Health Benefits of Celery

An astonishing number of articles about celery juice start with exactly the same sentence, “The benefits of celery juice are many!” Articles typically go on to exclaim, “Celery juice is a detoxifier! It has negative calories! It cures acne, hangnails (torn skin at the root of a fingernail), and cancer!”

Celery juice is tasty, inexpensive, modestly nutritious, and certainly not bad for you, in moderate amounts. But it’s not a miracle food! Don’t drink celery juice because of the hype about its nutritional powers. Drink celery juice because it tastes good.

What Is Celery?

Millions of North Americans know celery as that long, crunchy, green vegetable you buy because you want to make a soup or something special for Thanksgiving. A few stalks get washed, chopped, and used up, and the remaining stalks end up wilting and softening in the refrigerator. Even after the outer stalks of celery have started to age, just know that the tastiest part of the vegetable, the center, is probably still good and can be used in salads, soups, casseroles, or better still, to make juice.

Millions of Europeans, on the other hand, usually buy celery as celeriac, not the stem, but the root. The celery plant grows a hypocotyl that looks something like a large bulb. Europeans eat the root, and maybe throw away the stalks, saving the leaves for seasoning. Americans never see the root except in specialty groceries, and generally throw the leaves away, although many American recipes call for celery seed.

Sometimes the seed is ground and mixed with salt to make celery salt, which is used to flavour Bloody Mary cocktails and Chicago-style hot dogs. The seed is also used to make Old Bay Seasoning, which is used for flavouring seafood and for topping boiled eggs, deviled eggs, popcorn, fried chicken, French fries, tater tots, and corn on the cob.

Celery comes in two varieties, white and red. The white-stemmed celery is sweeter and the red-stemmed celery is more aromatic. In North America, almost all the celery sold is white, but in Europe, the red variety is equally popular.

What Are the Nutritional Qualities of Celery?

The lutein in celery is believed to be protective against colon cancer. Lutein is also available in many other vegetables.

Celery is the natural source of 3-n-butylphthalide, a calming chemical that may lower blood pressure. This is also the chemical that gives celery its distinctive flavour when raw. The famous American chef, James Beard, claimed to have cured his high blood pressure just by eating celery every day.

If you’re interested in using celery to cure high blood pressure, then see the comment at the end of this entry.

Celery is also a good source of most minerals, including potassium, magnesium, molybdenum, and manganese, as well as folic acid, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and vitamins C and K1.

There are two possible problems with eating very large amounts (more than one pound/about 500 grams) of celery per day. One is the sodium content. A pound of celery contains about half of a day’s allowance of sodium. Add salt to season the juice, and sodium cancels out the anti-hypertensive properties of the liquid.

Also, the furanocoumarins in celery, which are concentrated in the root (celeriac), increase sensitivity to sunburn. This is usually not a problem unless the eater also takes a medication that increases sensitivity to the sun, such as the blood pressure drug lisinopril.

What Health Issues Are Especially Responsive to Celery?

In addition to a slight effect on high blood pressure, celery fights the growth of bacteria, especially Listeria. Celery juice has a relatively high pH, and when it is added to juices and other foods in large enough amounts, it increases pH high enough so that bacteria don’t grow, although drinking celery juice won’t change your pH enough to fight bacteria that have already caused an infection inside the body.  Despite what the many thousands of internet articles report, foods do not change the pH of the body or the bloodstream, although they make it easier or harder for the body to regulate its own pH.  Adding celery to the juice you make at home helps it to last longer.

European scientists have completed preliminary studies on the use of celery juice as an antidote for the more severe side effects of chemotherapy with Adriamycin (doxorubicin). Because celery contains natural phthalates, scientists are also investigating whether it might protect the body from phthalides, common toxic chemicals used to make plastics.

Where Does Celery Fit in the Families of Vegetables?

