When It Comes to Healthy Veggies, Heart of Palm Is Practically Royalty

Hearts of palm are a type of vegetable harvested from a number of palm tree species. The edible cores from the palm tree stems are firm and smooth and are described as resembling the flavor of an artichoke. Their crisp texture makes them an ideal addition to salads and stir-fry meals. Palm hearts also contain beneficial nutrients and contribute to a healthy diet.

Hearts of palm are a low-calorie vegetable rich in potassium and vitamin B6. (Image: jantroyka/iStock/GettyImages)

Low in Calories

A 1-ounce serving of raw hearts of palm provides 32 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database. If you're preparing a salad with palm hearts, note that many salad dressings contain calorie-rich oils and a palm heart salad topped liberally with dressing becomes a high-calorie dish. In addition to being low in calories, a 1-ounce portion is fat free and contains 1 gram of protein.

High in Carbohydrates

Most of the calories in palm hearts come from carbohydrates. A 1-ounce serving has 7 grams of total carbohydrates, including energy-providing complex carbs and natural sugars. You'll also get 0.4 grams of fiber, which isn't a large amount, but since most Americans barely consume half of their recommended daily allowance of fiber, every little bit helps. Dietary fiber is best known as roughage that keeps you regular, but it's also essential for lowering cholesterol and preventing spikes in blood sugar that can lead to weight gain and Type 2 diabetes.

Good Source of Potassium

Potassium is quite literally a nutrient you can't live without because it keeps your heartbeat regular, stimulates muscles and triggers nerve impulses. It also provides another health benefit: Potassium lowers blood pressure. In this role, it offsets the sodium in your diet, which raises blood pressure. Hearts of palm are a good source of this mineral. A 1-ounce serving contains 506 milligrams of potassium. Since the recommended daily intake is 4,700 milligrams, 1 ounce supplies 10 percent of your daily potassium.

Helps You Get More Vitamin B6

About 100 different enzymes in your body need vitamin B6 to do their jobs, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some of these jobs include the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as the synthesis of hemoglobin. Because of its role in making hemoglobin, a deficiency of vitamin B6 can cause anemia. You also need vitamin B6 to produce neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood and sleep cycle. If you eat a 1-ounce serving of hearts of palm, you'll get 0.23 milligrams of vitamin B6. That might sound like a small amount, but it's actually 18 percent of your recommended daily allowance.

Healthy Ways to Eat Hearts of Palm

Hearts of palm are a versatile vegetable and particularly useful in vegan cooking. Whether fresh or out of a jar, hearts of palm can be used in many types of dishes. If you're using fresh hearts of palm, a little prep work may be in order. Make a lengthwise slice and peel away the tough outer layers until you reach the tender core. Eat hearts of palm raw or blanch them to make them more tender before adding them to your dish. Some ideas on how to use them are:

  • Mix a little lime zest into olive oil and garlic and add to finely chopped, canned hearts of palm for a low-fat creamy dip.
  • Chop hearts of palm into shreds to look like fresh crab meat. Add mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and Old Bay seasoning for a healthy main course.
  • Go Brazilian with a heart of palm, olive and tomato salad, using creamy avocado and mayonnaise dressing.
  • Pan sear hearts of palm and use as a substitute for seafood in your favorite recipe.
  • Lightly sprinkle braised hearts of palm with cayenne and herbs and serve them over watercress, mandarin orange sections, red onions and spinach.
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