If you ever look at tables showing foods with the greatest amounts of different types of nutrient, you may be surprised to notice just how many tables parsley is at the top of. Parsley is basically a severely under-rated food.
Parsley is a biennial plant of the carrot family, sometimes called the parsley family. It also includes celery, coriander, dill, fennel and parsnip. That means it produces leaves one year and then flowers the next year. In the case of parsley, since we are normally interested in the leaves, it is generally treated as an annual that we plant every year, to produce leaves to eat.
There are three main varieties of parsley, the curly leaf, flat leaved (Italian or French) and root (Hamburg) parsley. The root parsley is eaten in central and eastern europe for its root, which looks like a parsnip, but tastes quite different. The other types are used as garnishes or in dishes such as parsley sauce and tabouleh.
Health benefits of parsley
Parsley contains a number of vitamins and phytonutrients that are important for our wellbeing. They include the following:
Vitamin A is present in abundance in the form of beta-carotene. In 100g of parsley you'll get 168% of the rda (recommended daily amount). The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A as needed so there is no danger of having too much.
Vitamin C is present in even more generous proportions. In 100g of parsley you'll receive 222% of your rda. To be honest the rda of vitamin C is far too low, however parsley is a very rich source of it. Compare an apple in which only 8% of the rda is provided by 100g!
Vitamin K is the most abundant vitamin relative to our need for it. It provides 2050% of our rda. The form in which it is present in parsley is the phylloquinone form, vitamin K1. This is the form that controls blood clotting, ensuring that our blood clots properly. As such users of anti-coagulant medications, such as Warfarin, should avoid consuming too much parsley. For others vitamin K1 presents no danger, as the body normally adjusts how much coagulation there is within optimal ranges, so long as it has sufficient vitamin K1.
Folic Acid is vital for good health, it can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, various cancers and Alzheimer's. In parsley you will find 38% of your daily requirement in 100g.
Flavanoids, once referred to as vitamin P, are found in parsley in the form of: apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol and luteolin. These substances have been found to be effective at preventing carcinogenic changes within the body(1)(2).
Oil soluble components
Oil soluble components include carotenoids such as beta-carotene (vitamin A again), lutein and zeaxanthin. Also included are alpha-thujene, eugenol, limonene and myristicin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with better health for the eyes. In particular tey help prevent age related macular degeneration, a common cause of reduced vision in the elderly(3).
A number of these compounds also have anti-cancer activity.
Parsley sauce was a regular part of my diet when I was growing up. It was used with fish dishes in particular. The recipe is:
Tabouleh is a Middle Eastern dish, often served as a mezze in the Arab world. Cous cous is an alternative to using bulgur wheat.
1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20553787 Crisoeriol - anti-cancer.
2) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100708141622.htm Luteolin anti-inflammatory.
3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15117055 Lutein good for vision.
4) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/jf00013a020 Myristicin induces our own antioxidant defense enzyme - glutathione.