Onions and garlic are mainstays of most kitchens, but many cooks have never touched a leek. Like their better-known cousins, leeks belong to the allium family. Leeks look like giant green onions and can stand in for onions in many dishes.
The early Greeks and Romans were fond of leeks, thinking they were good for the voice.
Leeks are rich in flavonoids, especially one called kaempferol. Flavonoids are antioxidants and may have anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anticancer properties, as well as other health benefits. Definite proof of these health benefits of leeks will depend upon future studies with humans.
Other health benefits of leeks include:
Cancer Risk Reduction
Plants of the allium family may have a connection with a lower risk of certain cancers. Cancers of the prostate, stomach, colon, and esophagus are rarer in those who consume a lot of garlic, shallots, chives, onions, and leeks. Researchers think that the antioxidants in allium vegetables repair damaged DNA. Many studies have found evidence for a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. One analysis of 16 studies found that all vegetables in the allium family offer these health benefits.
Leeks are rich in Vitamin K, which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Some studies show a relationship between a higher intake of Vitamin K and denser bones, which lead to a reduced risk of hip fractures. In some parts of the world, health authorities have approved the use of Vitamin K for osteoporosis. The Food and Drug Administration has not endorsed it in the United States.
Leeks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two substances that protect the eyes. These substances, known as carotenoids, reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. These two eye conditions can severely impair vision and negatively impact quality of life. They are common in older people.
Because leeks are a low-calorie food, they can be part of a weight management program. The water and fiber in leeks can give you a feeling of fullness, so you are less likely to overeat. Leeks also add a lot of flavor to foods and make eating healthy dishes enjoyable.
Besides Vitamin K, leeks also contain:
Nutrients per Serving
Leeks are low in calories, high in fiber, and have zero fat. A one-cup serving contains approximately:
- Calories: 54
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 13 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sugar: 4 grams
Tips for Cleaning Leeks
Farmers grow leeks in trenches that they fill with dirt as the plant matures. This practice keeps the bulb white, but it also causes dirt to collect between the layers of the plant. As a result, you must clean leeks carefully to avoid getting dirt in your food. One method is to cut off the root, slice the leek vertically, and hold it under running water.
How to Use Leeks
Enjoy leeks cooked or raw. Here are some ways to use them:
- Thinly slice and use raw as a salad topping.
- Add to mixed vegetables before oven roasting.
- Make mashed potatoes more interesting by adding leeks to boiling potatoes, then mashing them with the potatoes.
- Try vichyssoise, a traditional potato-and-leek soup served cold.
- Use leeks to season beans, soups, and stews.
- Combine leeks with fennel for a unique flavor blend.
- Serve sautéed leeks over salmon.