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10 Health and Nutrition Benefits of Leeks and Wild Ramps

Health + Wellness
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By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Leeks belong to the same family as onions, shallots, scallions, chives and garlic.


They look like a giant green onion but have a much milder, somewhat sweet flavor and a creamier texture when cooked.

Leeks are usually cultivated, but wild varieties, such as the North American wild leek — also known as ramps — are gaining popularity.

Ramps are popular with foragers and top chefs alike due to their potent flavor, which is a cross between garlic, scallions and commercially grown leeks.

All varieties of leeks are nutritious and thought to offer a host of health benefits.

Here are 10 health benefits of leeks and wild ramps.

1. Contain a Variety of Nutrients

Leeks are nutrient-dense, meaning that they're low in calories yet high in vitamins and minerals.

One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked leeks has only 31 calories (1).

At the same time, they're particularly high in provitamin A carotenoids, including beta carotene. Your body converts these carotenoids into vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune function, reproduction and cell communication (2).

They're also a good source of vitamin K1, which is necessary for blood clotting and heart health (3).

Meanwhile, wild ramps are particularly rich in vitamin C, which aids immune health, tissue repair, iron absorption and collagen production. In fact, they offer around twice as much vitamin C as the same quantity of oranges (4, 5).

Leeks are also a good source of manganese, which may help reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and promote thyroid health. What's more, they provide small amounts of copper, vitamin B6, iron and folate (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).

Summary

Leeks are low in calories but high in nutrients, particularly magnesium and vitamins A, C and K. They boast small amounts of fiber, copper, vitamin B6, iron and folate.

2. Packed With Beneficial Plant Compounds

Leeks are a rich source of antioxidants, particularly polyphenols and sulfur compounds.

Antioxidants fight oxidation, which damages your cells and contributes to illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Leeks are a particularly great source of kaempferol, a polyphenol antioxidant thought to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer (9, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).

They're likewise a great source of allicin, the same beneficial sulfur compound that gives garlic its antimicrobial, cholesterol-lowering and potential anticancer properties (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).

Meanwhile, wild ramps are rich in thiosulfinates and cepaenes, two sulfur compounds needed for blood clotting and thought to protect against certain types of cancer (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16).

Summary

Leeks are rich in antioxidants and sulfur compounds, especially kaempferol and allicin. These are thought to protect your body from disease.

3. May Reduce Inflammation and Promote Heart Health

Leeks are alliums, a family of vegetables that includes onions and garlic. Several studies link alliums to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke (17Trusted Source).

While most of these studies have tested onions or garlic, leeks contain several beneficial compounds thought to lower inflammation and protect heart health (18).

For instance, the kaempferol in leeks has anti-inflammatory properties. Kaempferol-rich foods are associated with a lower risk of heart attacks or death due to heart disease (10Trusted Source).

Moreover, leeks are a good source of allicin and other thiosulfinates, which are sulfur compounds that may benefit heart health by reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and the formation of blood clots (13Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).

Summary

Leeks contain heart-healthy plant compounds shown to reduce inflammation, cholesterol, blood pressure, the formation of blood clots and your overall risk of heart disease.

4. May Aid Weight Loss

Like most vegetables, leeks may promote weight loss.

At 31 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked leaks, this vegetable has very few caloriesper portion.

What's more, leeks are a good source of water and fiber, which may prevent hunger, promote feelings of fullness and help you naturally eat less (21Trusted Source).

They also provide soluble fiber, which forms a gel in your gut and is particularly effective at reducing hunger and appetite (22Trusted Source).

Additionally, research consistently links diets rich in vegetables to weight loss or reduced weight gain over time. Adding leeks or wild ramps to your diet can boost your overall vegetable intake, which may increase this effect (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).

Summary

The fiber and water in leeks can promote fullness and prevent hunger, which may aid weight loss. Furthermore, this vegetable is very low in calories.

5. May Protect Against Certain Cancers

Leeks boast an array of cancer-fighting compounds.

For instance, the kaempferol in leeks is linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases, especially cancer. Test-tube research shows that kaempferol may fight cancer by reducing inflammation, killing cancer cells and preventing these cells from spreading (11Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).

Leeks are also a good source of allicin, a sulfur compound thought to offer similar anticancer properties (26).

Animal studies reveal that ramps grown in selenium-enriched soil may help lower cancer rates in rats (27Trusted Source).

What's more, human studies demonstrate that those who regularly consume alliums, including leeks, may have up to a 46% lower risk of gastric cancer than those who rarely eat them (28Trusted Source).

Similarly, high intake of alliums may be linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary

Some studies suggest that leek compounds may fight cancer and that high intake of alliums, including leeks and wild ramps, may lower your risk of this disease. Still, more studies are needed.

6. May Promote Healthy Digestion


Leeks may improve your digestion.

That's in part because they're a source of soluble fiber, including prebiotics, which work to keep your gut healthy (31Trusted Source).

These bacteria then produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as acetate, propionate and butyrate. SCFAs can reduce inflammation and strengthen your gut health (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).

Research suggests that a prebiotic-rich diet may aid your body's absorption of important nutrients, which can boost your overall health (34Trusted Source).

Summary

Leeks are a good source of soluble fiber, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. In turn, these bacteria reduce inflammation and promote digestive health.

7–9. Other Potential Benefits

Although leeks aren't studied as rigorously as onions and garlic, emerging research suggests that they may offer additional benefits.

  1. May lower blood sugar levels. The sulfur compounds in alliums have been shown to effectively lower blood sugar levels (35Trusted Source).
  2. May promote brain function. These sulfur compounds may also protect your brain from age-related mental decline and disease (35Trusted Source).
  3. May fight infections. Research in animals shows that kaempferol, which is present in leeks, may protect against bacterial, virus and yeast infections (10Trusted Source).

Although these results are promising, more studies are necessary.

Summary

Leeks may help lower blood sugar levels, promote brain function and fight infections. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

10. Easy to Add to Your Diet

Leeks make a delicious, nutritious and versatile addition to any diet.

To prepare them, cut the roots and dark green ends off, keeping only the white and light green parts.

Then, slice them lengthwise and rinse under running water, scrubbing away the dirt and sand that may have accumulated between their layers.

Leeks can be eaten raw, but you can also poach, fry, roast, braise, boil, or pickle them.

They make a great addition to soups, dips, stews, taco fillings, salads, quiches, stir-fries and potato dishes. You can also eat them on your own.

You can refrigerate raw leeks for about a week and cooked ones for around two days.

Unlike cultivated leeks, wild ramps are incredibly pungent. Just a small amount of ramps can add a burst of strong, garlic-like flavor to your favorite dish.

Summary

Leeks are versatile and easy to add to your diet. You can eat them on their own or add them to a variety of main or side dishes.

The Bottom Line

Leeks and wild ramps boast a variety of nutrients and beneficial compounds that may improve your digestion, promote weight loss, reduce inflammation, fight heart disease and combat cancer.

In addition, they may lower blood sugar levels, protect your brain and fight infections.

These alliums, which are closely related to garlic and onions, make great additions to a healthy diet.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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