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What Are the Health Benefits of Leeks?

by
author image Sylvie Tremblay, MSc
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.
What Are the Health Benefits of Leeks?
Reach for leeks as a potent source of vitamin K. Photo Credit Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images

A close relative of onions and garlic, leeks have a mild onion-like flavor that works well in soups and a variety of other dishes. One cup of leeks -- approximately one whole leek -- contains just 54 calories, so leeks add bulk to your meal to keep you feeling full, without significantly boosting your calorie intake. Leeks serve as excellent sources of vitamins, and also offer health benefits thanks to their phytonutrient content.

Vitamin A: Not Only for Eyes

Adding leeks to your diet helps ensure that you meet your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. A single one-cup serving of leeks boasts 1,484 international units of vitamin A -- 64 percent of the daily intake for women and 49 percent for men, set by the Institute of Medicine. Getting enough vitamin A in your diet supports healthy blood cell development, including the growth of new red blood cells that transport oxygen, and white blood cells that fight infection. Vitamin A also helps your retinas -- the tissues in your eyes that detect light and color -- to function under low-light conditions.

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Vitamin K for Blood and Bones

Leeks also provide a generous amount of vitamin K. Vitamin K benefits every tissue in your body, helping to regulate blood flow, while low vitamin K levels can induce bleeding, which can negatively affect your circulation. Getting enough vitamin K also activates osteocalcin, which is a protein essential for bone health. Leeks contain 42 micrograms of vitamin K per cup. This provides 47 percent of the daily vitamin K intake for women and 34 percent for men, set by the Institute of Medicine.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Protect Your Vision

Consume leeks as a source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds contribute to healthy eyesight. They protect your eye tissues from oxidative damage -- harmful oxidation of your DNA and cell membranes -- by filtering out harmful light rays as they enter your eye. The American Optometric Association also notes that lutein and zeaxanathin, when consumed in adequate amounts, protect you from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. The AOA recommends 12 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin daily to reap these benefits, and each cup of leaks contains 1.7 milligrams, or 14 percent of this goal.

Tips for Consuming More Leeks

Leeks' mild flavor works well in vegetable-based dishes. Saute thinly sliced leeks in olive oil and a small amount of vegetable broth, then garnish with chopped basil immediately before serving. Prepare a healthful but decadent breakfast by cooking leeks and chopped sweet potatoes in a cast iron skillet, and then cracking an egg on top and broiling until it's set. Use leeks in crustless quiche -- they pair particularly well with mushrooms and red peppers, or make homemade leek and potato soup for a hearty meal to warm you up in cool weather.

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