parsnip benefits

What are Parsnips?

Parsnips (Scientific name: Pastinaca sativa) are cream coloured root vegetables which are grown throughout the year. Due to the health benefits and their delicious flavour, parsnips are used in various cuisines. It is tuberous root vegetable and is a part of the carrot and parsley family. It is mostly cultivated in regions where the weather is predominantly cold. The vegetable is a native of Asia and Europe. It is now available in various other regions including North America.

Note: Although due to global vegetable exports, parsnips are also available in other countries, it is always better to consume produce which is home grown. It is richer in nutrition as these tend to be fresh from the farm.

Nutrition in Parsnip

Parsnips are rich in Fibre, Vitamin C, Folate and Manganese. It also has good quantities of Pantothenic acid, Thiamin, Iron, Copper and Phosphorous. Just about 100g of Parsnips contain:

Dietary Fiber – 13% of RDA

Vitamin C – 29% of RDA

Vitamin K – 19% of RDA

Copper – 13% of RDA

Manganese – 24% of RDA

But then again, we would be cooking the vegetable and then consuming them. This means that the nutrition value which would eventually be consumed will be much lesser. Hence, you can consume substantial amounts of the vegetable a few days a week. For this reason, I tend to prefer soups and salads as the nutrition is greater when compared to other recipes.

Health benefits of Parsnips

The health benefits offered by parsnips are many. They are beneficial for people across ages and is a healthy choice for anyone.

To improve cardiac health

Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid is excellent for heart health. Sometimes, chronic stress and anxiety could come up due to heart conditions. Substantial amounts of consuming pantothenic acid regulates cholesterol levels. In addition, it can reduce high blood pressure levels. Due to this twin benefit offered, it can boost heart health by keeping both cholesterol and blood pressure under control.

In addition, vitamin B5 can be used to cure symptoms of insomnia, fatigue and weakness. Folate on the other hand reduces the risk of heart diseases by reducing the level of homocysteine (an amino acid) in the blood.

Excellent for foetus growth

Most pregnant women are asked to intake supplements of folate from their first trimester of pregnancy. This prenatal vitamin is deemed essential by every mid wife or Doctor because of its role in foetal development. Folate prevents birth defects, defects in the neural tube (including Spina bifida) resulting in a healthy central nervous system (1). Some studies also show that good amounts of folate can help to prevent dementia.

Folate can also decrease the chances of cleft lip, anemia during pregnancy and preterm birth. Since folate can also reduce symptoms of nausea, it can be beneficial to the pregnant mother as well. But pregnant women should consume parsnips in moderation only.

Can strengthen bones and joints

Fresh parsnips are rich in Vitamin C. This vitamin helps to have healthy and strong bones and joints. But the key factor that makes Parsnips a great food for bones is the presence of Manganese. Several studies show that trace minerals such as Manganese cannot only prevent osteoporosis but they can also ensure healthy bone matrix development (2). Healthy bones require Manganese, Copper and Zinc. The great thing about parsnips is that it contain 24% of RDA of Manganese and 13% of RDA of Copper. They also contain substantial amounts of zinc in them. But when you season your parsnip soup with sunflower seeds, you can be rest assured about your bones. This would be an ideal soup for anyone with the symptoms of osteoporosis.

In addition, the pantothenic acid present in parsnips can help to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

For Oral health

Due to these reasons – vitamin C, folate and manganese, parsnips are also good for teeth. A gargle and swish of parsnip tea can be used to prevent and cure various gum diseases. The properties present in parsnips fight bacteria effectively and keep the gums protected. This gargle also prevents tooth decay in kids and adults.

For prevention of digestive issues including constipation

Due to the presence of soluble and non-soluble fibre in parsnips, they can help to improve digestion (3). In general, any food that is rich in dietary fiber is good for digestion. Many other digestive problems such as Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea and acid reflux could also be due to reduced fiber intake. A high fiber diet can do the following for your digestive system:

Regulates bowel movements (Both soluble and insoluble fiber have a role to play here)

Can prevent piles and constipation by addressing the root cause of the symptoms.

Builds immunity

Due to the presence of Vitamin C, parsnips are a great source of anti-oxidants. It can improve antibody production and is specifically beneficial for children. Folate also helps to build immunity. It speeds up healing and can boost overall health. Deficiency in folate is known to cause megaloblastic anemia which results in reduced immunity response. A deficiency of folate could also cause neurological disorders.

