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As the trend for a vegan lifestyle is fast being accepted as a long-term change, it is becoming all the more essential to find substitutes in the diet which ensure that the requirements of all nutrients are met. These substitutes should not only fulfil the nutrient requirements, but also have a taste and texture that’s acceptable and make the transition easier.

One such meat substitute is a VEGETABLE called Heart of Palm! Unbelievable? Read on to know more!

What is heart of palm?

Heart of palm is a type of vegetable which is collected from the inner core and growing bud of certain varieties of the palm tree. Coconut, juçara, Açaí, peach palm, are some of the varieties which are harvested for this purpose.

During harvesting, the cultivated tree is cut and the bark is removed, which leaves layers of white fibers around the center core. During processing, these fibers are removed, leaving just a few around the heart of palm.

The tender, white cylinder shaped vegetable has a mild crunchy flavour, similar to artichokes.

Costa Rica is the primary supplier of palm hearts to the United States. Peach palms are also cultivated in Hawaii and supplied in limited quantities to the US, mainly to the restaurant industry.

Nutrition Facts



Nutrient
Values per 100 gm
Energy​
28 kcal​
Protein​
2.5 g​
Fat​
0.62 g​
Fiber​
2.4 g​
Calcium​
58 mg​
Iron​
3.1 mg​
Magnesium​
38 mg​
Vitamin C​
7.9 mg​

The serving size varies amongst different brands, but on an average, 1 cup (146 g) of heart of palm provides around 41 calories, 3.7 g protein, 0.9 g fat and 3.7 g of fiber.

Apart from this, it also provides potassium, zinc, Vitamin C and small amounts of B complex vitamins like niacin.

Health Benefits

The major health benefits of the heart of palm is due to its fiber, calcium and iron, content. Manganese, magnesium and vitamin C also contribute significantly in providing beneficial effects to the body. Some of the major benefits are as follows:

1. Promotes Digestive Health

Fiber, particularly the insoluble one, has many beneficial functions in the body. It travels through the digestive system, absorbing water and providing roughage to the body. This helps to clear the bowel efficiently, thereby preventing constipation and other digestive issues.

Insoluble fiber also acts as a prebiotic, which means that it acts as a substrate for the growth of various beneficial gut bacteria. A healthy gut has been linked with improvement in various diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, certain liver diseases, obesity and metabolic syndrome[1].

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the recommended daily intake of fiber should be around 25-30 g in adults. 1 cup of hearts of palm provides roughly 3.5 g fiber, which can meet upto 14% of your daily fiber requirements.

2. Aids in Weight Loss

A high protein meal provides more satiety than a high carbohydrate one. High protein also helps to reduce the concentration of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and also gastric emptying, which reduces hunger and keeps you full for long[2]. Also, fiber intake has shown to control the amount of food consumed, both, within and between meals[3].

These mechanisms can control the amount of food-and ultimately calories consumed, and thus, aid in weight loss. Hearts of palm are a good source of both, protein and fiber. Thus it can have a positive impact in a calorie restricted diet for weight loss.

3. Supports Bone Health

The bone strength and density is at its peak till you are in your early 20s. After that, the bones begin to remodel themselves. But in case of osteoporosis, this remodelling is slowed and the rate of bone loss is greater than the bone growth. The risk of this increases above the age of 50 years[4]. Therefore, it is essential to include foods which help to prevent or mitigate this condition.

According to the American Bone Health organisation, Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium are the key nutrients for bone health. Magnesium is necessary for calcium and vitamin D regulation in the bones[5].

Heart of palm is a good source of both, calcium (58 mg/100 gm) and magnesium (38 mg/100 gm) and can therefore aid in bone health.

4. Stabilizes the Blood Sugar levels

A normal blood sugar level (fasting levels less than 100 mg/dL) is required for optimum functioning of the body. High fluctuations in the levels can be harmful and cause nerve damage, vision impairment and kidney damage. It also increases the risk of infections and its various complications.

Nutrients such as fiber and manganese which are found in hearts of palm are known to have beneficial effects in controlling blood sugar levels.

A cross-sectional study conducted in Korea found that low blood levels of Manganese increased the risk and incidence of diabetes and renal dysfunction, indicating its importance in the prevention of these diseases[6].

Dietary fiber slows the absorption of glucose in the blood, thereby reducing glucose spikes.

5. Helps to Prevent Anemia

Healthy red blood cells are required to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues. Any abnormality in the red blood cells, decreases its oxygen-carrying capacity, making you feel tired, lethargic, weak along with various other symptoms. This condition is known as Anemia.

There are various forms and causes of anemia and Iron-deficiency is one of the most common cause.

Hearts of palm provides around 3 mg of iron per 100 g. A cup of this super vegetable (approximately 146 g) provides 25% of the daily iron requirements.

In addition, Vitamin C is required for optimum iron absorption in the body to prevent anemia. 7.9 mg content of vitamin C in hearts of palm will definitely help in the process.

6. Boosts the Immunity

Various nutrients required by the body for increasing the immune responses, including Vitamin C, zinc and manganese are found in good amounts in the hearts of palm.

Evidence suggests that zinc and vitamin C have important roles in the immune function and reducing the risk and severity of various infections, including respiratory tract infections like the common cold[7].
Manganese has shown to have a high free radical scavenging capacity[8] and can protect against a variety of diseases caused by oxidative damage to the body.​

Uses

Canned or jarred hearts of palm can be found throughout the year in the vegetable section of your local grocery store. They are available as either small pieces or long stalks.

Some speciality stores or markets may also have fresh hearts of palm. While selecting from these vendors, be sure to look for ones which are unblemished and slightly soft, but still should be firm to touch.

This is a very versatile vegetable and is quite useful in vegan recipes. Due to their texture and protein content, they can be a great substitute for meat.

Here are some ideas to incorporate this in your meals:
  • Mixed with olive oil, garlic and lime, it can be used as a creamy dip.
  • It can be shredded and used in place of different meats in the main course.
  • It can also be a great substitute for sea food in salads and appetizers.

Storage

You can store unopened cans of hearts of palm for a fairly long time in your cabinets or pantry, but once opened, any leftovers should be refrigerated. Fresh hearts of palm should be refrigerated as soon as possible. They can be kept for a week or two.

Precautions

Most of the hearts of palm available in the market are canned and therefore contain a lot of sodium. If you are hypertensive or on a low-sodium diet for other reasons, drain, wash and rinse the vegetable thoroughly before using.


References
1. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16469977
3. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3032831
4. iofbonehealth.org/what-is-osteoporosis
5. americanbonehealth.org/nutrition/nutrientsforbonehealth/
6. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3973834/
7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373990
8. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1444472