Celery is a stalk vegetable that is a member of the Parsley family. Native to several continents, celery is used as a health, food, diet and weight loss aid (primarily in North America), and medicinal plants (traditional Chinese medicine).
Containing only ten calories and little of any other macronutrients (e.g., protein, carbohydrates), this root holds many micronutrients and healthful compounds (1). But what are the health benefits of eating celery?
The primary reason why celery is heralded as a diet aid is for the myth, it contains “negative calories.” This essentially means celery uses more calories to chew and digest than it has (2).
This is not precisely true, but because celery is high in water and fiber and low in calories and fat, it is an excellent supplement to the diet.
Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Celery seed contains more fatty acids and carbohydrates but has many beneficial health-boosting properties (3).
The use of celery dates back to 1,000 BC in the Mediterranean, where it was used as a medicine for digestion, colds, and water retention (4). Slathered in peanut butter, dunked in dressing, or eaten as is (which is, of course, the healthiest option), celery is a crunchy snack that can improve various medical conditions.
Health benefits of eating celery
High fiber foods like celery feed the bacteria in our gut
The headlines and studies all agree – your gut microbiome (or community of bacteria in your gut) is more important for your health than most of us realize. Having the wrong proportions of bacteria in your gut can lead to disease, organ problems, and various chronic conditions (5).
This comes with another idea: if our gut bacteria are essential, and we want a healthy gut (you know what they say, healthy gut, healthy body!), we need to feed our microbes the right foods.
Fiber is one of their favorite nutrients because it breaks down slowly, which means the fiber progresses almost intact through the esophagus and stomach to the intestines where our gut microbes live.
Studies that look at an increased fiber show our microbes love it and thrive when our diet has enough fiber. Fiber is something celery has an abundance of – making this one fundamental reason to reach for a celery stick instead of a pretzel.
Relieves symptoms of gout
A gout is a painful form of arthritis that occurs due to a build-up of uric acid salt crystals in the joints (7). This condition is usually treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and other pharmaceutical interventions (8). Reducing alcohol and meat intake can also alleviate symptoms.
This is a promising natural alternative to current pharmaceutical solutions short-lived and not a right long-term solution (many anti-inflammatories and steroids should not be used long-term due to health complications).
Reduces blood pressure
Celery and celery seeds are diuretics (they cause accelerated water loss), which may help high blood pressure because too much water makes blood pressure rise. Recent studies showed celery seed extract given twice a day resulted in a reduction of blood pressure naturally. Celery has not been found to disturb the natural mineral balance of body functions and mineral content, a bonus (11).
While celery extract and celery seed extract do elicit these benefits, scientific studies are often conducted using a specific plant component. This makes it easier to determine that the effect comes from the item being tested rather than from one of the many food components. But, for health and nutrition, the whole food is best.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) and blood flow can be improved by celery, as shown in clinical studies (13).
Some foods can increase your blood flow, “14 Foods that Increase Blood Flow.”
Reduces weight (beyond just being low in calories)
Celery’s caloric content means it’s the right choice for weight loss. But, celery extract given to mice on a high-fat diet prevented the rapid weight gain seen in mice that didn’t receive any extract.
Celery’s weight-loss assistance may go far beyond simple calories, but the exact process behind this remains under investigation.
Further to this, celery appears to reduce lipogenesis (fat generation), reduce triglyceride levels, reduce inflammation, and exhibit other weight-beneficial effects (14).
This comes with a note of caution. Celery extract has been noted to potentially worsen hyperthyroidism and allergic reactions when taken in too high a dose (15). As with all health foods and supplements, variety is the spice of life, and you shouldn’t be focused on only one food at a time. Celery should be part of your diet but is best eaten with several other foods.
Reduces gastric ulcer symptoms and risk
Studies with rats have shown that celery seed can be helpful for reducing stomach ulcer formation and duration. Stomach ulcers occur when the stomach acid eats away at the stomach’s inner surface, creating an open sore. In a healthy body, a mucous layer would protect your stomach from ulcers.