To manage diabetes

Another good thing about parsnips is that it can be a healthy diet for those suffering from PCOS and are looking to lose weight. Since parsnips helps to regulate insulin levels, it can be considered a supplement, if not a substitute for metformin. Due to the high glycemic index of parsnip, many consider it bad for diabetes. But in reality, in spite of the glycemic index value, they contain almost zero sugar making them a good choice. Unlike starchy tubers, these do not cause spikes in insulin (4).

Promotes weight loss

Parsnips have a naturally sweet flavour and this can help to keep your sugar cravings under control. The dietary fibre present in parnsips makes it a good choice for a snack. You can make chop parsnips into small pieces, stir fry them with just a dab of olive oil, season with herbs and consume. But the most important property of parsnips is that the vegetable can prevent the release of the hunger hormone. This hunger hormone is called ‘ghrelin’. But it is essential to have a good sleep cycle as inadequate sleep can cause irregularities in ghrelin which in turn may cause your hunger pangs to go up. (5)

You can make a tea using parsnips. This tea is good to flush out the toxins from the body. It can be a great detox and helps to lose weight. For added benefit, you can add a slice of ginger and a slice of Indian gooseberry (Amla) to the detox drink. Drink a glass of this tea an hour before your biggest meal of the day. This is a great home remedy to lose weight and at the same time consume sufficient nutrition.

Good for child growth and brain development

All aspects of health that is required for a child’s health that include vision, immunity, bone strength and a good appetite are all taken care of by parsnips. It is also good for the nervous system as the vegetable can improve the production of neurotransmitters which aids in the brain development of the child.

Enhances eye health

Vitamin C present in parsnips helps to maintain healthy vision and prevent eye related disorders. You can make a traditional parsnip side dish using par boiled parsnips, coconut shredding and sauted lentils. This goes well with rice or bread and not much nutrition is lost due to cooking.

Other benefits of Parsnips

In addition to the above benefits, presence of vitamin K helps in clotting of blood. This vitamin is also useful to protect the liver from various diseases.

Parsnips can prevent respiratory disorders such as bronchitis and asthma. This is due to the presence of anti-inflammatory compounds in it. Hence it is also helpful to treat symptoms of arthritis such as pain and inflammation in the joints.

Can help to treat pain due to peptic ulcers. The gargle of parsnip tea can help to relieve soreness resulting from oral ulcers.

Falcarinol and poly-acetylene antioxidants that are present in parsnips can prevent cancer. This compound has been known to speed up the healing process after chemotherapy.

Side effects of parsnips

Caution – The leaves of parsnip is not edible and could also be toxic. Do not use the leaves for consumption. Parsnip may also cause hypersensitivity in some people which could in turn lead to Oral Allergy syndrome.  Some may also experience rashes and lesions on their skin due to allergies caused by parsnips.

How to include parsnips in your diet

Parsnips have a sweet flavour due to which they are also used in making jams and cakes. A soup made using parsley or cilantro, parsnips and onion can be great for health. This soup is really tasty and is good for kids too!

parsnip soup

You can drizzle some olive oil, add thyme leaf springs and make glazed parsnips. It has excellent amounts of fibre and would be easy on your digestive system.

Parsnip is tea is a simple but effective was to get all the nutrition with very little cooking.

Parsnip recipe ideas

Parsnip soup made with the fresh vegetable, onions and herbs.

Honey roasted parsnips – Perfect for snack time.

Parsnip and carrot gratin – Winter and holiday special.

And an important note here – Wash your parsnips well and use them directly for cooking. Do not peel of the skin as that is filled with nutrition.

How to choose and buy parsnips

  1. Smaller parsnips are always better. Like many other vegetable (take for instance, okra), the bigger they get, the less tender they become. Also, the tender ones are sweeter and hence more suited for cooking.
  2. Look for the colour. Typically, these tuberous roots are creamy in colour. The core also has to be white. If you see he core becoming yellow or brown, it is better to avoid those.
  3. Leaves? Although the leaves of parsnips are not edible, it is better to buy the vegetable with leaves. This way, your vegetable remains fresh for a comparatively longer time. Chop those leaves off before taking them to the stove!
  4. Hairy roots – Just like its friend, the carrot, parsnips also might have lot of tiny hairy roots on its tip. Some are fine, but if it is too many, spring for a different one.

And one last thing, if there is a farmer’s market with organic produce near your place, then buy parsnips from them. They would be far more delectable than what you would find anywhere else.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.