Do you know what vegetable is in the top three on the aggregate nutrient density index, meaning it delivers one of the highest levels of nutrients per calorie compared to other foods? That would be bok choy (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis) — also called pak choi and white cabbage — which not only has just 12 calories per cup, but also packs a potent nutrient punch. It’s also a great winter vegetable.

Why is bok choy good for you? As a part of a powerful group of vegetables called cruciferous vegetables (also referred to as veggies in the Brassica family), bok choy isn’t just a great source of vitamins and minerals — it’s also been shown to help prevent cancer. It’s also one of the top anti-inflammatory foods on the planet, giving it the ability to reduce the risk for conditions like heart disease.

Think kale is too bitter? Can’t eat collard greens without adding salt? Bok choy may be your new go-to superfood. Its mild, sweet flavor and crispy texture make it a great addition to any dish whether raw or cooked, as well as an alternative to other dark leafy greens.

Nutrition Facts

Why is bok choy a superfood? It’s a part of a powerful group of vegetables known for incredible health benefits through detoxification. Brassica vegetables provide health-promoting phytochemicals, such as vitamins, carotenoids, fiber, soluble sugars, minerals, glucosinolates and phenolic compounds.

Bok choy is a great food to incorporate into your diet because of its low calorie content and many health benefits, such as cancer prevention, healthy digestion, and a hefty serving of many vitamins and minerals.

It provides a high level of vitamin A and C per serving. From antioxidants and an impressive number of phytonutrients to an abundance of minerals like iron, calcium, manganese and folate, bok choy can benefit almost every system in the body.

Depending on how you prepare bok choy, there are varying levels of vitamins and minerals available. Raw bok choy contains even more nutrients but most consume it cooked, so here’s the nutritional data for the cooked version.

One cup of shredded bok choy that’s been boiled and drained (without salt) contains:

  • Calories: 20
  • Total Carbohydrates: 3 g
  • Fiber: 1.7 g
  • Sugar: 1.4 g
  • Total Fat: 0.3 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0.04 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.13 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 0.02 g
  • Trans Fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 2.6 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 57.8 mg (2.5% DV*)
  • Vitamin C: 44.2 mg (49% DV)
  • Vitamin A: 360 mcg (40% DV)
  • Folate: 69.7 mcg (17% DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.282 mg (16% DV)
  • Potassium: 631 mg (13% DV)
  • Calcium: 158 mg (12% DV)
  • Manganese: 0.245 mg (11% DV)
  • Iron: 1.77 mg (10% DV)

*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.

Health Benefits

1. Helps Treat and Prevent Cancer

Incorporating bok choy into your regular diet can help decrease inflammation, fight free radical damage and give your body some of the most powerful tools it needs to fight disease. Cruciferous vegetables are known for their glucosinolates, sulfur-containing chemicals that sometimes cause a bitter flavor.

During the preparation, chewing and digestion of these vegetables, other compounds — such as indole, nitrile and sulforaphane — that have proven anticancer effects are created. These compounds are effective against cancer because they can do things like help protect cells from DNA damage and inactivate carcinogens. This is partly why cruciferous veggies are some of the top cancer-fighting foods around.

Bok choy also contains brassinin, an antimicrobial and often antioxidative substance that’s a proven chemopreventive agent. Many studies have shown that individuals who consume multiple servings of cruciferous vegetables per week are at a lower risk of cancers, specifically prostate, colorectal, lung and breast cancer.

2. Provides Antioxidant Power

Bok choy is among the top three vegetables on the aggregate nutrient density index. This means it delivers one of the highest levels of nutrients per calorie compared to other foods. Can bok choy help you lose weight? It may help you feel satisfied without overeating, which is why including vegetables in your diet is important for appetite control.

Free radicals can wreak havoc on the body, yet high-antioxidant foods like bok choy do a great job at scavenging these disease-causing molecules. Just one cup of this leafy vegetable can provide substantially more than your RDA of vitamin A and vitamin C if you consume it raw.

Beyond these traditional antioxidants, there are a number of phytonutrients and phenolic acids in cabbage varieties — such as caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid and myricetin— that activate a number of beneficial antioxidant activities. When fermented, antioxidants in cabbages also become more bioavailable, according to some research.

