Turnip: Health Benefits and Nutritional Value (Rutabaga)

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Turnip – Rutabaga Health Benefits & Nutrition

It is a root vegetable, which is actually a cross between cabbage and turnips. The scientific name of Turnip is Brassica napus, but it is known by many other names throughout the world, including yellow turnips or neeps.

Turnip Origin and History

Turnips are cruciferous vegetables that are known around the world as “swedes”, but are called Turnips in much of the western hemisphere, primarily in North America.
Its actual origins are still somewhat in question, but most people that it is native to Scandinavia and Russia. It was introduced widely in England in the 19th century, but there was evidence of Turnips being harvested in North America in the early 19th century as well, suggesting possible Scandinavian origins that grew in Canada and then spread throughout the continent.

Advantages of Adding Turnip to Daily Diet Plan

As a food source, the root, as well as the leafy vegetables is utilized, depending on the culture. The leaves are used much like other leafy vegetables, such as spinach or chard, while the root meat can be prepared in similar ways to potatoes, either mashed or roasted, while some other cultures use it as filler in various casseroles and mincemeat.

Its unique flavor makes it very useful to boost the taste of a variety of dishes throughout the world, and many cultures have incorporated it into staple foods or national delicacies. It is considered a healthy alternative to potatoes, as it doesn’t have as many “empty” carbohydrates and provides a wide range of minerals, vitamins, and organic compounds that are beneficial for human health. Let’s take a closer look at the unique composition of this delicious and under-appreciated vegetable.

Varieties of Turnip

The most common variety is white and globe-shaped. But there are many different varieties, leading to confusion between what is a turnip and what is a Rutabaga and what is a Swede. Thankfully, you can use them all interchangeably. See separate entries on Swede and Rutabaga to understand the actual differences.

Younger and smaller turnips -- less than 7.5 cm (3 inches) wide -- will be more tender with a very mild, very slightly sweet taste. Don't buy any that are soft or shrivelled; they should feel "hefty" for their size. Larger turnips may be tougher and a bit bitter. Sometimes the turnips will come with the greens attached still; sometimes they will come with the greens already removed. It depends on when in the year you are buying them. If the greens are fresh, crisp, bright and green; you can cook with them. Otherwise, they won't be bad, they'll just be unappealing. Young greens can be eaten raw in salad, older ones need to be boiled, steamed or microwaved with a bit of water -- as you would spinach. The raw greens will add a perky, mustardy taste to your salad greens.

Nutritional Value of Turnips

Turnips include a diverse range of nutrients including high levels of manganese, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, as well as vitamins like vitamin C, E, K, and members of the B-family. In terms of organic compounds, Turnips provide glucosinolates and carotenoids.

What are The Health Benefits of Turnip?

Some of the health benefits of Turnip includes its ability to improve your digestive health, boost your immune system, improve your metabolic function, lowers blood pressure, prevents certain forms of cancer, lowers cholesterol levels, aids in cellular and enzymatic functions, builds strong bones, and can even help you lose weight.

Below are some more detailed health benefits of turnip:

Health Benefits of Turnips

1. Antioxidant Activity

Perhaps the most important function of Turnips involves its diverse composition of antioxidant compounds. Glucosinolates which are somewhat rare, sulfur-containing compounds that have been shown to reduce the growth of cancerous tumors in the body. 

Furthermore, the high levels of carotenoids and vitamin C act as antioxidants, which combat the effects of free radicals, thereby preventing the mutation of healthy cells into cancerous cells, among other effects. Turnips can effectively prevent premature aging, improve eyesight, and stimulate the healthy regeneration of cells throughout our organs and tissues.

2. Digestive Health

Like all cruciferous vegetables, Turnips are very high in fiber, providing more than 12% of your daily requirement in each serving. Dietary fiber functions in a variety of ways in the body, but primarily it improves digestion by bulking up stool and preventing constipation and gastrointestinal distress. Staying regular is an essential part of your overall health and also helps in weight loss efforts. As a low-calorie, nutrient-rich food source, Turnips are praised as components of a weight-loss diet, and the high level of fiber also helps to make you feel full, thereby reducing the chances of overeating.

3. Immune System Health 

As mentioned, vitamin C is the major vitamin present in Turnips, and a single serving contains more than half of the required daily allotment of vitamin C in our diet. Vitamin C is essential for many bodily processes, including the stimulation of the immune system to produce white blood cells. Beyond that, vitamin C is a necessary element in the production of collagen, which contributes to the development and healing of skin tissue and muscles, as well as blood vessels. High levels of vitamin C can also help directly prevent colorectal cancer, as a number of research studies have attested.

4. Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health 

Potassium is a very valuable part of Turnip’s nutritional offerings, as potassium can help to lower blood pressure by reducing the stress and contraction of blood vessels. This allows for easier passage of blood, increased oxygenation to vital organs and systems, and a lower chance of clotting. Combine potassium with the fiber content in Turnips, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels, and you have a surefire way to prevent atherosclerosis, effectively lowering your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

5. Strong Bones 

Turnips are a wealth of important minerals, including zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous, all of which play key roles in the creation and maintenance of bone tissue. Osteoporosis affects millions of people around the world, and keeping your bones healthy and strong as you get older will help to avoid this common age-related disorder.

6. Metabolic Function

Turnips represent a great option for many vegetarians, as it nearly provides a complete protein, something that most vegetarians struggle to acquire when they don’t consume meat. Proteins and amino acids are the building blocks of new cells and are necessary to promote proper development, growth, healing, reproduction, muscle contraction, and dozens of other important bodily processes.

7. Enzymatic Function

Zinc is a key component of many enzymatic functions throughout the body, without which our bodily processes become inefficient, resulting in more dangerous health concerns. The moderate found in Turnips are highly praised for this reason.

8. Diabetes and Weight Loss

Although Turnips fill the role of potatoes in many cultures, they don’t have as many carbohydrates, which break down into simple sugars, potentially wreaking havoc on glucose and insulin levels in the body. Therefore, Turnips are often turned to as an alternative to potatoes for diabetic and those who want to cut back on the carbs. The vegetable can essentially help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. While there are only about 20% less carbohydrates in equal portions of Turnips than in potatoes, the additional nutritional value makes Turnips a much wise and more delicious choice.

How to Store Turnips?

Gardeners in areas where hard freezes are not common can simply leave them in the ground, covered with hay or other mulch to keep the sun and rain off them. However, keep in mind that deer love browsing turnips, so harvest earlier where deer are common.

Once turnips are harvested, immediately twist or cut off the tips to keep them from pulling moisture from the roots. Rinse the greens in cool water, shake off excess moisture and store for up to four or five days in plastic food storage bags in the refrigerator.

Knowing how to store turnip roots depends on their size and maturity. Small roots can be refrigerated for two or three weeks. Large, mature roots can be sorted to remove cut or blemished ones, and then kept a few at a time in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or so.

Spread those to be stored longer in a single layer in a box with some damp newspaper or sawdust to keep them humid. Place the box in a cool, dark, unheated garage, basement, or root cellar, and check frequently to remove those that are losing quality.

Freeze turnip roots by washing, peeling, and cutting them into half inch cubes, then blanching in boiling water for two minutes. Chill quickly in cold water and freeze immediately in freezer bags. They should keep fine for 8 to 10 months.

Finally, the question of how do you store turnips is for folks who grow too much at one time; the best way to have crispy, sweet turnips and greens the longest, is to sow fresh seed every two or three weeks during the growing season to keep fresh new ones coming along.

Turnip Cooking Tips

To prepare turnip roots for use, wash, top them and trim any hairy roots off, then peel. If you have very young turnips (they will be very small, about the size of golf balls, then you can get away without peeling. Older turnips must be peeled.) Then chop or slice depending on what you are going to do with them.

Turnips are best cooked in enamel or stainless steel pots as the turnip may interact with aluminium or iron pots and go dark. Turnip can be quite uninteresting on its own, but is very good combined with other vegetables such as parsnip, carrot and potato, either mashed with cream and cheese (got any pieces of bacon to toss in?), or diced with butter.


If turnips are less than 7.5 cm (3 inches) wide, place in pot of boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. If turnips are larger, halve them. If you are in a hurry, you can dice or slice your turnips, and reduce cooking time to 6 to 8 minutes.


Cube or slice the turnip, place in a covered microwave-proof dish along with a few tablespoons of water, and zap for anywhere up to 9 minutes, depending on the zap power of your microwave. Let stand covered for 3 minutes after removing from microwave. Prepared this way, they will be particularly uninteresting.


Prepare as for boiling, then steam. Will take about the same time as boiling for whole turnips, cut up turnips will need to be steamed for up to 15 minutes.


Quarter the turnips, and about 45 minutes before your meat will be done, place in roasting pan alongside the meat.


Some Asian recipes will have you stir-fry turnip. The turnip is cut into thin slices or shredded, then stir-fried with other ingredients. Small cubes also works.

Word of Caution:

There are currently no known health risks for Turnip, aside from the risk of having an allergy, which is quite rare. However, if you are allergic to turnips, cabbage, spinach, or other cruciferous vegetables, consult a doctor to see if it is safe to add Turnip to your diet.

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