Mayo Clinic Health System dietitian gives nutritional background of celery
by Linda Carruthers,
registered dietitian nutritionist
at Mayo Clinic Health System
Celery, which belongs to the parsley family, was used medicinally in ancient Rome, China and Egypt to treat indigestion, arthritis and insomnia. In ancient Egypt and Greece, celery leaves were used to make crowns for winners of athletic games as well as to make funeral garlands. In the 1600s it began to be used in French kitchens.
Although there are different varieties of celery, the one we are most familiar with in the United States is the light green celery. Other varieties include gold, dark green, red, Australian, Maori and Vietnamese. Celery is a biennial plant, which means the plant ends its life cycle in two years. It can reach the height of 3.3 feet, and one ounce of celery seeds is enough to produce one acre of celery. Today, California, Florida and Michigan alone produce more than a billion pounds of celery annually.
All parts of celery are edible, but most of us eat it raw or cooked in soups or stews. Celery can also be steamed, braised, sautéed or blanched. In the culinary world, mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwa) is made from diced celery, carrots and onions that are cooked in some fat for a long time on low heat without browning. It becomes a sweet mixture used as a flavorful base for soups and stews. Celery is also an important part of well-known Cajun dishes like gumbo and jambalaya.
In addition to eating the stalk, celery leaves and celery seed can also be used in cooking. The leaves have a stronger flavor than the stalk, and can be added to soup or a stir fry, or be used a substitute for cilantro or parsley. Celery seeds can be used for pickling, as an addition to dips or marinades, or as a seasoning to fish or vegetable dishes.
You may have heard celery is a “negative calorie” food, meaning when you digest it, you will burn more calories than it contains. While there is no evidence to support this claim, celery is very low in calories at only six calories per medium stalk, or 16 calories per cup of diced celery. For people with diabetes, one cup of diced celery contains only three grams of carbohydrate, and 1.4 grams of fiber.
Celery is an excellent source of vitamin K, but keep in mind it has only 30 mg in one cup of diced celery, which is low compared to 200-500 mg in dark green leafy veggies. If you juice celery, vitamin K can add up quickly, so if you’re taking a blood-thinning medication such as Coumadin (Warfarin), you’ll want to be aware of this as too much vitamin K can reduce the impact of the medication.
Celery is a very good source of folate, potassium, fiber and manganese. It’s also a good source of vitamins B2, B6, and A, copper, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and phytochemicals including phenolic acids, flavones and flavonols, which are thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Celery contains about 35 milligrams of sodium per stalk — not a concern for most people, but those on a sodium-restricted diet should be aware of this.
Choosing and preparing celery
To make sure you are getting the best celery, make sure it has crisp leaves and firm, straight stalks that snap when broken. The darker the color of the celery, the richer the flavor will be. Keep whole, fresh, raw celery in a plastic bag in the salad drawer of your refrigerator for one to two weeks to preserve the most nutrients. Stalks should not be removed from the bunch until you are ready to use them. Chop it immediately before using to retain the most nutrients, flavor and texture. When you are ready to use it, cut off the base of the celery and the leaves, rinse the stalks in water.
Celery is a great addition to casseroles and soups. Try adding diced celery to soups even if they don’t call for it.