Fennel with its bulb-like shape and licorice-like flavor has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. According to Greek mythology, fennel stalks were used to carry knowledge down from Gods to men. Now we're passing knowledge about fennel's health benefits on to you.
Fennel Bulb Health Benefits and Nutrition Facts
1. Fennel bulb, stalk and leaves help with appetite and weight control.
Like most vegetables, fennel is low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber. One cup of fennel contains 2.9 grams of fiber and fewer than 30 calories (a healthy balanced diet for older adults includes 25-38 grams of fiber a day). The dietary fiber in fennel helps fill you up, so it's ideal for appetite and weight control. The soluble fiber in fennel can also help lower blood cholesterol and help control blood sugar.
2. Fennel is a good source of dietary folate.
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that's naturally found in a variety of foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables like fennel (avocado and asparagus are also good food sources of folate). The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health recommends adults aim to intake 400 micrograms of folate every day (the equivalent of 0.4 milligrams); one cup of chopped-up fennel contains approximately 23 micrograms of folate. A folate deficiency negatively impact the nervous system and can also result in anemia.
Folate is important to maintain a healthy nervous system and there's growing evidence that a lack of folate can affect mood and cognitive function in older adults.
(A word of caution: Folates and folic acid, a form of the vitamin used in supplements and fortified foods, should be used with caution if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency or epilepsy. If you suspect that you have a folate deficiency, don't head for the vitamin aisle. Instead, head to the doctor.)
3. Fennel is loaded with potassium.
With the advent of processed food, which has potassium removed, studies show that there has been a decrease in our overall potassium intake. A fennel bulb contains more than 960 milligrams of potassium, about 25 per cent of the recommended daily intake for adults. According to the American Heart Association, foods such as fennel that are loaded with potassium are important for managing high blood pressure because potassium balances out the negative effects of sodium.
4. Fennel contains calcium.
A fennel bulb contains 115 milligrams of calcium, just under 10 per cent of the recommended daily intake for older adults. Calcium-rich foods, such as chia seeds, bok choi and kale, are essential for bone health and osteoporosis prevention.
5. Fennel has anti-inflammatory benefits.
Fennel contains a variety of plant nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, including quercetin (also found in apples), rutin (good for blood circulation) and anethole (the source of fennel's distinctive black licorice-like flavor).
How to Add Fennel Bulb and Seeds to Your Diet
Fennel bulb, stalks, and leaves are all edible and delicious. Like other root vegetables, fennel is a great addition to soups, stews, chowders as well as salads and side dishes. Fennel leaves, which look a lot like a dill sprig, can be used as a garnish or the same way you'd use any fresh herb.
Fennel tea is also growing in popularity -- and it's easy to make. Steep one teaspoon of fennel seeds and one teaspoon of fennel leaves in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain, flavor with lemon and enjoy.
The bulb and stalks, which are the heart of the vegetable and are equally good raw or cooked. Thinly sliced raw fennel adds crunch to a salad and marries well with apple, celery and citrus flavors. The strong licorice flavor is more pronounced in raw fennel but mellows during cooking. Sautéed, stewed, braised or grilled, fennel is translucent and soft, very similar to onion. Try it different ways to see which you prefer.
Cara Rosenbloom is a Toronto-based registered dietitian, writer and recipe developer. She's the co-author of the best-selling cookbook Nourish: Whole Food Recipes featuring Seeds, Nuts and Beans (Whitecap, 2016) and writes a health column for the the Washington Post.
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