Carbonated beverages, bacterial infections, and certain pharmaceutical drugs can cause stomach ulcers to form. Rats dosed with celery seed extract have less gastric secretion (secretions lead to lesions, which become ulcers). The extract also has an antisecretory effect, which reduces the amount of acid in the stomach, reducing the chances of ulcer formation (16).
Celery benefits for bones and prevent bone disease
Celery contains a host of flavonoids, which are commonly found in many fruits and vegetables. Along with carotenoids, they’re the compounds that give fruits and veggies their bright, eye-catching colors. Flavonoids have been found in a recent study to reduce osteoclast-associated bone disease.
Osteoclasts maintain bone formation and degradation, and excessive activity can cause osteoporosis, bone tumors, and Paget’s disease (17). The study results showed celery flavonoids might be an effective preventative and therapeutic substance in elderly populations, to reduce osteoclast diseases and their severity (18).
Antioxidants prevent cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and urinary tract obstruction
Antioxidants are one of the most underrated health superheroes, scavenging free oxygen radicals formed by our metabolic processes and body functions. Left unchecked, these radicals could go on to cause diseases like cancer. Celery is a fantastic source of antioxidants, including tannin, saponin, and caffeic acid (19). These compounds (among many others) can keep your body healthy and running right, instead of being overrun with damage-inducing radicals.
Celery benefits on blood glucose levels
In a study done on elderly pre-diabetics, celery was effective at reducing blood glucose levels, suggesting a potential natural alternative to traditional pharmaceutical treatment of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes (20). However, an investigation into this effect is still underway.
Tests performed in rats suggest celery extract can have a hypoglycemic or “blood sugar lowering” effect (21). Rats given celery seed extract also had less necrosis and inflammation in their tissues, which could be attributed to lower resting blood sugar levels (22).
This initial study suggests that future work examining the specific effects of celery extract or whole celery on metabolic disorders like diabetes and diabetic and non-diabetic individuals’ blood sugar levels is warranted. Those of us in nutrition look forward to these interesting results, following the promising results of celery on blood sugar.
Reduces Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis, better known as eczema, is a condition that makes skin red, itchy, and irritated. There is currently no cure. However, celery extract and hydrolyzed celery extract seemed to prevent the inflammation that causes this condition (23). Preliminary studies in cells have suggested that hydrolyzed celery extract may be a useful therapeutic for managing atopic dermatitis, and these studies are underway.
Improves acute inflammation
Acute inflammation encompasses various conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, coeliac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, among many others. Acute inflammation happens when we get an overwhelming response from the immune system in a particular area. Sometimes, this elimination response becomes chronic (as in the above-listed conditions) (24).
In a recent study, researchers induced an acute inflammation state in rats to mimic arthritis. The results suggested that methanol and petroleum ether extracts found in celery positively affected the induced inflammation, reducing it significantly (25). The authors surmise that this effect is due to celery components (and other herbs tested), including polyunsaturated fatty acids, phytosterols, or phenolic compounds.
Improves digestion (for reasons other than fiber!)
Celery receives the majority of attention for its high fiber content. Yes, fiber does help digestion. But there are other components in celery stalks and leaves that have beneficial effects on our digestion. Components such as phenolic compounds and antioxidants may be the reason why this plant has been so successfully utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years.
Celery leaf decreased reactive oxygen species produced by a meal (ROS are a by-product of metabolism that can cause a variety of conditions including DNA mutations, cancer, and disease), as well as lipid peroxidation. The celery leaf also elevated the antioxidant activities in the liver, spleen, and thymus of experimental mice, showing some promising results for future clinical studies.
What do you reach for when you want a snack? It’s probably something dry and salty like trail mix, a granola bar, or chips. Another great thing about celery (beyond the many attributes already discussed) is that it contains a fair amount of water for its volume. Celery is primarily fiber and water, after all.
Another reason to reach for this crispy treat is that it helps you stay hydrated, which is good for many things. Your skin, digestion, and body, in general, need a lot of water to run smoothly (our body is 60% water!), and celery could be a good start in supplementing the water lost through metabolism, exercise, and general body maintenance.
