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Famous for its brightly colored stems, swiss chard comes in a rainbow of colors including pink, orange, red, white, and yellow, which can brighten up your plate and your landscaping. Although this leafy green seems almost too pretty to eat, its mild flavor (preferable to many because it lacks the bitter taste associated with many greens) and plethora of health benefits says otherwise!
Swiss chard, or simply “chard” is actually a type of beet cultivated specifically to have flavorful, earthy, tender leaves and stems, at the expense of root formation. Other types of beet include the beautifully colored taproots enjoyed as root veggies (their greens are edible as well) and sugar beets, which produce about 30% of the total sugar used worldwide – all of which are cultivated descendants of the wild sea beet. Chard has shiny, dark green leaves with a grooved, wrinkly texture and broad, thick and fleshy stems (or midribs) that provide the pop of color this veggie is so famous for. Both are edible though (unlike its cousin) the root of chard is not.
This colorful veggie has been used as food and medicine for centuries, but its exact history is a little fuzzy because it’s similar to many other vegetables and goes by many different common names, so it’s not always clear when chard, specifically, was being referred to in historical records. In fact, this veggie is the king of nicknames – it has been called beet spinach, bright lights, crab beet, Chilean beet, perpetual spinach, leaf beet, mangold, Roman kale, sea kale beet, Sicilian beet, silver beet, stem chard, strawberry spinach, and white beet. (It’s easy to see where the confusion comes from!). Contrary to its contemporary name, it did not originate, nor is it native to Switzerland! It’s believed to have originated in Mediterranean Europe but was given its scientific name by a Swiss botanist, which somehow stuck?! Today, Swiss chard is most popular in Mediterranean countries though it is gaining popularity elsewhere – especially the rainbow “variety” which does not actually grow that way, but is a mix of different colored stem varieties. When it comes to leafy greens, chard can’t be “beet!”
Nutrivore Score for Rainbow Chard – 6573
Rainbow chard has a Nutrivore Score of 6573, making it one of the the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! Plus, it is a low-carb and low-calorie-density food; amazingly the calorie count of rainbow chard is just 7 calories per cup!
Per serving, rainbow chard is a best source (>50% daily value) of carotenoids, polyphenols, and vitamin K; an excellent source (20-50% daily value) of vitamin A, and vitamin C; and is a good source (10-20% daily value) of betalains, copper, magnesium, and manganese.
Rainbow Chard Nutrition Facts
One serving of rainbow chard is standardized to 2 cups of rainbow chard, or about 72 grams (2.5 ounces). A typical leaf of rainbow chard weighs 48 grams, which means: one serving of rainbow chard is equivalent to 1.5 leaves of rainbow chard. When you cook rainbow chard, it reduces in volume by approximately 80% which means: 5 cups raw rainbow chard is roughly equivalent to 1 cup boiled rainbow chard.
|Rainbow chard, raw||Nutrivore Score: 6573||Nutrient Density: Super!|
|Serving Size: 2 cups (72 grams)||Protein: 1.3 grams||Net Carbohydrates: 1.5 grams|
|Calories: 14||Total Fat: 0.1 grams||Dietary Fiber: 1.2 grams|
|Vitamin A||220.3 μg RAE||24% DV|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||28.8 μg||2% DV|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||64.8 μg||5% DV|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||0.3 mg||2% DV|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.1 mg||2% DV|
|Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)||71.3 μg||4% DV|
|Vitamin B7 (Biotin)||~||~|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||10.1 μg||3% DV|
|Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)||0.0 μg||0% DV|
|Vitamin C||21.6 mg||24% DV|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||0.0 μg||0% DV|
|Vitamin E||1.4 mg||9% DV|
|Vitamin K||597.6 μg||498% DV|
|Choline||13.0 mg||2% DV|
|Calcium||36.7 mg||3% DV|
|Copper||128.9 μg||14% DV|
|Iron||1.3 mg||7% DV|
|Magnesium||58.3 mg||14% DV|
|Manganese||263.5 μg||11% DV|
|Phosphorus||33.1 mg||3% DV|
|Potassium||272.9 mg||6% DV|
|Selenium||0.6 μg||1% DV|
|Sodium||153.4 mg||7% DV|
|Zinc||0.3 mg||2% DV|
|AMINO ACIDS & PEPTIDES|
Rainbow Chard Nutrition Varies With Cooking and Variety
The Nutrivore Score of chard varies depending on variety and method of preparation. Rainbow chard has the added benefit of higher levels of phytonutrients called betalains which not only help give this leafy green a boost of color, betalains are also powerful antioxidants which boost their overall nutrition. Despite only having data on boiled Swiss chard, the impact of cooking is expected to be similar across varieties.
|Rainbow chard, raw||6573|
|Swiss chard, cooked, boiled, drained, with salt||3776|
|Swiss chard, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||3776|
|Swiss chard, raw||6198|
Health Benefits of Rainbow Chard Nutrients
Let’s take a closer look at all of the best and excellent source of nutrients found in a 2-cup serving of rainbow chard and see how they benefit our health.
Rainbow Chard Provides 498% DV Vitamin K
Rainbow chard is a phenomenal source of vitamin K, providing a whopping 498% of the daily value per 2-cup serving!
Vitamin K is actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins with a similar molecular structure, existing as K1, multiple isoforms of K2, and the synthetic form K3. This nutrient plays a vital role in coagulation, due to serving as a cofactor for proteins needed for blood clotting; it’s also essential for bone metabolism, cellular function, and the prevention of soft tissue calcification. Getting enough vitamin K2 can help protect against cardiovascular disease, may improve bone mineral density and skeletal health, and may even support endocrine function and brain health; there’s also some limited evidence it has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Learn more about vitamin K here.
