by Rachael Link, MS, RD
Well-known for its multitude of health-promoting properties, there are plenty of good reasons to add the turnip to your weekly grocery list. This versatile vegetable is flavorful, delicious and brimming with many of the essential nutrients that your body needs. It’s also been associated with some pretty impressive health benefits, ranging from weight loss all the way to cancer prevention.
From soups to sandwiches to salads and beyond, there are endless ways to squeeze a serving or two of turnips into your diet. Here’s what you need to know about this nutritious cruciferous vegetable, plus why you should be sure to get in your daily dose.
What Are Turnips?
Turnips, known by their scientific name Brassica rapa var. rapa, are a type of root vegetable grown in temperate climates around the world. They generally have white skin tinged with purple or red as well as white flesh on the interior. They also have turnip greens that grow on top, which can be consumed in place of other leafy greens like spinach or kale.
They can be eaten raw or pickled, boiled, grilled, roasted or sautéed and enjoyed as a nutritious and flavorful side dish. The turnip taste is often described as mild yet bitter, and turnips are used much like potatoes in many turnips recipes.
Turnips are low in calories but high in fiber and a host of other important micronutrients. Benefits of turnips include improved immunity, better heart health, enhanced weight loss and increased regularity. They also contain cancer-fighting compounds and have even been associated with a reduced risk of cancer in some studies.
- Boosts Immune Function
- Promotes Regularity
- Fights Cancer
- Enhances Heart Health
- Aids in Weight Loss
1. Boosts Immune Function
Turnips are an excellent source of vitamin C, with just one cooked cup knocking out 30 percent of your daily requirement. Upping your intake of this crucial water-soluble vitamin is key to promoting better immune health. According to a review out of Switzerland, getting enough vitamin C in your diet can help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of infections like the common cold. Not only that, but it can also prevent and improve outcomes for other conditions, such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea infections. (1)
To really kick up the immune-boosting benefits of turnips in your diet, be sure to pair them with plenty of other vitamin C foods in your diet. Some of the top food sources of vitamin C include guava, black currant, red peppers and kiwi.
2. Promotes Regularity
With 3.1 grams of fiber in each cup, adding turnips to your diet can help get things moving and keep you regular. As it moves through the digestive tract, fiber adds bulk to the stool to aid in the treatment of constipation. A review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology compiled the results of five studies and actually found that dietary fiber is able to effectively increase stool frequency in people with constipation. (2)
While turnips can definitely supply part of the fiber you need each day, it’s best to combine them with other high-fiber foods as well. Berries, figs, artichokes, avocados and rhubarb are just a few examples of some other fiber-rich fruits and veggies that you can use to help round out your diet.
3. Fights Cancer
Turnips are considered a cruciferous vegetable, meaning that other nutrition superstars like cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower are also members of the turnip family. Besides being high in fiber as well as many important vitamins and minerals, cruciferous vegetables are also rich in cancer-fighting compounds, such as glucosinolates and indole-3-carbinol.
Studies show that increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables like turnips can have a powerful effect when it comes to cancer prevention. For example, one review made up of 31 studies showed that those consuming the highest amount of cruciferous vegetables had a 23 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer than those with the lowest intake. (3) Other research suggests that eating more cruciferous vegetables may also protect against colorectal, breast and stomach cancers as well. (4, 5, 6)
4. Enhances Heart Health
Loaded with health-promoting compounds like fiber and antioxidants, turnips pack a powerful punch in terms of heart health. A massive study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with nearly 135,000 adults showed that a higher intake of vegetables — and especially cruciferous vegetables like turnips — was associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease. (7) Other studies have found that increasing your intake of fiber can also lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol, two major risk factors for heart disease. (8)
To cut your risk of coronary heart disease even more, add turnips to a balanced diet and start practicing some healthy habits each day, such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking and minimizing stress levels.
5. Aids in Weight Loss
With plenty of fiber and just 34 calories per serving, turnips make an excellent addition to a weight loss diet. Fiber moves slowly through the digestive tract, slowing the emptying of your stomach to promote satiety and keep you feeling fuller for longer. A human study in 2009 followed 252 women over 20 months and showed that each one-gram increase of fiber intake was associated with half a pound of weight loss and a significant loss of body fat. (9) Not only that, but another study published in 2015 showed that each daily serving of cruciferous veggies was associated with 0.68 pounds of weight loss over four years. (10)
Coupled with a nutritious diet and regular physical activity, adding a serving or two of turnips into your diet can bump up weight loss. Want even quicker results? Throw in a few fat-burning foods alongside your turnips, such as apple cider vinegar, chia seeds and coconut oil, to help lose weight fast.
Turnips are a nutrient-dense food, meaning that they are low in calories but pack in plenty of dietary fiber and micronutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium.
One cup of cubed, cooked turnips (about 156 grams) contains approximately: (11)
- 34.3 calories
- 7.9 grams carbohydrates
- 1.1 grams protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 3.1 grams dietary fiber
- 18.1 milligrams vitamin C (30 percent DV)
- 276 milligrams potassium (8 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (5 percent DV)
- 51.5 milligrams calcium (5 percent DV)
- 14 micrograms folate (4 percent DV)
- 14 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
- 40.6 milligrams phosphorus (4 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram iron (2 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram riboflavin (2 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram pantothenic acid (2 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, turnips also contain a small amount of other micronutrients as well, including thiamine and zinc.