Celery is a member of the plant family Apiaceae (formerly known as the Umbelliferae). Celery is a plant cousin of parsley and carrots, as well as the South American vegetable arracacha, chervil, cilantro (the leaf) or coriander (the seed), cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, and sea holly, all of which complement its flavour. Start with just a pinch of any of these spices, about 1/8 teaspoon (less than half a milligram), and add more if you like the taste.

Celery is also a plant relative of asafoetida, the seasoning ingredient in Worcestershire sauce and Bloody Mary mix. A tiny, tiny pinch of asafoetida is enough to add an interesting flavour to celery juice. Or you might prefer just to add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, but vegans need to know that the sauce contains anchovies, and is not suitable for diets free of animal products.

What Is the Best Way to Eat Celery Raw?

Celery is one of the vegetables that increase the antioxidant content when it is cut. Slicing celery, and just leaving it out on a kitchen counter in normal indoor lighting conditions, significantly increases available free radical fighters. It’s actually healthier, surprisingly enough, to eat celery sticks than it is to chomp down on a whole stalk.

If you are going to make celery sticks ahead of time, always store them in the coolest part of your refrigerator, and if you don’t have refrigeration, make sure you eat the sticks within six hours. This keeps any “stray” bacteria that escaped your kitchen prep work from multiplying to dangerous levels.

Many people like to eat their celery sticks with dip, soft cheeses or cream cheese, plain yogurt, or with cashew or peanut butter. When dipping celery sticks into a dairy product, don’t leave the dip out more than an hour or so, and even less if you think there have been some “double dippers” sharing your snack. Peanut butter and nut butters keep at room temperature indefinitely, but remember that celery does not. The same goes for the popular processed cheese products, La vac vache rit and Kraft Cheez Whiz; creamy dips that many people like to combine with celery sticks. Once you open a shelf-stable processed cheese product, just remember that it’s no longer shelf-stable.

What Is the Best Way to Use Celery in Salads?

As mentioned above, the nutritional content of celery is enhanced by slicing and chopping. It is not necessary to mince celery so fine that the crunch is lost, but thinner slices are better than thicker. Celery works well with sweet dressings because the flavours in it stimulate the back of the tongue, while the sweet dressing is sensed on the tip of the tongue. Adding celery to a salad with a sweet dressing (like Russian or French) brings out flavours that might otherwise be masked by the dressing.

Celery is also a great addition to salads when it’s necessary to cut back on the salt. There is sodium in celery, enough so that truly sodium-sensitive people (a small part of the population) really ought not to overindulge in the vegetable; eating no more than say 3-4 ounces (around 100 grams give or take) at a time. The sodium and potassium in celery can impart a mild salty taste to a salad when salt has to be left out.

What Is the Best Way to Cook Celery?

Celery doesn’t lose its mineral content when it’s cooked. The more pungent flavour elements are leached out of the stalk when it is heated, but the sugars in the stalk are caramelized giving them a richer flavour. The fibre in the celery is just as useful for digestive health when the vegetable is cooked as when it is eaten raw.

Antioxidants, however, are lost in cooking, especially when celery is braised or boiled. That’s OK. If you are eating lots of fruits and vegetables, you get all the antioxidants your body needs, in a balance it requires.

What Is the Best Way to Cook Celery?

Innumerable recipes call for diced, minced, or chopped celery in soups, stews, casseroles, and dips

What Is the Best Celery for Juicing?

Celery increases its antioxidant content after it is cut, and when the cut celery is exposed to light. Antioxidants act as a kind of first aid for the celery that gets transferred into the juice. You don’t want your celery to warm to room temperature though because there’s the possibility of a few bacteria clinging to the vegetable, even after it has been washed. Put chopped celery in a little ice water and allow it to stand in a clean container before making your juice.

What Are Some Ways to Make Celery Juice More Interesting?

Probably the simplest way to make a flavourful celery juice is to juice equal parts of celery and apples and then add crushed ice. The addition of the crushed ice ensures that you taste both the sweetness of the apple and the unique taste of the celery, and therefore changing the rate at which the tongue responds to different tastes, thus allowing both flavours come to through.

