Turnips are starchy vegetables belonging to the Brassicaceae family which also includes cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts etc. Though we usually refer to the bulbous roots as turnips, their sprouts and leaves are also edible and highly nutritious, and are used in European, Asian and Eastern American cuisines. Their bulbous roots are often diced or chopped and pickled whereas its greens are used in stews and soups. Baby turnips are quite delicious, tender and sweet and thus, can be added to salads and eaten raw. As a turnip matures, its flavor becomes more pronounced and its texture firm and woody (1).
The inner flesh of this vegetable is white in color with tinges of purple to pink to red whereas the skin color of the root bulb depends on the amount of sunlight it receives and is usually white. These vegetables are generally conical in shape but sometimes they can also be round shaped. Their maximum weight can reach up to 1 kg. Their leaves taste somewhat like mustard whereas the roots have a mild pungent flavor with a hint of bitter sweetness. The peak season for turnips is fall or winter months.
The leafy green vegetables that come from the tops of turnip bulbs are known as turnip greens. These can be added to salads or sautéed and served as a side dish. Though the root is most widely used, its top fresh greens are much more nutritious, being several times richer in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. All in all, turnips can be a perfect replacement for potatoes as it contains only 1/3rd calories in comparison to those in potatoes. Rutabagas are a cross between turnips and cabbage which are larger, more round, have yellow color flesh and are sweeter than turnips.
The local names of turnips are ‘Shalgam‘ in Hindi, ‘Tella Dumpa‘ in Telugu, ‘Knol Khol‘ in Tamil, ‘Madhura Mullangi‘ in Malayalam, ‘Navil Kosu‘ in Kannada, ‘Salgam‘ in Marathi, ‘Shalgom‘ in Bengali and ‘Shalgam‘ in Punjabi.
Health Benefits of Turnips:
Like most other vegetables, turnips are low in calories and hence, quite nutritious. They are used for farm animals as well as for human consumption and offer a variety of health benefits.
These cruciferous vegetables contain high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which reduce the risk of cancer. Presence of glucosinolates prevents as well as reduces the effect of cancer. These are natural plant chemicals that break into two compounds while digesting i.e. indoles and isothiocyanates. They help the liver process toxins, fight the effects of carcinogens and can inhibit the growth of tumor cells. Inclusion of this vegetable in your daily diet can reduce the risk of breast cancer as well as colon and rectal tumors (2).
2. Cardiovascular Health:
Turnips possess great anti-inflammatory properties due to the presence of large amount of vitamin K. These help in preventing heart attacks, heart strokes and other heart ailments. Turnip greens aid in digestion by absorbing more amount of bile which uses up the cholesterol present in the body. This results in the reduction of cholesterol. Turnips are also excellent sources of folate, which further helps to boost up the cardiovascular system (3).
3. Bone Health:
Turnips are an important source of calcium and potassium which are vital for healthy bone growth and maintenance. Regular consumption of turnip inhibits joint damage, risk of osteoporosis and the incidence of Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is also an excellent source of calcium, a mineral that supports the body’s production of connective tissues (4).
4. Lung Health:
The carcinogens present in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, resulting in lung inflammation, emphysema and other lung problems. The vitamin A contained in turnip greens helps in maintaining healthy lungs by counteracting this defect (5).
5. Aids in Digestion:
The high fiber content in turnip greens supports the body’s digestive system (6). Research has proved that glucosinolates may also help the stomach process bacteria like Helicobacter pylori.
6. Prevents Atherosclerosis:
Too many free radicals in the body cause oxidation of bad cholesterol and clumping of platelets in our body, thus leading to atherosclerosis, a condition that damages the blood vessels. Vitamins E, C and beta carotene in turnip roots and greens are excellent antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body. Thus, regular consumption of turnips prevents the development and progression of this condition (7).
7. Treatment of Common Ailments:
The curative power of turnips is beneficial in preventing several common illnesses such as lack of hunger and hemorrhoids. Regular consumption of turnip can even cure kidney stone if it is small enough (8).
8. Beneficial for Weight Loss:
Turnips are low in calories and hence, can form part of an effective weight loss program. Their high fiber content on the other hand regulates metabolism, controls body weight and supports a healthy and active colon (9).
9. Cures Asthma:
The anti-inflammatory properties of turnips can be attributed to their high content of vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant. These properties are effective in curing asthma and curbing the symptoms of asthma. Studies have proved that giving turnips to asthmatic patients can lessen wheezing.