Michelle Savage, student dietitian, Queen Margaret University.

 

Celery is a well known vegetable for its mildly bitter taste, crunchy texture and low calorie content. But, is that it? What else has this vegetable got to offer other than being low in calories?  There is much more to celery than just another vegetable we add into a salad, it contains vitamins and minerals that our body needs and contributes towards a healthy balanced diet. Celery, Apium graveolons is a vegetable that has edible leafstalks, leaves and seeds. It is a member of the Parsley family (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae) which also includes carrots, caraway, celeriac, dill, fennel, parsley and parsnips. It originated in the Mediterranean region where it was grown on marshy areas, however nowadays it is grown worldwide and grows best in cool, moist locations 1. Celery can be grown in pots or greenhouses taking into account the growing conditions it requires and also ensuring it has plenty of water. Although normally available all year round, it is in season between September and January2.

Experts have recommended a daily intake of at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day3.  Three stalks of celery (80g) count towards one of your 5 a day. Typically it is the stalks of celery used more so than the leaves and seeds. Three stalks of celery contain around 95% water, and they contribute in small quantities towards our fluid intake. Adults should be consuming between 1600-2000ml of water per day 4. Table 1 provides an overview of some of the important nutrients found in an 80g portion of celery stalks and includes the recommended nutrient intake for each nutrient5 6.

 

Table 1: Nutritional composition of an average portion of celery and the recommended intake values for adults, adolescents and children.

 

Nutrient Amount per 80g RNI of nutrient
Adults

(over the age 17)

Adolescents

(11-16years)

Children
(5-11years) (2-5 years)
Energy (kcals) 5.6
Carbohydrate (g) 0.7
Protein (g) 0.4
Fat (g) 0.17
Fibre (NSP) (g) * 1.1 30 g 25 g 20 g 15 g

 

Vitamin C (mg) 6.4 40 mg 35- 40 mg 30-35 mg 30 mg
Vitamin A (µg) 6.4 600-700 µg 600-700 µg 400-500 µg 400 µg
Vitamin K (µg) 4 1 µg/kg/d
Potassium (mg) 256 3500 µg 3100-3500 µg 1100-3100 µg 800-1100 µg
Calcium (mg) 33 700-800 µg 800-1000 µg 450-1000 µg 350-550 µg

*AOAC value unavailable (McCance and Widdowson’s)

 

Macronutrients

The above nutrient list highlights some of the important nutrients to be found in the stalks of celery, there is however more nutrients that could be considered but these are present in smaller amounts. Celery is a readily available versatile food that adds flavour without majorly increasing the calorie content. Due to the low calorie and fat content it can be enjoyed as part of a well balanced diet and also for those wishing to reduce the calorie content of the foods they are currently consuming. It has been suggested that the consumption and digestion of celery burns more calories than what is in an actual portion, however this myth has been debunked and it is more accurate to state that due to its low calorie and fat content they are a good addition to a weight loss or maintenance type diet 7.

Consumption of celery contributes towards the recommended daily dietary fibre intake of 30g for adults 8. Most will know fibre for it’s role in keeping the digestive system healthy, however it also plays a role in lowering cholesterol, keeping blood sugars stable and also provides that ‘feeling of fullness’ due to the bulk it provides. The two types of fibre required for these benefits are soluble and insoluble fibre, both of which celery has9.

 

Micronutrients

Although celery is mainly made up of water, it does not have really high quantities of vitamins and minerals. However it still is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium and calcium.

Celery contains a fair source of vitamin C of 6.4mg per portion. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid is a water soluble vitamin that can not be stored in the body and therefore is required in the diet everyday. It is well known to have antioxidant properties which helps protect against oxidative damage to our cells caused by free radicals. It also has an important role in the prevention of scurvy and also aids wound healing 10. A portion of raw celery for an adolescent and adult will contribute towards approximately 16 % of their recommended requirements of 40mg a day. Requirements per day for 11-14 years old are 35 mg and 2-10 years old require 30mg a day6. Consuming celery raw will be more beneficial as vitamin C is easily destroyed by exposure to oxygen, metal ions, light and heat.

 

Other vitamins present in celery are present in small amounts such as Vitamin A and vitamin K. Vitamin A is required for the maintenance of normal vision, maintenance of healthy skin and lining of parts of the body and also aids the immune system in fighting infections 11. Consumption of Vitamin A at high levels can be toxic therefore recommended values have been set in place. That being said, you are unlikely to exceed your requirements from the amounts present in celery! The reference nutrient intake for males and females differ slightly in adulthood. The reference nutrient intake for males aged 15 onwards is 700 µg per day and for females aged 11 onwards the recommended intake is 600 µg per day. Males aged 11-14 years require 600 µg. Both males and females aged 7-10 years require 500 µg per day and 2-6 years old require 400 µg 6. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin and therefore can be stored in the body.