A dash of lemon juice also helps the flavours of celery come through in juice blends. Dipping the rim of the juice glass in crystalline salt ensures salivation so that the juice travels all over the tongue creating maximum sensation for the celery flavour.

Alternatively, you can try combining the following ingredients:

Celery and green apples.

Celery, apricot, and ginger.

Celery, collards, and parsley.

Celery, cucumber, and spinach.

Celery, ginger, and parsley.

Celery, grapefruit, and orange. Peel citrus before juicing to lessen bitterness, but add shavings of zest to the juice for more citrus flavour.

Celery, kale, and parsley.

Celery, pineapple and mango.

How Long Does Celery Juice Stay Fresh?

Because celery has a rough surface, at least on the part of the stem facing outwards, it picks up more bacteria than other vegetables. Laboratory tests have found that celery picks up three times as many bacteria as peeled carrots when cut on a dirty cutting board, such as one used for cutting meat without having been washed.

Tips for Frugal Use of Celery

It may seem like nutritional heresy to raw foods fans, but celery also increases its antioxidant content after it is cooked. If you can’t figure out what to do with leftover braised celery, don’t hesitate to add it to your juice mix. It won’t taste quite as “fresh,” but it will be even healthier.

Eating Celery for Treating High Blood Pressure? Really?

There isn’t any single food that will cure high blood pressure (hypertension), although some foods eaten in moderation are helpful. Celery contains large amounts of both sodium and potassium. Sometimes the benefits of extra potassium outweigh any problems from extra sodium. Celery is most likely to make a difference for the better when you are already trying to eat right.

There is purely anecdotal evidence that eating about 1/4 pound (100 grams) of raw celery every day (braised celery, which loses potassium during cooking, won’t work) can lower blood pressure in about a week. In one case where author Robert Rister (a chemist and formulator of nutritional supplements) followed closely, this amount of celery – and no other changes in diet or changes in medication – was enough to lower blood pressure from an unhealthy 158/96 to a healthy 118/82 in just seven days.

Just don’t eat more than that amount of celery or celeriac. There just isn’t any good information concerning long-term changes in blood pressure or potential problems from eating more than this relatively limited amount. And if you are taking a medication for high blood pressure in the class of drugs known as ACE inhibitors (lisinopril, for example), or from the class of drugs known as ACE receptor blockers (in the USA, losartan), then there are some chemicals in celery known as furanocoumarins that in combination with the medication increase your risk of sunburn. Don’t eat too much!

Bibliography:

Horsch AM, Sebranek JG, Dickson JS, Niebuhr SE, Larson EM, Lavieri NA, Ruther BL, Wilson LA. The effect of pH and nitrite concentration on the antimicrobial impact of celery juice concentrate compared with conventional sodium nitrite on Listeria monocytogenes.Meat Sci. 2013 Aug 3;96(1):400-407. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2013.07.036. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 23973624.

Jensen DA, Friedrich LM, Harris LJ, Danyluk MD, Schaffner DW. Quantifying Transfer Rates of Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 between Fresh-Cut Produce and Common Kitchen Surfaces. J Food Prot. 2013 Sep;76(9):1530-8. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-13-098.

Jiménez-Monreal AM, García-Diz L, Martínez-Tomé M, Mariscal M, Murcia MA. Influence of cooking methods on antioxidant activity of vegetables. J Food Sci. 2009 Apr;74(3):H97-H103. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01091.x.

Slattery ML, Benson J, Curtin K, Ma KN, Schaeffer D, Potter JD. Carotenoids and colon cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Feb;71(2):575-82.

 

About Andy Williams

Andy Williams has a Ph.D. in biology and a strong interest in health and nutrition. The Paleo Gut web site was created to explore the health benefits of the Paleo diet and see how it is changing lives. Also, get our free daily Paleo Gut newspaper delivered to your inbox.

Please feel free to contact me and let me know about your Paleo experiences or favorite recipes.

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