by Rachael Link, MS, RDB
Encased inside the center core of the palm tree is a versatile vegetable jam-packed with important nutrients and a long list of health benefits. Now available at nearly every major grocery store, hearts of palm have recently enjoyed some well-deserved recognition for their delicious flavor and distinct texture.
High in fiber with a good chunk of protein and a low glycemic index, hearts of palm make a welcome addition to vegan diets, low-carb diets and even the healing diet, which is focused on decreasing inflammation and lowering blood sugar to optimize health. They also fit in well to many different dishes, from salsas and stews to quiches and casseroles.
Plus, potential heart of palm benefits include better digestive health, enhanced weight loss and improved immunity, giving you all the more reason to give this healthy veggie a try.
What Is Heart of Palm?
Heart of palm is a type of vegetable that is harvested from the inner core of certain species of palm trees. When harvesting heart of palm, the tree is cut down and the bark and fibers are removed, leaving only the heart. Although they’re produced in many different areas, most fresh hearts of palm in the United States are actually imported from Costa Rica.
The hearts of palm taste is often compared to artichokes and described as light, mild and crunchy. They look similar to white asparagus and can be baked, blanched, sautéed, marinated or enjoyed straight out of the can.
Heart of palm is incredibly versatile and often used as a meat substitute for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s also revered for its health-promoting properties and is especially rich in fiber, protein, manganese, iron and vitamin C.
Benefits of Hearts of Palm
- Promote Digestive Health
- Aid in Weight Loss
- Support Bone Health
- Stabilize Blood Sugar
- Help Prevent Anemia
- Boost Immunity
1. Promote Digestive Health
Fiber is important to many components of health, particularly when it comes to digestion. It moves slowly through the body undigested, adding bulk to stool and preventing issues like constipation. Fiber also acts as a prebiotic to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Your gut microbiome plays a central role in health and disease and has even been linked to obesity, immunity and mental health. (1)
Hearts of palm are an excellent source of fiber, packing 3.5 grams of fiber into each cup. That means that adding just a single cup of hearts of palm into your diet can knock out up to 14 percent of some people’s fiber needs for the whole day.
2. Aid in Weight Loss
High in both protein and fiber yet low in calories, hearts of palm make a great addition to the diet if you’re looking to lose weigh fast. Some studies show that protein helps reduce levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, to ward off cravings and decrease appetite. (2) Meanwhile, fiber keeps you feeling full to promote satiety and reduce intake. (3)
Because of their unique taste and texture, hearts of palm are often used as a vegan meat alternative in many recipes. Try subbing them into your next salad or sandwich in place of meat to cut down on calories and fat and help keep your weight in check.
3. Support Bone Health
Osteoporosis is a common concern as you start to get older and begin to lose bone mass. In fact, approximately 1.5 million Americans experience fractures due to bone disease each year, and by 2020, it’s projected that one in two adults over 50 will have or be at risk for developing osteoporosis of the hip. (4)
Hearts of palm are loaded with manganese, a mineral that’s key to bone health. A deficiency in this crucial nutrient can lead to alterations in bone metabolism and a decrease in the synthesis of bone tissue. (5) According to an animal study out of Sookmyung Women’s University’s Department of Food and Nutrition in Seoul, South Korea, supplementation with manganese for 12 weeks was even able to increase bone formation and bone mineral density in rats. (6)
4. Stabilize Blood Sugar
Maintaining high blood sugar for long periods of time can come with some serious side effects, including nerve damage, an increased risk of infections and even kidney damage.
Thanks to its content of both fiber and manganese, heart of palm can help you maintain normal blood sugar to sidestep negative symptoms. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. Manganese may also play a role in blood sugar control, with some animal studies suggesting that a deficiency in manganese could impair insulin secretion and carbohydrate metabolism. (7)
5. Help Prevent Anemia
Anemia is a condition characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body, causing a long list of possible anemia symptoms like fatigue, light-headedness and brain fog. Although there are a number of factors that can contribute to anemia, one of the most common causes is a deficiency in certain nutrients like iron.
One cup of hearts of palm contains 25 percent of the iron you need in a day, which can help you easily meet your needs to prevent conditions like iron-deficiency anemia. Not only that, but it also contains a good chunk of vitamin C, helping enhance iron absorption even more.
6. Boost Immunity
Hearts of palm are rich in many important vitamins and minerals that are essential for keeping your immune system running smoothly. Vitamin C, zinc and manganese, in particular, are all vital for warding off infections and disease to promote better health.
For example, one review published in the Annals of Nutrition concluded that getting enough vitamin C and zinc can reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections, plus improve the outcomes for conditions like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea. (8) Manganese, on the other hand, protects against oxidative stress and fights off free radicals that can contribute to chronic disease. (9)
Hearts of Palm Nutrition
Heart of palm nutrition is low in calories but high in protein, fiber, manganese and a wide range of other important nutrients. Like other canned foods, hearts of palm also tend to be high in sodium. However, rinsing them off before consuming is a quick and easy way to slash sodium content.
