Parsnip: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses

Parsnips might look like pale carrots, but they're a nutrient-packed root vegetable with a touch of spice, nuttiness, and sweetness. These vegetables can vary in color from white to cream to pale yellow, with more noticeable sweetness when harvested after the first frost.

Parsnips are a cultivated subspecies of Pastinaca sativa, or wild parsnip. Pastinaca sativa is a native species found all throughout Europe and Central Asia. Historically, the edible root was used for occasional food purposes, especially during the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans about 2,000 years ago. Before cane sugar and beet sugar, parsnip was also used as a natural sweetener to flavor cakes and other baked items.

European explorers brought parsnips with them and introduced the root vegetable to new colonies, especially in North America, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. In recent years, parsnips have become more popular for their bold flavor, natural sweetness, and unique versatility in the kitchen.

Health Benefits

Parsnips are high in health-boosting vitamin C. In fact, a half-cup of raw parsnips has about 17 milligrams of vitamin C, about 28% of your daily recommended intake (DRI). Boiling parsnips reduces their vitamin C content, but they still provide about 13 milligrams or 20% DRI.

Here are some other health benefits of parsnips:

Supports the Immune System

Vitamin C helps to boost your immune system and support more infection-fighting white blood cells. High amounts of vitamin C, about 100 to 200 milligrams a day, can also help to reduce your risks for respiratory infections and some chronic diseases. 

Improves Digestion

Parsnips are a good source of fiber as well, with anywhere from 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving. Fiber is vital for a healthy gut because it moves food along the digestive tract and improves bowel health.

One serving of parsnips provides about 20 percent of the DRI for women and about 13 percent for men. Fiber also helps to slow down sugar absorption to avoid spikes in your blood sugar. Although parsnips have a higher glycemic index of 52, they have so much fiber that the sugars don't absorb all at once. 

Supports the Cardiovascular System

Along with vitamin C, parsnips are rich in potassium, a mineral that helps your heart function, balances your blood pressure, and lowers your risk for kidney stones. One serving of parsnips provides about 10 percent of your DRI of potassium. 

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Nutrition

Parsnips provide a variety of vitamins and minerals that support a healthy lifestyle, including:

Nutrients per Serving

One-half cup of raw, sliced parsnip contains:

  • Calories: 50
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 12 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 7 milligrams

Things to Watch Out For

Cultivated parsnips have plenty of health benefits, but you should avoid picking wild parsnip. Wild parsnip is nearly identical, but it has far more furanocoumarin compounds in its stems and sap. It’s even considered hazardous to some people. These furanocoumarin compounds cause photosensitivity and can lead to sunlight-related burns on the skin within 24 to 48 hours.

How to Use Parsnip

These root vegetables are often found in supermarkets year-round, but they're at their peak flavor from late fall to early spring. Parsnips that are small to medium in size will be sweeter and less fibrous than large parsnips.

Try these parsnip recipes, and introduce a flavorful new vegetable into your diet:

  • Slice parsnips into thin chips and bake them
  • Enjoy a vegetarian shepherd's pie using parsnips, lentils, and mushrooms
  • Grate parsnips and add to your salad
  • Make a parsnip and potato gratin
  • Drizzle honey or maple syrup on parsnips and roast them together in the oven
  • Whip up a parsnip spice cake

Bake an apple and parsnip bundt cake

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Michigan State University: "Parsnips: A vegetable from antiquity."

Nutrients: "Vitamin C and Immune Function."

USDA Department of Agriculture - FoodData Central: "Parsnips, raw."

Victoria State Government - Department of Health and Human Services: "Parsnips."

Mayo Clinic - Healthy Lifestyle: Nutrition and healthy eating: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet."

Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute: "Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load."

Harvard Medical School - Harvard Health Publishing: "The importance of potassium."

New York State - Department of Environmental Conservation: "Wild Parsnip."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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