3. Reduces Inflammation

Many of the polyphenols found in this form of Chinese cabbage help reduce inflammation. Bok choy also provides vitamin K, which helps lower the risk of unwanted inflammation, which is at the root of many illnesses and can cause considerable damage if left untreated.

4. Promotes Eye Health

Carrots are popularly known as the vegetable that helps keep eyes healthy, but thanks to substantial amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene, bok choy is a serious contender.

Aside from being an antioxidant that can help prevent infection, vitamin A is also very effective at preventing cataracts since it fights free radicals that damage our eyes and the rest of the body. Vitamin A foods can also help improve low-light vision and treat dry eyes and other eye-related diseases.

5. Strengthens Bones

Bok choy has a stellar lineup of nutrients that help promote bone health — including iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and bone-building vitamin K. In addition, this superfood is a much healthier alternative to fat-filled milk for getting the RDA of calcium and preventing calcium deficiency.

The primary mineral found in bones and teeth is made with calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin K is proven to increase bone density in osteoporotic individuals, as well as reduce fracture rates. The combination of these minerals greatly contributes to the growth and maintenance of healthy bones and muscles.

6. Lowers Blood Pressure and Promotes Heart Health

As a calcium- and potassium-rich food, bok choy naturally lowers blood pressure. Potassium also helps process sodium, which reduces the damage sodium does to the cardiovascular system. Vitamin K also helps with proper blood clotting.

The vitamin B6 and folate in this nutrient superstar help prevent the accumulation of a compound called homocysteine. When too much is created in the body, it can lead to damage to blood vessels and heart problems.

7. Benefits Healthy Skin and Hair

One serving of bok choy provides almost half of the daily recommended levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps grow collagen, a protein needed to keep skin and hair healthy. As a vitamin C food, the healthy levels of collagen help smooth wrinkles and improve complexion. The antibacterial qualities of this veggie also help combat skin infections like acne and eczema.

8. Boosts the Immune System

Vitamin C is at the forefront of why this powerful veggie is an immune system booster. It’s a powerful antioxidant that helps bolster and maintain a healthy immune system. Selenium, another mineral found in bok choy, also helps stimulate production of killer T-cells. Incorporating it into meals could be a way to fight off common illness throughout the year.

9. Assists in a Healthy Pregnancy

Bok choy, along with many other leafy greens, provides a great serving of folate. During pregnancy, the body’s need for folate doubles due to the rapid growth and division of cells.

Consuming enough folate foods and folic acid helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly and provides a number of other benefits to keep you and your baby healthy throughout your pregnancy.

How to Use

Although bok choy is available year-round, it’s better harvested and enjoyed in the winter months. When grown in warm temperatures, the plant wilts, and its flavor can be negatively affected. It takes about two months from planting to harvest this vegetable. If you have a green thumb, you can also grow it at home. These plants grow best in spring or fall to avoid wilting from the summer heat. It’s a great addition to a backyard or window garden so it’s easily accessible for cooking.

Bok choy comes in many varieties. The variations are usually related to the size and shape of the plant, but all types have a similar upright, cylindrical stem with green or violet leaves. Large bok choy has white stalks and crinkly green leaves, while baby bok choy has small, light green stalks and tender baby leaves.

Baby bok choy is slightly milder and more sweet but can easily be overcooked. When mature, it has a stronger flavor and can hold up better during preparation.

How long does fresh bok choy last?

It’s best to consume fresh bok choy within two to five days of purchasing it. If stored properly, it will last up to a week but, but the nutrient content is greatest when it’s eaten within several days.

How do you keep bok choy fresh? How do you make bok choy last longer?

At home, be sure to store bok choy in a cold environment to make sure it stays fresh and retains its vitamin C content. You can store in a plastic bag inside the refrigerator to prolong freshness. If transferring to another container, be sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible.

Can I freeze fresh bok choy?

Yes, to freeze it, first gently wipe it down with a damp paper towel to remove any dirt, but do not wash or soak it under water — this will cause it to become soggy. Cut it into pieces, both leaves and stems, and then place it in freezer bags. Try to get all the air out of the bag before sealing and lay flat in the freezer.

