Fennel is a celery-like winter vegetable with an interesting licorice-like flavor. Although the taste may take some getting used to at first, fennel provides an enormous amount of health benefits.
Fennel is recognized by its white bulb and long green stalks. It is related to other stalk vegetables such as celery and parsnips. The entire fennel bulb, including seeds, stalk, and leaves are edible.
This root vegetable originated in the Mediterranean countries of Greece and Italy, but is now grown in many different countries such as US, France, India and Russia. It is commonly harvested in the fall and usually shows up traditionally in fall or winter recipes.
It has been used in many cultures for its medicinal properties. In ancient Chinese medicine, it is used to help with a variety of ailments from congestion to helping increase the flow of breast milk. It can also help with stomach upset, insect bites, or to soothe a sore throat.
Fennel Nutrition Facts
One average-size fennel bulb contains 73 calories, 3 grams of protein, and 17 grams of carbohydrate. It contains only a trace of fat and no cholesterol.
Fennel is exceptionally high in fiber, with each bulb providing 7 grams of dietary fiber or 28% of daily needs. Most people are lacking in fiber intake, consuming only an average of 7 grams per day, therefore adding fennel to your diet could help double your intake!
One bulb also provides 969 mg of potassium or 27% of the RDA. Potassium is critical to help lower blood pressure and as well as maintain fluid balance.
Fennel is also high in vitamin C providing 28 mg per bulb or almost half of the RDA for this critical vitamin. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which may help slow aging as well as maintain a healthy immune system.
Unique Fennel Health Benefits
1. Bone Health
Due to the calcium content, fennel can help maintain bone strength and health. Fennel contains about 115mg of calcium or approximately 10% of the RDA which can help increase calcium in your diet, especially for those who do not consume enough from other sources.
2. Improves Skin Health
Vitamin C is also necessary for the formation of collagen and a powerful tool in protecting skin’s appearance, making it a good choice to naturally slow aging. A deficiency in vitamin C is called scurvy, which manifests in the inability to properly form collagen, leading to bleeding gums and bleeding below the skin. (3)
Due to these functions, adequate intakes of vitamin C are critical for reducing the appearance of wrinkles and maintaining healthy skin. The RDA is 60 mg/day, but more vitamin C from whole food sources will help keep skin healthy from the inside-out.
3. Lowers Blood Pressure
A diet high in potassium can reduce systolic blood pressure by 5.5 points when compared to a high sodium diet. But, don’t expect lower blood pressure overnight, it takes about four weeks of consuming a high potassium diet to see a drop in blood pressure. (4, 5)
4. Aids Digestion
Fennel is included in the GAPS Diet, as well as on my Healing Food Shopping List, because of its ability to ease digestion. Since fennel contains 7 grams of dietary fiber, it can help maintain a healthy digestive system. The muscles in the digestive system need dietary fiber to provide bulk for the gastrointestinal muscles to push against and increase motility or movement. Because digestive problems like constipation and IBS are so common in adults, fennel makes a great addition to any diet, which is one reason why I include it on my list of foods recommended for a healing diet.
Additionally, fiber acts like a small brush as it moves through the digestive system, clearing the colon of toxins that could potentially cause colon cancer. Fennel itself can act like a laxative, helping with elimination of toxins.
It is also common in certain cultures to chew fennel seeds after meals to help digestion and eliminate bad breath. Some of the oils found in fennel do help stimulate the secretion of digestive juices.(6)
Fennel may also be beneficial for people with acid reflux. Adding fennel to your diet can help balance the pH level within your body, especially within your stomach, and can reduce reflux after meals. (7)
5. Increases Satiety
Fiber contains no calories, but provides bulk, increasing satiety. Humans do not have the enzymes required to break down fiber, therefore it cannot be absorbed as calories. Fennel provides 7g of calorie-free, filling fiber.
Studies show that diets high in fiber can help people to effectively lose weight. A 2001 study, found that participants who added 14 grams per day of fiber to their diets, without changing anything else, ate approximately 10% fewer calories per day and lost about 4 pounds over a period of 4 months. Increasing fiber intake, by adding fennel and other high fiber foods to the diet may be a simple way to effortlessly feel more satisfied and to experience weight loss. (8)
6. Improves Colic
Infant colic, although it is a relatively benign medical condition, it can have a significant impact on new parents. Most parents of a colicky infant would probably try almost anything to soothe their crying child.
