Leeks (Allium porrum) are a vegetable that belongs to the same botanical family as chives, garlic, onions, scallions and shallots, in the genus Allium. However, unlike its fellow members, leeks do not form bulbs. The edible part of the leek plant is the white onion base and light green stalk (or stem), while the dark green leaf sheaths are usually discarded.
Leeks are believed to be originated in the Mediterranean and Middle East. They have been grown and used for cooking for more than 3,000 years in Asia and Europe regions.
Just like onions, leeks can be served either cooked or raw, but make sure to just use the whitest part of the plant. Leeks have a mild onion-like flavor that works well in soups and a variety of other dishes. Apart from that, leeks also have several health benefits that are similar to those of garlic and onion.
Nutritional Content of Leeks
100 grams of leeks contain about 83g of water, 1g of protein, and 2g of dietary fiber. Leeks are a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium and Manganese.
Health Benefits of Leeks
1. Anti-Cancer Properties
Leeks are a good source of allyl sulfides which have been shown to reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, particularly stomach, prostate, and colon cancer.
2. Protect Against Heart Disease
Several studies have shown that members of the Allium family, including leeks, have a slight blood pressure lowering effect and may help prevent cardiovascular diseases like arteriosclerosis, stroke and heart failure.
3. Fight Infections
Leeks also act as an antiseptic agent, which help the body fight against infection. You may apply leek extract on a wound to prevent the infection.
4. Improve Digestive Health
Leek is one of the few foods that contain prebiotics, a type of good bacteria, which is necessary for a better nutrient absorption. It eliminates noxious waste matter in the body, stimulates peristaltic action and secretes digestive fluids, thereby improving digestive function.
5. Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels
A regular intake of leeks has been associated with the decrease in bad (LDL) cholesterol and raise in the level of good (HDL) cholesterol.
6. Good for Pregnant Women
Leek is very essential for pregnant women as they contain considerable amount of folate. The folate consumption during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
7. Strengthen Bones
Leeks are a rich source of calcium and magnesium. The calcium along with magnesium is essential for bone health, helping to convert vitamin D into its active form in the body and thus strengthen the bones.
8. Prevent Anemia
Due to its iron content, leeks can also help in preventing various types of anemia, particularly iron-deficiency anemia. It is also rich in vitamin C, which can help in better absorption of iron in the body.
Leeks are available all year long, and peak in the fall and winter. When buying leeks, look for those with fresh, bright green leaves, and avoid any with blemishes, wilting or yellowing leaves. Choose smaller leeks as they tend to be more tender.