How can you tell if bok choy is bad?

When choosing bok choy at the market, you should look for perky, dark green leaves with rigid, white stalks. This can indicate it’s gone bad.

How to Cook

The major shift in nutrients between raw and cooked bok choy is the level of vitamin C and K depletion when the vegetable is cooked.

Which part of bok choy do you eat?

You can eat both the leaves and stalks. Immediately before preparing, make sure to separate the stalks and the leaves for a good washing. If you’re cooking the bok choy, it’s best to start with the stalks, as they take longer. You can add the leaves as the stalks begin to soften.

How do you prepare bok choy?

Preparing bok choy can be done in so many different ways. Here are a few ideas to make it a healthy part of your daily meals:

  • Raw in a bok choy salad
  • Boiled in a soup
  • Grated to make a curry
  • Fried into a bok choy stir-fry
  • Steamed into a vegetable dish (to cook bok choy without oil, you can steam bok choy in the microwave briefly)
  • Shredded into a coleslaw
  • Pickled to make kimchi
  • Sautéed bok choy can be added to broths to enhance flavor and nutrient content
  • Cut and grilled bok choy can be sprinkled with coarse salt and served over flatbreads or atop burgers

Is it safe to eat raw bok choy?

Yes, you can add raw bok choy leaves to salads, to garnish soups or stir-fries, etc.

How long does bok choy take to cook?

Some chefs recommend cooking bok choy quickly, for only several minutes, so the stalks stay crisp and the leaves get tender. Try adding the stalks to a hot pan first to stir-fry and then the green leaves a minute or two later.

History and Uses

Bok choy has roots in traditional Asian cooking, but it’s been integrated into many different world cuisines over the past century or so. While it is also referred to as Chinese cabbage, these two vegetables are actually different species, although closely related.

Bok choy and other Chinese cabbage varieties have been enjoyed as part of Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese and other Asian cuisine for thousands of years. It was introduced to Europe in the 1800s and is now widely produced in Canada and the U.S.

The Chinese consider food their medicine, which is probably why nutrient-rich cabbages are staples in Chinese cuisine. In addition to its other names, bok choy is sometimes called “soup spoon” because its stalk and leaves resemble a spoon.

Kimchee is the Korean name for pickled bok choy, which is a recipe that is likely thousands of years old. While kimchi is traditionally made with napa cabbage, many kimchi variations exist, including a recipe made with bok choy, carrots, radishes, other cabbages, and dried shrimp or fish.

Risks and Side Effects

Bok choy is commonly referred to as “goitrogenic.” This means it contains chemicals that can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. For people with thyroid dysfunction, there is concern cruciferous vegetables and other goitrogenic foods are related to inflammation, iodine metabolism issues and overall thyroid malfunction.

More up-to-date research has shown that very few circumstances allow for goitrogenic foods to have a negative effect on the thyroid, and the number of beneficial nutrients found in foods like bok choy outweigh concerns about the thyroid. If you suffer from thyroid issues, speak with your doctor before consuming bok choy.

Final Thoughts

  • Bok choy is among the top three foods on the aggregate nutrient density index. This means it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there.
  • Some of the biggest benefits of this cruciferous, anti-inflammatory vegetable include helping treat and prevent cancer, providing a high amount of antioxidants, reducing inflammation, promoting eye health, strengthening bones, lowering blood pressure and promoting heart health, aiding in healthy skin and hair, boosting the immune system, and assisting in a healthy pregnancy.
  • The major shift in nutrients between raw and cooked bok choy is the level of vitamin C and K depletion when the vegetable is cooked. It’s best to consume it raw to get the most nutrients or at the very least only lightly cook it.
  • Although it is available year-round, it’s better harvested and enjoyed in the winter months. When grown in warm temperatures, the plant wilts and its flavor is negatively affected.
  • Both the stalks and leaves of this veggie can be eaten, including raw or cooked. Here’s how to prepare bok choy: rinse or rub with a damp towel, chop and quickly saute, grill, steam or boil.

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