Most of us think of celery as a low-calorie salad vegetable, rather than a foundational staple of a health-focused diet plan. But recent research has demonstrated the anti-inflammatory benefits of celery, as well as the protection it offers against inflammation in the human digestive tract. Equally importantly, celery appears to support cardiovascular health and optimal blood pressure.
Celery has unique non-starch polysaccharides, including apiuman, that have particular importance in preventing inflammation. Other plants use starchy polysaccharides to store simple sugars, while the non-starch variety in celery are comprised of pectins rather than simple sugars. Celery contains the best-known antioxidants, vitamin C and flavanoids, as well as at least a dozen other varieties of antioxidant nutrients such as dihydrostilbenoids like lunularin, and furanocoumarins like bergapten and psoralen. Celery’s extraordinary anti-inflammatory properties are due largely to its phenolic nutrients that protect against oxygen damage to cells, blood vessels and internal organs.
The potential benefits of celery extend to cardiovascular protection, which is not surprising considering its antioxidant properties. Oxidative stress and inflammation within the arteries are implicated in the development of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. There are promising connections between celery’s pectin-based polysaccharides and a decrease in cardiovascular inflammation.
Phtalides are one category of the phytonutrients present in celery. In addition to contributing to the unique flavor of celery, they act as smooth muscle relaxants. The relaxation of the smooth muscles that surround blood vessels allows blood to flow more freely. This process is known as vasodilation, and it results in lower blood pressure.
Studies show raw celery can be safely stored 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator. Some nutrients may be stable in whole refrigerated celery beyond 7 days, but after that time, the level of phenolic antioxidants begins to decline. To preserve flavonoid content, chop your celery immediately before using it; this will safeguard its maximum nutritional potency.
The best way to cook celery is steaming, which prevents destruction of the phenol-based antioxidants. Boiling and blanching celery for 10 minutes have both been shown in studies to destroy 38 to 41 percent of antioxidants, while steaming retains a full 83 to 99 percent, even beyond 10 minutes.
Celery is still an excellent choice for people watching their weight, but don’t stop there. Use celery raw and steamed, in a variety of cold and hot dishes.