Leeks are a member of the onion family that look like green and white cylindrical stalks. They contain many of the same flavonoids and nutrients found in other plants from the genus Allium, such as onions, shallots, and garlic, resulting in an expectation of leek health benefits to be similar to the rest of its family. This vegetable is frequently found in Asian dishes such as stir-fries and can be used as a central component or an accent in many dishes. But do the leek health benefits provide enough reason for it to replace other Allium staples?
Health Benefits of Leeks
Like many members of the Allium genus, many leek health benefits stem from the large amount of polyphenols they contain, particularly kaempferol. Kaempferol is a flavonoid associated with its cardiovascular protecting properties with other studies suggesting that they reduce the likelihood of developing chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Kaempferol is also an antioxidant and has exhibited anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties as well.
Other antioxidant polyphenols are found in leeks as well, though slightly less than some of its Allium siblings. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and provide cardiovascular benefits.
In addition, as we will explore in more detail below, leeks contain significant quantities of over 10 vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are required dietary components for a healthy functioning body with broad-ranging properties. The vitamins and minerals found in leeks are known to regulate metabolism, balance blood glucose, and produce red blood cells, among many other functions.
Leeks also contain a bioactive form of folate, a B complex vitamin that supports the cardiovascular system.
Less research on leek health benefits has been performed than for other similar vegetables. It is assumed that with their significant overlap of compounds, leeks provide similar benefits to garlic and onions with regards to oxidative stress and inflammation.
Leek Nutritional Value
According to the USDA, 100 grams of raw leeks contains:
• 0.3 g of fat
• 1.5 g of protein
• 14 g of carbohydrates
• 61 Calories
Compared to other examples from its genus, leeks are on par for fat and protein with a middle of the road value for carbohydrates that vary from less than 10 g to over 30 g per 100 g, though a relatively low percentage of these carbohydrates are present as sugars in leeks. Leek health benefits regarding macronutrients appear to be similar to most other commonly found plants from the [italics]Allium[/italics] genus.
Micronutrients are where leek health benefits begin to become apparent. Leeks contain significant quantities of 13 vitamins and minerals. Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood clotting and bone health.
Other micronutrients found in significant quantities in leeks include manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate. These micronutrients have a broad range of functions:
• Manganese promotes bone production, skin integrity, and aids blood glucose balance.
• Vitamin B6 is required for the production of red blood cells and neurotransmitters, as well as the metabolism of carbohydrates and liver detoxification.
• Copper helps produce antioxidants and aids cholesterol balance.
• Iron is required for hemoglobin to distribute oxygen via the blood.
• Folate, this class of compounds are important for brain and nervous system health, reproductive health (particularly in pregnant women), and overall cardiovascular health.
Leeks are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, magnesium, vitamin E, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Leeks can be prepared in a large number of ways and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. With a slightly sweeter and more subtle flavor than an onion, leeks can seamlessly play the center role or just a supporting part in many dishes.
- Center stage
Leeks can play a leading role in a dish thanks to their mellow flavor. Try this stuffed leek recipe of leeks, blue cheese, raisins, and nuts or mix it up to your preferences!
Typically, when leaks are eaten raw they are sliced thin, often added as a garnish similarly to green onions on salads, meat, omelets, etc. Try this raw leek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, and chickpeas.
Grilled leeks are simple and delicious. Split the leeks vertically down the middle then grill them with a little bit of oil, salt, and pepper and pair with your favorite meat.
Suffuse your next stir-fry with the sweet and subtle flavor of leeks. Stir-fries typically use the leafy green part of the leek only, leaving you with the white stalk to use for another dish.
Leeks are frequently pureed into soups such as in this potato leek soup. This results in a fully incorporated flavor and avoids the sometimes-slimy texture of cooked leeks.
Leeks don’t need their flavor tempered by significant amounts of cooking and can be boiled as part of a light broth, like in this shrimp and leek soba noodles dish.
As you can see from these examples, leeks are an extremely versatile ingredient. With the diverse preparation styles that each accentuate different aspects of the leek flavor, everyone can find a way to enjoy leeks.
Leeks are a member of the Allium genus along with onions, garlic, and shallots. This genus of plants contains significant quantities of polyphenols, particularly the flavonoid kaempferol, which have antioxidant properties resulting in cardiovascular benefits. While leek health benefits have been studies less than other members of its genus, based on their similar compounds, leeks are expected to have similar health benefits to garlic and onions. Additionally, they have a more subtle and slightly sweeter flavor, making them highly versatile in cooking.
Do you enjoy leeks? Share your favorite recipes in the comments below!