The Heart of Palm Vegetable: Is It Healthy?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 09, 2024
5 min read

Heart of palm is a white vegetable that comes from the core of certain kinds of palm trees. It's also called palm hearts, palm cabbage, palmito, chonta, and swamp cabbage. Heart of palm grows in humid and tropical areas such as Costa Rica and the Amazon. Farmers harvest the vegetable by cutting down a palm tree and cutting away its outer bark and layers, leaving the tree's tender inner core.

Most people don't eat heart of palm fresh. Even in countries where it's cultivated, the vegetable is usually boiled and processed before eating because it goes bad quickly. Heart of palm is typically exported internationally in pickled form and comes in jars or cans.

Because hearts of palm contain 17 different amino acids, they make for a rich source of protein. They're also low in fat and sugar, high in fiber, and have several healthy vitamins and minerals.

This unique and unassuming vegetable provides some serious health benefits, such as:

Repairing body tissue

Amino acids and proteins make the building blocks of life, and they're necessary for many bodily functions. Heart of palm has all nine essential amino acids, which are those your body can't make and must come from the foods you eat. They are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

One important function of these amino acids is repairing damaged tissue.

Maintaining heart health

Potassium is the most common mineral found in heart of palm and plays an important role in keeping your heart healthy.

It helps trigger your heart to release blood to the rest of your body. It also manages high blood pressure by lessening the harmful effects of sodium and easing the tension in your blood vessel walls. Other sources of potassium include potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, and fresh fruits.

Easing morning sickness 

More than half of those who are pregnant have nausea and vomiting during the first few months of their pregnancy. A nutrient in heart of palm called pyridoxine or vitamin B6 helps lessen the effects of morning sickness. This vitamin works best to treat morning sickness when you pair it with doxylamine (an antihistamine).

Helping with brain function

Another possible benefit of vitamin B6 is better brain function. The vitamin may lower levels of a protein called homocysteine, which researchers have linked to cognitive decline.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Heart of palm is full of fiber, which helps you feel full for longer and avoid overeating.

Hearts of palm are nutritious in numerous ways. For one thing, they are an excellent source of protein, which is uncommon in vegetables. They are also packed with a long list of healthy vitamins and minerals. One such vitamin is vitamin B6, which is required for proper growth and development of your brain, nerves, skin, and many other body parts. Eating one serving (100 grams) of raw heart of palm will cover 62% of your recommended daily value of this heart-healthy vitamin.

Other nutrients found in heart of palm include:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin C

Nutrients per serving

The nutritional information for heart of palm depends on whether it is canned or fresh. A half-cup serving of canned palm hearts contains:

  • Calories: 20
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 3 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Potassium: 129 mg
  • Phosphorus: 47 mg
  • Copper: 0.09 mg
  • Zinc: 0.84 mg

As it's a low-carb, non-starchy vegetable, heart of palm is a good choice for those on the keto diet.

Things to watch out for

Heart of palm is typically sold canned. Canned vegetables are convenient because they have a far longer shelf life than fresh veggies. But they usually contain a high amount of sodium. Half a cup of canned palm hearts contains 311 milligrams of sodium, which may not seem like a lot but covers 13% of your daily value of sodium.

Because too much sodium in your diet can lead to issues such as hypertension (high blood pressure), you should be sure to read the label if you consume canned heart of palm. If your portion comes close to meeting your daily recommended intake of sodium, you should either consume a smaller portion or adjust your diet accordingly for the rest of the day to ensure you don’t go over your daily value.

If you're lucky enough to find young and fresh hearts of palm, you should be sure to seal them and pop them in your refrigerator immediately. If you buy canned hearts of palm, be sure to store the containers in a cool dry place.

Fresh hearts of palm are an excellent addition to salads. You can also toss in drained and chopped hearts of palm from the can, but they'll likely contain some added sodium. You can also try sautéing hearts of palm and adding them to your omelets or casseroles.

Because they're high in fiber, rich in protein, and have a mild flavor, palm hearts make for a great meat substitute in vegan or vegetarian diets. Replace the seafood with palm hearts in dishes such as vegan crab cakes and ceviche.

Hearts of palm is a vegetable that's high in protein and fiber and low in fat and sugar. It may provide health benefits such as repairing tissue, keeping your heart healthy, and boosting brain function. Heart of palm is typically sold canned, so be sure to keep a close eye on how much sodium you're eating.

What does heart of palm taste like?

It tastes mild and delicate and somewhat nutty and sweet. Its texture is comparable to that of a firm cucumber or jicama. Some use hearts of palm to replace meat in vegan recipes.

Is heart of palm a superfood?

There are no specific criteria for superfoods, but they're generally nutrient-dense and low in calories. They're also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, flavonoids, and healthy fats. Heart of palm checks many of these boxes, and some would consider it a superfood.