One cup (about 146 grams) of canned hearts of palm contains approximately: (10)
- 40.9 calories
- 6.7 grams carbohydrates
- 3.7 grams protein
- 0.9 gram fat
- 3.5 grams dietary fiber
- 2 milligrams manganese (102 percent DV)
- 622 milligrams sodium (26 percent DV)
- 4.6 milligrams iron (25 percent DV)
- 11.5 milligrams vitamin C (19 percent DV)
- 55.5 milligrams magnesium (14 percent DV)
- 56.9 micrograms folate (14 percent DV)
- 1.7 milligrams zinc (11 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (10 percent DV)
- 94.9 milligrams phosphorus (9 percent DV)
- 84.7 milligrams calcium (8 percent DV)
- 258 milligrams potassium (7 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, hearts of palm also contain a small amount of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid.
Hearts of Palm vs. Artichokes
Hearts of palm and artichokes are often compared for their similarities in taste and texture. However, these two nutritious veggies are actually completely unrelated and belong to entirely different species of plants.
The globe artichoke belongs to the Cynara cardunculus, or thistle, species. The plant grows up to two meters tall and is widely cultivated in the Mediterranean region in countries like Italy, Spain and France.
Much like hearts of palm, artichokes are revered for their impressive nutrient profile and potential health benefits. Consuming artichoke extract has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, maintain blood sugar and protect the liver in human and animal studies. (11)
Nutritionally, though, there are some notable differences between hearts of palm and artichokes as well. Gram for gram, artichokes contain nearly double the calories but are also higher in protein, dietary fiber, vitamin K and folate. Hearts of palm, on the other hand, are much higher in certain other nutrients like manganese and iron.
That being said, both can be nutritious additions to a well-balanced and healthy diet. Add hearts of palm to your salads and side dishes, and try artichoke in pastas, dips and casseroles to take advantage of the unique benefits of both of these veggies.
Where to Find and How to Use Hearts of Palm
If you’re looking for where to buy heart of palm, give your local grocery store a try. It can usually be found canned or jarred in the canned vegetable section. It’s also available in bulk from some online retailers. Finding fresh hearts of palm may be a bit more challenging, but they are sometimes available in the produce section of specialty grocery stores or markets, especially in areas where hearts of palm are produced.
Hearts of palm can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways. You can bake, blanch, sauté, steam, sear or grill this nutritious veggie, or even grab a fork and enjoy it right out of the jar.
Although most commonly added to salads, the possibilities for using hearts of palm are limitless. They can be shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce for a meat-free “pulled pork,” pureed with spinach and cheese for a creamy dip, or mixed with cashew cream and veggies to make a vegan tuna salad.
Hearts of Palm Recipes
There are plenty of ways to add hearts of palm into your diet, including by incorporating them into some of the dishes that may already be in your weekly rotation. Here are a few hearts of palm recipes to get you started:
- Hearts of Palm Salad with Lemon Dijon Dressing
- Vegan Hearts of Palm Ceviche
- Shredded Hearts of Palm Soft Tacos
- Hearts of Palm Vegan BBQ Sandwiches
- Avocado Boats with Quinoa Hearts of Palm Salad
Hearts of palm have been a dietary staple for thousands of years in Central and South America. Even before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the native people were already using all parts of the palm tree, consuming the hearts and nuts of the tree and using the bark and leaves as material.
In the United States, the sabal palm tree can be commonly found along the southern coastal areas and is even considered the official state tree of both Florida and South Carolina. In fact, South Carolina is often dubbed “The Palmetto State,” and its flag features a sabal palm tree and crescent moon.
Recognized for their delicious flavor, extensive nutrient profile and versatility, hearts of palm have become a household favorite around the globe and have quickly gained widespread popularity. In fact, France is now considered the largest importer of hearts of palm in the entire world, accounting for 76 percent of all imports in the European Union and 27 percent of imports worldwide. (12)
Although uncommon, some people have reported allergic reactions after eating hearts of palm. If you experience any food allergy symptoms like hives, itching or swelling after eating hearts of palm, discontinue consumption immediately and talk to your doctor. (13)
Additionally, canned hearts of palm can be pretty high in sodium, providing a whopping 622 milligrams of sodium in each cup. If you have high blood pressure or are following a low-sodium diet, be sure to rinse off your canned veggies to remove excess salt.
Finally, if you do purchase canned hearts of palm, opt for a BPA-free can to minimize your exposure to the potential BPA toxic effects. The Environmental Working Group has a tool on its website that allows you to search for common brands and products that may contain BPA in the packaging so you can make more informed choices as a consumer.
- Heart of palm is a vegetable harvested from the inner core of certain species of palm trees.
- Hearts of palm look similar to white asparagus, are light yet crunchy and are versatile enough to use in a variety of different recipes. They are also often used in vegan or vegetarian recipes as a popular meat substitute.
- They are low in calories but contain a good amount of fiber and protein, plus manganese, iron and vitamin C. Canned varieties also tend to be relatively high in sodium.
- With their wealth of nutrients, hearts of palm may help promote digestive health, enhance weight loss, boost the immune system, prevent anemia, stabilize blood sugar and keep bones strong.
- You can eat hearts of palm straight out of the can or bake, grill, sauté or sear them for a nutritious addition to salads, sandwiches, salsas and more.
- Pair this delicious veggie with other nutrient-dense foods and a well-rounded diet to take full advantage of the potential health benefits.
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