Pretty in pink: why rhubarb works

In Food item, Information, Rhubarb by Sue Marshall

Rhubarb plants can grow big and rangey, have leaves way bigger than a dinner plate, and it’s edible stalks are long and usually a shade of pink. However, these long stalks (often up to 2ft long) can be rough stuff – extremely fibrous, unless you pull up some of the very young stalks, which you can happily snack on raw. Due to this fibrousness, and its tart taste, rhubarb is often booked with sugar to make either jams, pickles or as a component of crumble. (Never eat the green leaves though; they contain oxalic acid which, in excess, can be fatal if ingested).

As a raw snack, diabetics can chomp away, but once it’s been jammed or pickled, be aware there will be a high sugar content. However, according to one of the main reasons why people cultivate and eat rhubarb is for its nutritional value. Rhubarb is packed with mineral, vitamins and organic compounds. There is plenty of dietary fibre, vital for a healthy diet, but also has B complex vitamins, vitamins C and K as well as calcium, potassium, manganese and magnesium. It is a rich source of polyphenolic flavonoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and other biological properties, and may protect from oxidative stress and some diseases. Note, although all flavonoids are polyphenols, polyphenols not necessarily are flavonoids. All polyphenols, including flavonoids, offer numerous health benefits. Besides being potent antioxidants, some polyphenols have other biological activities that can prevent certain diseases. In some studies pomegranate juice has slowed down the growth of prostate and lung cancers and it’s thought to improve overall vascular health. Tart cherry juice (not sweet cherry juice) reduces muscle pain and inflammation in athletes. Green tea and red wine polyphenols can contribute to heart health too.

Gut feeling
Rhubarb is one of the lowest calorie vegetables, along with celery, in its raw state. Rhubarb is a vegetable, although many think if it as a fruit as it’s often used in baking and jams. It is sometimes recommended for people who want to lose weight as 100 grams of rhubarb contain only 21 calories. It has zero fat, zero cholesterol and therefore poses no threat to cardiovascular health. It can actually increase the levels of good cholesterol due to the presence of its dietary fibre, which can ‘scrape’ excess cholesterol from the walls of blood vessels and arteries. This fibre can help to keep your digestive system healthy by keeping you regular, easing constipation and other digestive issues.

Food features and recipes like this appear in the Desang Diabetes Magazine, our free-to-receive digital journal. We cover diabetes news, diabetes ‘kit’ and information on food suitable for maintaining good blood glucose control or a diabetic diet, including a regular Making Carbs Count column. It’s free! Go to the top of this page to sign up – we just need your email address. See current and past issues at

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