Dark sides of celery and health concerns
Celery has now been bred to be resistant to pests including beet armyworms, leafminers, and other bugs that decrease yield, to form larger stalks and smaller leaves and roots (we want the edible part to be the largest), resistance to stress, and high nutrient levels (including vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and iron) (26).
Like all crops that are suddenly in high demand, celery has been altered to suit our needs, and there are pros and cons to this. In many cases, we don’t know all the selective breeding ramifications before we do it. Selective breeding, for example, results in loss of genetic variation between plants, making them more susceptible to disease (being different means, potentially avoiding problematic diseases that kill most plants) (27).
Celery is a root crop, which can be problematic for repeated harvesting. Soil loss is a problem facing agriculture, and there is significant loss during celery and other root crop harvesting. Loss of clay, lime, organic matter, and soil moisture means these and other micronutrients in soil need to be supplemented by farmers after the harvest but before the next crop is planted.
Nutrient-poor soil can decrease the nutritional value of celery in addition to being bad for the environment. In the interest of preventing environmental damage from soil erosion (which can worsen pollution and sedimentation, clog waterways, and have drastic effects on species of animals and plants in the region) and keeping celery high in nutrients, crop rotation and nutrient supplementation are vitally important to the growth and harvest of this vegetable.
As with any vegetable primarily eaten raw, pesticides that don’t easily rinse off with water are a concern. Even when cooked, some pesticides can remain on vegetables and be accidentally consumed (these are usually strong chemicals that are not healthy or safe for consumption).
A recent analysis performed in China randomly tested 300 celery samples for various pesticides and found 58% of them were positive for pesticide residue (28). Some common pesticides detected on celery include Amitrole, Cyromazine, Propamocarb, and Triethanolamine (29), all of which are considered poisonous and can cause some health side effects, including fluid in the lungs and organ damage (30).
In recent years, juicing fruits and vegetables has become a fad in the nutrition world. The juice does contain many wonderful things for your health, including micronutrients and antioxidants, but has a few catches. When it comes to getting your recommended 5-10 servings of vegetables a day, the juice just doesn’t cut it. While it contains micronutrients, celery juice misses the fiber, it one of its most essential ingredients for health (as we now know).
Juices also don’t leave you feeling as full as the whole vegetable. This is less of a problem for a vegetable like celery, which is low in calories as it is for something like carrots (which are high enough in sugar) that without the work of crunching them, it’s easy to overdo your caloric intention with juice.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and juicing is an excellent example of this. When you’re choosing juice or the whole vegetable, always go with the entire vegetable. If the decision is juice or nothing (say, you cannot stand the texture or don’t have time to sit down and eat a few sticks of celery), then the juice does provide some of your desired nutrients, just not as many and without the fiber of the whole vegetable.
Celery is a great addition to your diet. As with all foods and supplements, addition in moderation is vital for success. However, the compounds in this useful vegetable have been shown to affect many diseases and disorders. In the future, they may prove to be an effective therapeutic alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals.
Celery is high in water (which is beneficial for your digestion and health) and fiber (which feeds your gut microbiome, affecting your entire body system, and aids in digestion and nutrient uptake from other foods).
Celery is a better choice for snacking than most snack foods (which provide no additional water with heaps of salt and calories). It’s a guilt-free pleasure that offers many health benefits beyond water and fiber (which, other than being zero-calorie, may be what makes celery famous as a health food).
Try to find celery sources that are local and from farmers who use minimal pesticides and supplement their soil with the nutrients that celery can deplete. Your local farmers market should have fresh celery (typically late autumn or early winter, but this varies by location) that meets all your nutritional needs and is great for the environment (not to mention the local economy) as well!
Getting vegetables from your local farmer is a great way to support the local economy, limit pesticide and contaminant risk, and get wholesome, fresh vegetables that are best for your health.
Happy snacking! Besides being eaten raw as a snack, celery makes a good pot roast, pot pie, soup, and stir fry addition. This adds flavor and texture to your cooked dinner! Enjoy exploring all of the ways to utilize celery in your daily diet, and watch your health improve.