Vitamin K is also present in small amounts in celery and is necessary for blood clotting which along with Vitamin C helps in the wound healing process. Vitamin K has also been shown to be beneficial for bone structure 12. The recommended intakes for vitamin K are based on body weight and therefore 1 µg is required for each kilogram of body weight per day.

 

Celery is an excellent source of potassium, which has many important functions in the body including the maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance, assists nerves to function and muscles to contract and it also is involved in heart function. Increased intakes of potassium in the diet has been associated with a decrease in blood pressure and also a protective effect on cardiovascular health due to it’s potential influence on sodium in the diet and potential ability to promote secretion of sodium in the urine13.

The calcium present in celery contributes to about 5% of the recommended intakes per day, although it appears a small percentage, calcium is essential for a number of functions in the body. Some is better than none!  The primary role of calcium is in the structure of bones and teeth. It also plays a role in the regulation of muscle contractions and ensuring the normal blood clotting14. The amount of calcium required each day is dependent on age and sex. Requirements for adults over the age of 19 are 700 mg per day. Males aged 11-18 require 1000mg per day, whereas females of the same age require 800 mg per day. Depending on stage of growth, requirements differ for children, 7-10 years require 550 mg, 4-6 years 450 mg and 2-3 years old require 350mg per day 6.

 

Uses of Celery

Celery is much more than just an accompaniment to dips. Not only can it be eaten raw or in salads (try it with an apple), due to it’s strong flavour it can added into soups, casseroles and stews and the seeds of celery have also been used as a flavouring or spice. When purchasing celery look for stalks that appear firm and have leaves that are brightly coloured, store dry celery in the fridge for 5-7 days to maximise freshness. Before use make sure to wash celery to get rid of pesticide sprays and any dirt and then cut the stalk into pieces. Many people discard the leaves of celery, however these are a good source of vitamins and minerals and can be used for flavouring or as a garnish. A recent study compared the effects of steaming, boiling and blanching celery on the phenolic composition and antioxidant activity in celery. It was found that steaming celery resulted in 83-99% of antioxidants remaining whereas blanching and boiling led to a loss of 38-41 % of the antioxidants 16. No matter whether you prefer celery cooked into your meal or eaten as a handy mid-day snack, you are still getting all the nutritious benefits from it.

 

 

References

 

  1. Ensminger, A. (1983). Foods & nutrition encyclopedia. 1st ed. Clovis, Calif.: Pegus Press.
  2. Vegetarian Society (2016), Seasonal UK Grown Produce. Available from: https://www.vegsoc.org/page.aspx?pid=525,
  3. Diet nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a joint FAO/WHO Expert consultation, Geneva. World Health organization. 2003. (Who Technical Report Series, No. 916).
  4. Webster-Gandy, J. (2015). Manual of dietetic practice. 1st ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
  5. McCance, R.A., Widdowson, E.M., 2015. Royal Society of Chemistry. Information Services, Public Health England, Institute of Food Research & Great Britain. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,McCance and Widdowson’s the composition of foods, 7th summary edn, Royal Society of Chemistry
  6. Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom. (1991). 1st ed. Great Britain, Department of Health.
  7. M.E., and COOPER, C., 2012. Exploring the myth: Does eating celery result in a negative energy balance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.
  8. SACN, 2015. Carbohydrates and Health, London: TSO and Blackwell.
  9. Why is fibre important? – Health questions – NHS Choices. (2017). [online] Nhs.uk. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1141.aspx?categoryid=51 [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].
  10. British Nutrition Foundation, 2016. Vitamins- Vitamin C page 13. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/vitamins.html?limit=1&start=12
  11. British Nutrition Foundation, 2016. Vitamins- Vitamin A page 3. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/vitamins.html?limit=1&start=2
  12. British Nutrition Foundation, 2016. Vitamins- Vitamin K page 6. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/vitamins.html?limit=1&start=5
  13. British Nutrition Foundation, 2016. Minerals and Trace Elements- Potassium page 8. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/minerals-and-trace-elements.html?limit=1&start=7
  14. British Nutrition Foundation, 2016. Minerals and Trace Elements- Calcium page 4. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/minerals-and-trace-elements.html?limit=1&start=3
  15. Prajapati, N.D., Purohit, S.S., Sharma, A.K. and Kumar, T., 2003. Medicinal plants. Agrobios published company, 3rd edition, India, 353.
  16. Yao, Y., and Ren, G., 2011. Effect of thermal treatment on phenolic composition and antioxidant activities of two celery cultivars. Lwt-Food Science and technology. January, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 181-185.