Whenever I think of turnips, I can’t help recalling that line in Tennessee Williams’s famous play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where Big Daddy calls the little kids “no-neck monsters”! That’s because turnips have no necks and the fact that they grow just about anywhere— in the poorest soil– has made them kind of like the “catfish” of vegetables, endearing them to the poor and giving them pretty low status among snobbier folk who haven’t tasted them.
But they’re anything but a poor country cousin when it comes to nutrition.
Turnips are among the most commonly grown and widely adapted root crops. You might be surprised to learn that they’ve got more in common with broccoli than with potatoes. That’s because turnips are actually members of the same general family as Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cabbage and kale—the Brassica family, which I often refer to “vegetable royalty”. The brassica family has many genres and species, but in general are widely acclaimed for their cancer-fighting indoles and isothiocyanates and other health-giving phytochemicals. And, along with rutabagas, turnips are particularly high in anti-carcinogenic glucosinolates.
Turnip Greens Promote Bone Health
Turnips are another of those “high-volume” foods that fill you up without costing you a lot of calories. A cup of cooked turnips (without the greens) has all of about 35 calories, with 3 g of fiber, more than 250 mg of potassium, 18 mg of vitamin C, and 51 mg of calcium. Add the nutritious bone-building greens to the mix and your calcium nearly triples to 148 mg, plus you get a whopping 14,000 IUs of vitamin A, more than 8,000 IUs of beta-carotene, and an incredible 676 mcg of bone-friendly vitamin K. In the bargain, you also get more than 15,000 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin, two members of the carotenoid family that have been shown (in a study known as the AREDS-2 Study) to help protect the eyes from vision problems like macular degeneration.
Turnip greens are sometimes available by themselves, usually next to other greens like kale and collards, but sometimes at a farmers’ market you’ll be able to find the turnips with the tops attached. Buy them!
Turnips are very high in nitrates, which, contrary to a lot of misinformation, are actually very good for you. They convert to nitrites, which, in the absence of high heat, convert to nitric oxide, one of the most potent and health-giving molecules on the planet. Dietary nitrate reduces blood pressure, inhibits platelet aggregation, improves endothelial function and enhances exercise performance, one reason why those beet root juice supplements you see at every Whole Foods are popular with athletes.
I love using turnips as a faux mashed potato. Just boil or bake, mash, add a little grass-fed milk or cream, some grass-fed butter and Himalayan sea salt and go to town. And remember, one cup of cooked turnips provides a nice 4 grams of fiber. Try getting that from your Corn Flakes. (To save the skeptics among you from having to look it up, Corn Flakes have exactly .9 grams of fiber per cup. That’s point nine, as in less than one gram.)