The current medication used for colic, called Dicyclomine hydrochloride, can have some serious side effects and may not be consistently effective. But, researchers have found that fennel seed oil has been shown to reduce pain and increase motility in the small intestine, making it can excellent natural remedy for colic.
In a 2003 study, researchers compared fennel seed oil with a placebo in 125 infants. The group treated with fennel seed oil was reported to have 65% less colic, measured by crying episodes, than those in the control group, with no side effects.
Although this research may be promising and many desperate parents may want to run out and get some fennel oil, there is not an established safe dose for infants at this time. The safest way to use it to treat infant colic is for a breastfeeding mother to drink fennel tea. (9, 10)
7. Helps Prevent Cancer
Fennel has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to help treat inflammatory conditions such as insect bites or sore throat. Fennel’s ability to decrease inflammation led researchers to investigate if fennel’s properties could be applied to other inflammatory diseases such as various forms of cancers.
Fennel contains oil called anethole that has been shown in some clinical studies to be act as a natural cancer remedy, helping to reducing the growth of breast cancer cells. It is believed that anethole reduces inflammation that may lead to the development of cancer, although further research is needed to determine how it can be used exactly. (11)
Other anti-inflammatory nutrients are also found in fennel, specifically selenium, a trace mineral that may help decrease cancer mortality rates. A large study of over 8,000 participants found that selenium did reduce mortality and decrease future incidences of cancer. (12)
8. Decreases Risk of Heart Disease
Foods high in fiber, especially soluble fiber, as is found in fennel, have been shown to help reduce balance cholesterol levels in the blood stream. A diet high in fiber can help reduce overall risk of heart attacks and stroke by helping lower blood cholesterol to a normal level.
The high fiber and the potassium content make fennel a double whammy in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure. Fennel is also high in other potentially cardio-protective vitamins such as folate and vitamin C.
9. Eye Health
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of age-related vision loss. Although the exact cause is unknown, antioxidants that help reduce inflammation such as certain flavonoids, vitamin C, and zinc may help improve vision or slow the progress of the disease.
Fennel contains many of these vision-saving nutrients. Due to its high flavonoid, vitamin C, and mineral content it can help reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, and may help prevent macular degeneration. (13)
Possible Fennel Side Effects
Although for most people fennel is a great, healthy vegetable choice, people with certain medical conditions may have to limit or avoid the consumption of fennel. Some people may be allergic to certain spices, therefore should avoid consuming fennel seeds.
Due to the high potassium content, those with kidney disease should limit the amount of fennel they eat. People taking beta-blockers, which is typically prescribed to help control blood pressure, can also have elevated potassium levels and may need to avoid fennel.(14)
How to Choose and Prepare Fennel
Fennel has a crunchy texture and a flavor similar to licorice or anise. It is a great addition to any winter dish to provide a different flavor.
When choosing a fennel bulb, look for a bulb that is firm and mostly white at the bottom. Avoid bulbs that are brown or spotted at the bottom. The stalks should be bundled together and not flowering.
The fennel bulb can stay in the refrigerator for about four to five days. It tends to lose flavor over time, therefore should be eaten within a few days.
All parts of the fennel bulb can be eaten, including the seeds, leaves, and the bulb itself. The seeds are commonly dried and used as a spice.
To prepare the fennel bulb, first cut the stalks off the bulb where they sprout. Then slice the bulb vertically into thin slices depending on the recipe you choose.
Want to try out fennel for dinner tonight?
Then say hello to fennel with this delicious soup recipe! With the slight sweetness of apples and the amazing nutrition of fennel, your whole family will be coming back for seconds!
Fennel Apple Soup Recipe
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 (medium to large) fennel bulbs stems removed and diced
- 2 large apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 2-3 sprigs thyme
- Heat coconut oil in a large pot.
- Saute onion over low or medium heat for 10-15 minutes until soft and almost browned.
- Add fennel and apples and cook for 5-10 minutes until they start to soften or brown.
- Add chicken stock and thyme.
- Puree soup in a Vitamix until smooth and creamy.
Do you have a family fennel recipe? I’d love to hear about it!