Due to their nutritional composition, turnips — and turnip greens — offer many health-promoting effects.
May have anticancer properties
Turnips contain several beneficial plant compounds associated with cancer-fighting properties.
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Besides their high vitamin C content, which may help prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells, turnips are rich in glucosinolates (5).
Glucosinolates are a group of bioactive plant compounds that also provide antioxidant activity, meaning they mitigate the cancer-promoting effects of oxidative stress (13, 14).
Numerous studies have linked higher intakes of glucosinolates with a reduced risk of different types of cancer, including lung, colon, and rectal cancers (15, 16, 17, 18).
Furthermore, turnips contain high amounts of flavonoids — mainly anthocyanins — another type of antioxidant with proven anticancer effects (13, 19).
Anthocyanins are present in blue and purple fruits and vegetables, such as turnips, and eating them is linked to lower rates of chronic and degenerative diseases (20, 21).
May help control blood sugar levels
Managing your blood sugar is critical for health, especially for those who have diabetes, and animal studies suggest that turnips may have antidiabetic effects.
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One 9-month study in rats on a high sugar diet found that treatment with 45 mg of turnip extract per pound (100 mg per kg) of body weight lowered blood sugar levels and increased levels of insulin, compared with the control group (22).
The study also determined that the extract helped correct other metabolic disorders associated with diabetes, such as high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Similar results were found after testing the antidiabetic effects of turnip greens.
One 28-day study in rats with diabetes observed that those fed a daily dose of 90-180 mg of turnip leaf extract per pound (200-400 mg per kg) experienced significantly reduced blood sugar, as well as lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (23).
Both studies agree that the antidiabetic effects of turnip and turnip green extract may be due to multiple factors, including (13, 22, 23):
- increased blood sugar clearance
- lowered glucose (sugar) production by the liver
- reduced absorption of carbs
However, given that the studies only tested different types of extracts on rats, it’s unclear whether fresh turnip and turnip greens have similar effects in humans.
May provide anti-inflammatory effects
Inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases, such as arthritis, cancer, and high blood pressure caused by the hardening of the arteries.
Glucosinolates in turnips break down into indoles and isothiocyanates, both of which are bioactive byproducts with anti-inflammatory properties (13, 24).
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One specific kind of indole in turnips is arvelexin, which studies suggest blocks pro-inflammatory compounds, such as nitric oxide, a type of free radical involved in the inflammation process (25, 26).
For example, test-tube and animal studies have found that arvelexin significantly reduced inflammation and injury in human colon cells and the colons of mice by inactivating an inflammatory pathway (27).
May protect against harmful bacteria
Turnips’ glucosinolates also break down into isothiocyanates, a group of compounds capable of inhibiting microbial and bacterial growth (13, 28).
Studies have found that isothiocyanates fight common disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli and S. aureus (29).
One test-tube study determined that isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables had an antibacterial effect of up to 87% against antibiotic resistant strains of S. aureus (30).
Moreover, given the recent rise in cases of bacterial resistance, researchers have conducted test-tube and animal studies to evaluate the potential effect of combining isothiocyanates with standard antibiotics.
The results suggest that together, they may exert a more significant effect in controlling bacterial growth (29, 31).
Other potential health benefits
Turnip’s roots and greens may provide additional health benefits, including:
- May aid weight management. Turnips are low calorie, non-starchy vegetables with a low glycemic index, so eating them has a minimal effect on your blood sugar levels. According to research, these characteristics support a healthy weight (32, 33).
- May promote bone health. Vitamin K plays a key role in bone metabolism, and animal studies suggest that glucosinolates may positively affect bone formation (34, 35, 36).
- May protect your liver. Turnips’ content of anthocyanins and sulfur compounds, such as glucosinolates, have been shown to exert liver-protecting effects in rats with liver toxicity (13).
Turnips’ vitamin and antioxidant contents may provide anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antibacterial effects, among other benefits.
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