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Published April 16, 2009, 12:00 AM

Bok choy — the super Asian vegetable

Chinese cabbage would be pleasant addition to any diet.

By: Jeff Tiedeman, The Dickinson Press

Chinese cabbage would be pleasant addition to any diet.

I consider my diet pretty well-rounded, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Ever since finding out how healthy they are, I’ve been willing to give almost anything a try — and have.

But I’m not so smug to think that there aren’t a lot of things out there from the plant world that haven’t crossed my palate. There are virtually so many that a lot of them probably never will, which brings me to the subject of bok choy, which looks a lot like celery, having stalks of white and green leaves that do not form a head. (The succulent stems absorb all the flavors of whatever you put them into and the greens can be used in salads.)

Until recently, I’d never eaten the vegetable known as Peking cabbage. The member of the brassica family has been cultivated in China for more than 1,400 years, yet I’d never tried it until Therese brought some home, leftovers from her school lunch, which has a grant program in place that provides kids with two vegetables each day of the week.

While looking for a bok choy recipe (check out the recipe for Oven-Roasted Salmon with Baby Bok Choy, it’s really yummy), I discovered that it really is quite a nutritious vegetable. Bok choy is similar to other cabbages: It is rich in vitamin C and contains significant amounts of nitrogen compounds known as indoles, as well as fiber — both of which appear to lower the risk of various forms of cancer.

Bok choy also is a good source of folate (folic acid) and potassium. And with its deep green leaves, bok choy has more beta-carotene than other cabbages, and it also supplies considerably more calcium. It’s basically fat-free and low in calories.

(A 1-cup serving of cooked bok choy contains 20 calories, 0.3 grams of fat, 2.7 grams fiber, 3 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 58 milligrams sodium, 2.6 milligrams beta-carotene, 44 milligrams vitamin C, 69 micrograms folate and 631 milligrams potassium.)

Perhaps, that is why bok choy has become so popular worldwide, but more so in the Eastern world, especially Japan, where it’s among the wide range of veggies that people eat, especially those in the cabbage family, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. (In Korea, it’s the staple vegetable for making kimchi.)

With this in mind, it’s not surprising to find out that Japan has one of the world’s lowest obesity rates. (Only 3 percent of Japanese women are obese, compared with 13 percent in France and 33 percent in the U.S., according to the International Association for the Study of Obesity.) And the Japanese also are global longevity champs, particularly the people of Okinawa — home to the world’s largest population of centenarians.

Compared with the way we eat in America, the Japanese diet is much lower in calories — primarily because of the dominance of high-water, high-fiber and low-fat foods, such as bok choy and other veggies, which are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and other phytonutrients, such as flavonoids.

My only exposure to Japanese cooking was about 15 years ago, when Nobura Okabe, a visiting journalist from Toyko, prepared some very tasty vegetable sushi for a few of us from the Herald. (I still regret not getting the recipe.) At the time, little did I know how healthy it was.

Maybe Western diets could take cue from Japan’s smart habits and get healthier. And bok choy might be a good place to start.

— Tiedeman is food editor at the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at 701-780-1136, toll-free at 800-477-6572, or e-mail jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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