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Are there any health benefits to eating rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is well known for its tart and sour taste. It is often used in pies, jams, and other foods as a complement to sweeteners. Some people enjoy the tart flavor of rhubarb on its own, while others prefer it combined with sugars or other ingredients. Though rhubarb is not as popular as other fruits and vegetables, it does contain some interesting nutrients and plant compounds that may provide health benefits.

Nutrition Facts

Rhubarb is low in calories but high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and manganese (1).

Nutrient 1 cup raw diced rhubarb (122g) % Daily Value
Calories 26 1%
Fiber 2.2g 8%
Vitamin C 10mg 12%
Vitamin K 41mcg 35%
Calcium 86mg 7%
Manganese 0.2mg 9%

Rhubarb leaves are not edible as they contain high levels of oxalic acid, which is toxic. Only the rhubarb stalks should be eaten (2).

Antioxidants

Rhubarb contains beneficial plant compounds, including anthocyanins, which give rhubarb its red color. Anthocyanins are antioxidant pigments found in many blue, purple, and red fruits and vegetables. Studies show anthocyanins help reduce inflammation and protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive decline (3).

Rhubarb also provides small amounts of catechin and gallic acid, two other antioxidants. Antioxidants help neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage cells and lead to disease (4).

Prebiotic Effects

The fiber content of rhubarb may benefit digestive health. The indigestible fiber in rhubarb can’t be broken down by your gut, so it travels through your gastrointestinal tract intact. This fiber acts as a prebiotic by providing fuel for the beneficial bacteria that live in your colon (5).

Research indicates prebiotics like the fiber found in rhubarb may promote intestinal regularity, improve mineral absorption, and reduce inflammation in people with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (6).

Weight Loss

Rhubarb is very low in calories, providing just 26 calories in a 1-cup (122-gram) serving. It’s also high in fiber, which slows digestion and helps promote fullness. Adding rhubarb to an overall healthy diet may aid weight loss efforts (7).

Population studies have found an association between increased fiber intake and lower body weight. However, more research is needed to determine if increased rhubarb intake specifically has a significant effect on weight loss (8).

Heart Health

The nutrients and plant compounds in rhubarb may support heart health in a few ways.

First, the anthocyanins in rhubarb have been shown to decrease inflammation, improve cholesterol, and lower triglycerides in some studies (9). High levels of these blood fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Second, the fiber content of rhubarb may help lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in your gut, assisting its elimination from the body (10).

Additionally, a higher intake of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables like rhubarb is associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke (11).

Blood Sugar Control

Rhubarb contains very little sugars naturally. It has a low glycemic index (GI), meaning it does not cause significant spikes in blood sugar. The fiber content also helps slow digestion, preventing rapid rises in blood glucose (12).

Some studies demonstrate that extracts from rhubarb stems may inhibit enzymes that digest carbohydrates. This could potentially decrease the absorption of sugars in the gut and improve blood sugar control (13).

Other Potential Benefits

Below are a few other potential benefits of rhubarb:

  • Its anti-inflammatory properties may relieve pain in conditions like arthritis (14).
  • Antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene may help improve immune function and wound healing (15, 16).
  • Compounds in rhubarb leaves exhibit antibacterial properties in test-tube studies (17).

However, more human studies are needed before making conclusions on these potential benefits.

Adverse Effects

When consumed in normal food amounts, rhubarb does not appear to have any adverse side effects for most people.

However, there are a few things to be mindful of:

  • Oxalates: Rhubarb leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which can be toxic in very high doses and reduce calcium absorption. Only the stalks should be eaten (18).
  • Drug interactions: Compounds in rhubarb may interact with some medications like warfarin, potentially increasing risk of bleeding (19).
  • Allergies: Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to rhubarb. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing, hives, or swelling of the throat (20).
  • Risk in pregnancy: Rhubarb supplements should be avoided during pregnancy due to lack of safety research. Food amounts are likely safe (21).

Those with kidney disorders should probably avoid eating large amounts of rhubarb and promptly treat any signs of toxicity, like nausea, vomiting, or burning urine (22).

Healthy and Creative Ways to Eat Rhubarb

Here are some healthy and tasty ways you can add rhubarb to your diet:

  • baked into oatmeal, muffins, breads, or crumbles
  • roasted with a drizzle of honey for a tart side dish
  • simmered into chutneys, sauces, and compotes
  • pureed into smoothies, adding sweetness as desired
  • poached with strawberries to naturally sweeten and soften
  • infused into homemade yogurt or ice cream
  • pickle into a zesty relish to pair with fish or pork
  • fermented into tangy rhubarb wine or kombucha

The Bottom Line

Rhubarb is a tart, fiber-rich stalk most often used in desserts. However, it does contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics that may benefit digestive health, weight loss, heart health, and blood sugar control.

Moderate portions of rhubarb can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet by most people looking to add interesting flavors and potential health benefits.