By Dr. Mercola
Bok choy is the most popular vegetable in China, where it’s been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. This member of the cruciferous vegetable family is a type of cabbage that has a mild flavor, making it useful for stir fries, soups, side dishes, or even eating raw.
But it’s because of bok choy’s impressive nutritional profile that it’s long been a member of my most highly recommended vegetables list. Bok choy, which is also referred to as Chinese white cabbage, contains vitamins C and K, plus a higher concentration of beta-carotene and vitamin A than any other variety of cabbage.1
It also contains important nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, all wrapped up in an extremely low-calorie package (some classify bok choy as a zero-calorie or negative-calorie food).
One cup of bok choy contains only about 20 calories, but its high levels of dietary fiber will fill you up, making it an excellent food for weight loss. Even more exciting, bok choy contains a wealth of phytonutrients that offer powerful and unique benefits to your health.
Boost Your Antioxidant Levels (and Fight Cancer) by Eating Bok Choy
Cabbage including bok choy contains powerful antioxidants like vitamins A and C and phytonutrients such as thiocyanates, lutein, zeaxanthin, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane, which stimulate detoxifying enzymes and may protect against breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Indole-3-carbinol, another antioxidant phytocompound in bok choy, halts the cell cycle in breast cancer cells without actually killing the cells,2 which might help explain why Chinese breast cancer survivors who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had a 62 percent lower risk of mortality, 62 percent lower risk of breast cancer mortality, and 35 percent lower risk of breast cancer recurrence than those who ate the least.3
Remember, in China, bok choy is the number one vegetable (whereas in the US, the most commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables are broccoli and Brussels sprouts).
Sulforaphane also targets cancer stem cells, and by doing so it effectively prevents the cancer from spreading and/or recurring. Antioxidants also help protect your body from oxidative stress and chronic diseases like age-related macular degeneration. What else is bok choy good for?
Bok Choy Is Anti-Inflammatory
Bok choy contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep inflammation in check. You need some level of inflammation in your body to stay healthy. However, it's also possible, and increasingly common, for the inflammatory response to get out of hand.
If your immune system mistakenly triggers an inflammatory response when no threat is present, it can lead to significant inflammation-related damage to the body, a condition linked to cancer and other diseases, depending on which organs the inflammation is impacting.
Among the anti-inflammatory compounds in bok choy are anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol, and thiocyanate, an antioxidant that’s been found to protect cells from inflammatory substances produced in response to injury or infection in your body.
In fact, researchers believe thiocyanate may hold clues to treating serious inflammatory disorders including cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and diabetes.4 And remember the indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that I mentioned in regard to breast cancer? I3C is also anti-inflammatory and it operates on a genetic level, helping to prevent inflammatory responses at the very early, initial stages of disease development.5
Better Bone Health Via Vitamin K
One cup of bok choy contains about 26 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K1,6 a fat-soluble vitamin most well-known for the important role it plays in blood clotting and bone metabolism. Vitamin K1 is also a known Alzheimer’s disease preventive by helping to limit neuron damage in your brain.
Bok choy is also an excellent source of calcium… so good that nutrition experts from The Harvard School of Public Health called out bok choy as being a better source of dietary calcium than dairy products.7 It also contains other important nutrients for bone health, including magnesium and phosphorus.
B Vitamins Galore
Cabbage like bok choy contains healthy amounts of B vitamins, including folate (which is better than the synthetic form known as folic acid found in many supplements), vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin B5. B vitamins are not only important for energy, but they may also slow brain shrinkage by as much as seven-fold in brain regions specifically known to be most impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
Regulate Your Immune Function
In addition to being a cruciferous veggie, bok choy is also classified as a green leafy vegetable, which are among the best for your health. Researchers at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Molecular Immunology division have discovered that a gene, called T-bet, which is essential for producing critical immune cells in your gut, responds to the food you eat—specifically leafy green vegetables.8 According to the press release:9
"The immune cells, named innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), are found in the lining of the digestive system and protect the body from 'bad' bacteria in the intestine. They are also believed to play an important role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases and obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancers.
...[T]he research team revealed T-bet was essential for generating a subset of ILCs which is a newly discovered cell type that protects the body against infections entering through the digestive system.
'In this study, we discovered that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs, which it does in response to signals in the food we eat and to bacteria in the gut,' Dr Belz said. 'ILCs are essential for immune surveillance of the digestive system and this is the first time that we have identified a gene responsible for the production of ILCs.'"
ILCs are thought to be essential for:
- Maintaining balance between tolerance, immunity, and inflammation in your body
- Producing interleukin-22 (IL-22), a hormone that can protect your body from pathogenic bacteria
- Maintaining healthy intestinal balance by promoting growth of beneficial bacteria and healing small wounds and abrasions in the gut
- Helping resolve cancerous lesions
Support Your Heart Health
Sulforaphane in bok choy and other cruciferous vegetables has been found to significantly improve blood pressure and kidney function.10 Scientists believe sulforaphane's benefits are related to improved DNA methylation, which is crucial for normal cellular function and proper gene expression, especially in the easily damaged inner lining of the arteries known as the endothelium.
How to Select and Prepare Bok Choy
When choosing bok choy, look for firm stalks and dark-green, crisp leaves. Avoid those that are wilted or soft. Bok choy can be stored, dry, in your refrigerator for several days. To prepare, trim off the base and any discolored leaves. Separate the stalks and wash them under cold running water.
While both the stalks and the leaves can be consumed, it’s best to cook them separately, as the stalks will take longer to cook. Avoid overcooking, as cabbage of all kinds is best prepared as close to raw as possible, sometimes called tender-crisp, to preserve its many nutrients. Short-cooked and raw cabbage, for instance, were the only kind that had measurable cancer-preventive benefits in one study (long-cooked cabbage did not have measurable benefits!).11
Microwaving is another no-no for bok choy, as just two minutes in the microwave destroys many of the enzymes needed to convert the glucosinolates into cancer-preventive compounds.12 Bok choy can be used in place of red or green cabbage in recipes, as well as eaten raw (such as in salads, coleslaw, or juicing). You can also use bok choy as a base when making fermented vegetables (although, in the US, it tends to be more expensive than green cabbage).
Visit Our Food Facts Library for Empowering Nutrition Information
If you want to learn even more about what's in the food you're eating, visit our Food Facts library. Most people are not aware of the wealth of nutrients available in healthful foods, particularly organic fruits and vegetables. By getting to know your food, you can make informed decisions about how to eat healthier and thereby boost your brain function, lower your risk of chronic disease, lose weight, and much more.
Food Facts is a directory of the most highly recommended health foods to add to your wholesome diet. Its purpose is to provide you with valuable information about various types of foods including recipes to help you maximize these benefits. You'll learn about nutrition facts, scientific studies, and even interesting trivia about each food in the Food Facts library. Remember, knowing what's in your food is the first step to choosing and preparing nutritious meals each and every day. So visit Mercola Food Facts today to get started.