Turnip vs. Radish vs. Jicama
Despite their characteristic taste and appearance, turnips are often confused with other root vegetables. Radishes and turnips, for instance, belong to the same family of plants and share some similarities in terms of health benefits and nutrients, but there are some major differences that set them apart. Radishes have white or vibrant red flesh and have a crisp, peppery and sometimes spicy flavor that’s much different from turnips. They also have green tops that can be washed and used like other salad greens in many different recipes.
Jicama, also known as the Mexican turnip or yam bean, is another root vegetable with white flesh and a crisp texture. Like turnips, jicama is high in fiber and can be used in soups, stir-fries and salads. However, it has a more rough and fibrous skin that is typically peeled, and its taste is much sweeter and nuttier than the turnip.
Turnips are also compared to rutabagas. Rutabagas are even sometimes marketed as “yellow turnips,” which adds more confusion into the mix. The main difference between turnips vs. rutabaga is their color; turnips usually have white flesh with purple skin while rutabagas have yellow flesh with purple and yellow skin. Size and taste are two other important distinctions between the turnip vs. rutabaga. Rutabagas are larger and slightly sweeter while turnips are smaller and generally more bitter.
Turnips in Ayurveda and TCM
Turnips have been utilized for their medicinal properties for thousands of years and are considered a staple of many types of alternative medicine, including Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Turnips fit right into an Ayurvedic diet, which emphasizes consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as seasonal eating. They are a nutritious winter vegetable that can aid in cleansing and may be especially beneficial for those who have a kapha dosha.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, turnips are well-known for their ability to promote proper digestion. They are most often used to aid in blood clotting, stimulate bowel movements and remove phlegm from the body.
Where to Find and How to Use Turnips
Thanks to their growing popularity, turnips are widely available at most grocery stores and farmers markets. Check in the produce section near other root vegetables, such as potatoes or radishes, and look for turnips that are small, firm and free of blemishes. You can also look for turnips that still have their green tops attached to use in a wider variety of turnip recipes.
So what do turnips taste like? They are often described as bitter with a taste that is similar to potatoes but slightly richer. Older, larger turnips tend to be more bitter, so it’s generally recommended to stick to fresh, small turnips to get the best flavor.
You can use turnips in just about any recipe in place of potatoes. Try mashed turnips or bake, boil or steam them for a delicious and nutritious side dish. You can even enjoy them raw or shred them to use in coleslaws or salads or as a creative garnish for your main course. Turnips also make a great addition to soups, stir-fries and stews.
If your turnips still have the bright greens attached at the tops, you can save them and swap them in for other leafy greens like kale and spinach in your favorite recipes. Boil or sauté them and drizzle on some olive oil and seasonings to really bring out the rich flavor of the greens.
How to Cook Turnips and Turnip Recipes
Aside from enjoying them raw, there are numerous ways to cook and enjoy turnips. Try roasted turnips or sautéed turnips for a tasty side dish by tossing them with some herbs and seasonings and cooking them until they start to soften. Boiling, steaming, grilling or blanching are other popular methods for cooking turnips.
Pickled turnips are also often used as a condiment in many types of Middle Eastern cuisine. Combine turnips with a mixture of vinegar, water, salt and sugar and allow them to chill for a week or so before enjoying on sandwiches, falafels, gyros or kebabs.
Want some more ideas? Here are a few turnip recipes you can start experimenting with at home:
- Roasted Turnips with Balsamic Vinegar and Thyme
- Turnip Fries
- Slow Cooker Turnip, Kale and Lentil Soup
- Raw Turnip Salad
- Turnip Chickpea Meatballs
Turnips are believed to have been cultivated as early as the 15th century B.C. in India, where they were originally grown for their seeds. Although there is some uncertainty over their origins due to a lack of archaeological evidence, they were also widely grown during Roman times as well.
Today, turnips are used around the world in a variety of dishes. In Turkey, they are used in a popular vegetable-based beverage called şalgam while in Italy, a common side dish is made using shredded turnips that are marinated in grape pomace. Turnips are also often found in many other types of cuisine around the world, including dishes from India, Pakistan and Japan.
Aside from their culinary uses, turnips also play a role in some traditions as well. During Halloween festivities in Scotland and Ireland, for instance, turnip lanterns are carved out and used with candles. During Samhain, a Gaelic festival at the end of the harvest season, large turnips are carved out, decorated with faces and placed in windows to help keep away evil spirits.
While uncommon, some people may actually be allergic to turnips. If you experience food allergy symptoms like hives, itching or swelling after consuming turnips, discontinue use and consult with your doctor immediately.
Cruciferous vegetables like turnips are also considered goitrogenic, which means that they may interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. Although you would likely need to eat a huge amount of raw turnips or other cruciferous vegetables to experience hypothyroidism, those who have thyroid conditions may want to be mindful of their intake. Stick to just one or two servings of turnips per day and opt for cooked veggies over raw to reduce the potential risk.
Finally, it’s worth noting that suddenly increasing your fiber intake may cause flatulence for some people. It’s best to increase your intake of high-fiber foods like turnips slowly, drink lots of water and consider reducing your intake if you start to experience any adverse side effects.
- Turnips are a root vegetable that can be cooked and consumed in a variety of different ways.
- They are low in calories but high in fiber as well as vitamin C, potassium and manganese.
- Turnip health benefits include improved immunity, increased regularity, weight loss and better heart health. They may also contain cancer-fighting compounds that can help protect against several types of cancer.
- In Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, turnips are used to promote digestion, stimulate bowel movements and aid in cleansing.
- Incorporate turnips as well as other cruciferous vegetables into a balanced diet to take advantage of the many health-promoting properties of this nutritious root vegetable.
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