreshing “ginger lemonade” fit for daily enjoyment, as per the author.
Vegan Waldorf Salad by Nutritionicity — A nice mixture of crunchy celery along with other fruits and veggies, tossed in a creamy dressing, this is a nutrient-rich salad for all seasons.
Cabbage Soup by Simple Vegan Blog — This is a versatile and colorful soup that capitalizes on the crunchiness of cabbage and celery. But you can adjust it as needed.
‘Chickpea of the Sea’ Tuna Salad Sandwich by Simple Veganista — If you’ve ever been a fan of a traditional tuna salad sandwich, I bet you’ll like this version even better! Mashed chickpeas, melded with familiar flavors of celery, red onions, and creamy hummus make for a winning combination.
Celery Is Good For You!
However you choose to enjoy them, there’s no question that adding more vegetables like celery to your diet is a good thing for most of us. Celery itself is very nutritious, with many health benefits and minimal downsides. And seeing as it’s so easy to add to a number of recipes, you might just promote it to one of your kitchen staples.
Tell us in the comments:
- What do you think about celery?
- Have you ever had celery juice?
- What are your favorite ways to eat (or drink) celery?
Featured Image: iStock.com/jenifoto