Is Bok Choy Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Has to Say
Bok choy is one of the many types of Chinese cabbages widely eaten in Chinese communities. In Cantonese, bok choy means "white vegetable." You'll also find this staple available in Asian grocery stores, as well as in many major grocery stores. What's so special about bok choy? Read on to find out what it is and its potential health benefits.
What Is Bok Choy?
Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage that's part of the Brassica or cruciferous family. It's a relative to broccoli, cauliflower, kale and mustard greens.
Also commonly known as white Chinese cabbage, bok choy isn't the type of cabbage where the leaves curl inward to form a ball. Instead, bok choy has a bulbous base, with light to dark green leaf blades bushing out, forming a cluster of greens. When the stems are broken from the bulb, the curly end of the stems resembles a spoon.
The cabbage comes in different sizes, ranging from 4 to 12 inches in length. The smaller varieties are called the "baby" versions of the conventional or "large" types. Baby versions are also more tender and less tough and stringy in texture than the large varieties.
Bok choy's leaves and stems are edible, offering a hybrid flavor resembling spinach and water chestnuts. You'll notice it's slightly sweet with a mild pepper tone. The leaves have more flavor than the tender-crisp and moist stem.
This crunchy and leafy cabbage comes in two main varieties: white bok choy and Shanghai bok choy (aka Shanghai green). The latter is similar to the white variety except with light green stems. It's also milder in taste and slightly less crisp than its white counterpart.
Bok Choy Nutrition
Here is the nutrition breakdown for 1 cup of cooked bok choy:
- 20 calories
- 3g protein
- 0g fat
- 3g carbohydrate
- 2g fiber
- 158 mg calcium
- 631 mg potassium
- 2 mg iron
- 44 mg vitamin C
Overall, bok choy is a low-calorie, low-fat and highly nutritious leafy green vegetable, high in vitamin C and potassium and providing a good source of calcium and iron.
Potential Health Benefits of Bok Choy
Including vegetables like bok choy as a regular part of your diet may provide potential health benefits, including the following:
May reduce the risk of cancer
Bok choy is a phytonutrient-rich vegetable with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce the risk of bladder, gastric, colorectal and endometrial cancers. A meta-analysis and review of research in the journal Food Chemistry found that eating 100 grams of cruciferous vegetables, such as bok choy, every day was associated with a 10% reduction in the risk of death from any cause. (100 grams of cooked bok choy is a little more than a half-cup.)
May reduce the risk of heart disease
Including this crunchy and leafy green as one of your rotating vegetables for your weekly meals may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Research published in Public Health Nutrition suggests that consuming high amounts of vitamin C is linked to a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality compared to those who consumed the lowest amounts. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory vitamin may help produce and release nitric oxide, which helps dilate blood vessels and promotes healthy blood vessel function.
May reduce the risk of cognitive impairment
In an observational study, researchers discovered that the antioxidant-rich compounds (flavonoids) found in vegetables and fruits, such as bok choy, may be linked to lowering the risk of dementia. The thought is that the antioxidants present in vegetables and fruits may protect neurological cells from getting damaged by free radicals, delaying age-related cognitive degeneration. However, the results were specific to people living in China. The authors note that more research is needed. Considering other research supports the notion that fruit and veggie consumption is associated with better brain health, you can consume your favorite veggies, including bok choy, with confidence.
How to Use Bok Choy
Bok choy is widely used in Chinese cuisine. It's a vegetable staple for homemade meals and at Chinese restaurants. There are many ways to enjoy this vegetable—in Chicken & Bok Choy Soup with Ginger & Mushrooms, Spicy Noodles with Pork, Scallions & Bok Choy or in this Pork & Bok Choy Stir-Fry.
To cook bok choy on its own, sauté with minced garlic, minced ginger and a teaspoon or two of cooking oil.
Steamed bok choy brings out the natural flavors of the vegetable. If its earthy and peppery tone is too much for you, consider serving bok choy with oyster sauce on the side. (Vegetarians can use mushroom-based oyster sauce instead.)
Bok choy is also just as flavorful in a braised dish. The prolonged cooking time turns the crunchy stems silky, moist and soft. The accompanying braised sauce also makes bok choy aromatic and flavorful.
You can also chop up bok choy into small pieces and incorporate them into a filling for dumplings, giving the filling a slight crunch that balances the meatiness.
One thing to note is that bok choy is a moisture-rich vegetable. If it's meant to be served with other stir-fried ingredients, such as in this Sautéed Shiitake and Bok Choy with Shrimp, it's best to stir-fry other ingredients first, then add the bok choy to the pan or wok to reduce sogginess. Blanching also helps to retain its color and crispy tenderness.
If you prefer eating the vegetable raw, add thinly sliced pieces into this Crunchy Bok Choy Slaw—the slaw pairs perfectly with grilled meat or poultry.
Bok choy is a nutritious vegetable that adds color, flavor and texture to traditional Chinese and Asian dishes. Bok choy's year-round availability makes it a perfect addition to your weekly rotation of vegetables.