Rainbow Chard Provides 950.4 mg of Polyphenols
Rainbow chard is also rich in beneficial phytonutrients, providing 950.4 mg of polyphenols per 2-cup serving!
Polyphenols play a huge role in protecting against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions associated with oxidative stress. In fact, a major reason foods like red wine and olive oil (as well as diets rich in both, such as the Mediterranean diet) show up as so beneficial may be due to their high polyphenol content! Along with chronic diseases, supplementing with polyphenols has been shown to protect against infections and reduce the signs of aging. Polyphenols exert their most potent effects by acting as antioxidants—preventing cellular damage by neutralizing hazardous oxygen radicals and improving cellular health as a result (which, in turn, benefits virtually every system in the body). As a result of their antioxidant properties, polyphenols also boost the immune system and protect against both chronic and acute diseases. In addition, polyphenols can help regulate enzyme function, stimulate cell receptors, modulate the functions of inflammatory cells (including T and B lymphocytes, macrophages, platelets, and natural killer cells), alter adhesion molecule expression, affect nerve cells and cardiac muscle cells, and exert antiviral effects. Learn more about polyphenols here.
Rainbow Chard Provides 10,578.2 μg of Carotenoids
Rainbow chard is a fantastic source of carotenoids, providing an impressive 10,578.2 μg of carotenoids per 2-cup serving!
Carotenoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients that are responsible for giving fruits and vegetables vibrant red, orange, and yellow pigmentation. They were one of the earliest phytonutrients ever investigated by scientists (with research dating back to the 1800s!). Across studies, eating foods high in carotenoids appears to reduce the risk of head and neck cancers, supports vision health (particularly age-related eye diseases), may protect against metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and can reduce inflammation. Carotenoids have strong antioxidant properties, and help facilitate communication between cells by promoting the synthesis of connexin proteins, which create gap junctions in cell membranes that allow small molecules to be exchanged (which is part of how cells “talk” to each other!). Consuming carotenoids with fat significantly increases their absorption. Learn more about carotenoids here.
Rainbow Chard Provides 24% DV Vitamin A
This leafy green is an excellent source of vitamin A, providing 24% of the daily value per 2-cup serving!
Vitamin A is actually a group of fat-soluble retinoids with vitamin A activity in the body. This nutrient is essential for a number of physiological functions—particularly vision, reproduction, thyroid health, immunity, and cellular communication. Getting enough vitamin A helps protect against some vision disorders (like night blindness and macular degeneration), supports a healthy menstrual cycle and sperm production, reduces infection risk, and allows for proper growth and development from the fetal years through childhood. Learn more about vitamin A here.
Rainbow Chard Provides 24% DV Vitamin C
Rainbow chard is also an excellent source of vitamin C, providing 24% of the daily value per 2-cup serving!
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that has powerful antioxidant properties (meaning it can help combat oxidative damage from free radicals and reactive oxygen species) and that serves as an enzyme cofactor (meaning it’s needed for enzymes to do their job, for example vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis, which is essential for bones, joints, teeth, blood vessels, skin and eyes) and playing important roles in immune system and skin health. Higher intakes of vitamin C are linked to reduced risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and gout. Vitamin C can also help regulate the stress response and reduce anxiety, and there’s preliminary evidence that it may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more about vitamin C here.
How Much Rainbow Chard Should We Eat per Day?
Leafy greens may come from a variety of different taxonomic families, but they all have one thing in common – when it comes to nutritional bang for calorie buck, they are hard to beat!
Every serving of fresh, whole vegetables or fruit we eat daily reduces the risk of all-cause mortality by 5% to 8%, with the greatest risk reduction seen when we consume eight or more servings per day. In fact, consuming 800 grams of vegetables and fruits daily reduces all-cause mortality by 31% compared to eating less than 40 grams daily. A 2017 meta-analysis showed that 2.24 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, 660,000 deaths from cancer, and 7.8 million deaths from all causes could be avoided globally each year if everyone consumed 800 grams of veggies and fruits every day.
Eating vegetables and fruit in abundance lowers risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and bone fragility fractures (including hip fracture), cognitive impairment and dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), neurodegenerative diseases, asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, depression, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory polyarthritis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, acne, seborrheic dermatitis, and lowers markers of inflammation. Learn more in Importance of Vegetables and Fruit.
Covering half of your plate with a variety of vegetables (and three quarters of your plate if your starchy food is a root vegetable or winter squash) at each meal is a simple way to easily achieve the goal of 800 grams daily (about 5 to 8 servings depending on the vegetable).
Studies show that leafy greens (like rainbow chard) offer a huge range of scientifically demonstrated health benefits. For instance, for every 1/3 cup of leafy greens you eat each day you reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. Leafy green consumption has also been associated with a 40% lower risk of death from colorectal cancer in men, a 16% reduction in cardiovascular disease and slower cognitive decline in elderly adults. Amazingly, an average of only 1.3 servings per day was associated with the equivalent of being 11 years younger in cognitive age! Taking this all into account means that one to two servings per day of leafy greens (like rainbow chard) is a great target, but there doesn’t seem to be any downside to consuming way more than that!
Just remember, it’s always best to mix up the veggies you eat day to day (aiming for a wide variety of different vegetables and fruits throughout the week), and rainbow chard definitely has a place at the table.
Expand to see all scientific references for this article.
Fineli Finnish Food Composition Database: Swiss Chard
Kugler F, Stintzing FC, Carle R. Identification of betalains from petioles of differently colored Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L. ssp. cicla [L.] Alef. Cv. Bright Lights) by high-performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 May 19;52(10):2975-81. doi: 10.1021/jf035491w. PMID: 15137842.
Phenol-Explorer: Swiss chard leaves [Red], raw
USDA Food Central Database: Chard, swiss, raw