These Health Benefits of Radishes Are Seriously, Well, Rad
With their small size and bright pink-red hue, radishes are pretty freakin' adorable. But don't let their size fool you — radishes are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. The tiny veggie also boasts a unique peppery taste, making it perfect for sprucing up salads, tacos, and more. Ahead, learn about the health benefits of radishes, plus delicious ways to enjoy them.
What Are Radishes?
The radish is a cruciferous veggie that can grow "wherever there is sunlight and moist, fertile soil," according to the University of Illinois, which makes for easy growing. They also come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors — in fact, there are 35 (!!) different varieties of radish, says Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., co-founder of Culina Health. Some of the most common are cherry belle — round with red skin and white flesh, often what's stocked at the supermarket — and daikon — long and carrot-shaped with white skin and flesh, according to Michigan State University.
Radish Nutrition Facts
"Radishes are a true superfood," says Megan Byrd, R.D., founder of The Oregon Dietitian. "They contain high levels of vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc." These nutrients are involved in a range of basic physiological processes, from creating red blood cells to promoting healthy digestion, she explains. Like fellow cruciferous veggies (i.e. cauliflower), radishes also contain glucosinolates aka sulfur-containing compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to an article in the journal Molecules.
The skin of a red radish contains anthocyanins or plant pigments that are responsible for the veggie's ruby hue. Anthocyanins, which are also found in plants such as berries and purple corn, have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, further adding to the long list of impressive radish health benefits. Here's a quick nutritional profile of one cup of raw radishes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture,
- 18 calories
- <1 gram protein
- <1 gram fat
- 4 grams carbohydrates
- 2 grams fiber
- 2 grams sugar
Health Benefits of Radishes
With so many nutrients in each orb, it's no wonder radishes are so good for you. Check out all the radish health benefits, below, according to dietitians and scientific research.
"The vitamin C and B vitamins in radishes help to boost your immune system by promoting the production of white blood cells," explains Byrd. "They also boost the ability of your white blood cells to do their jobs," which involve important duties such as destroying disease-causing germs and producing antibodies. B vitamins also help enzymes produce new organic molecules, according to a 2019 review, a basic component of all cells. This helps build new immune cells, which carry out the functions of your immune system.
May Reduce Cancer Risk
The vitamin C in radishes could also play a role in cancer prevention. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and it's "a powerhouse when it comes to fighting free radicals in the body," notes Rissetto. (A quick refresher: free radicals are harmful molecules that, in excess, can damage cells and contribute to the development of diseases such as cancer.)
When you eat a radish, for example, the glucosinolates are broken down into compounds called isothiocyanates, which have been found to hinder the development of cancer in rats and mice, according to the National Cancer Insitute. In fact, one type of isothiocyanate called sulforaphane found in radish seeds has been shown to play a role in the death of breast cancer cells in a 2017 lab study and lung cancer cells in 2016 research. (BTW, broccoli sprouts are also stocked with sulforaphane.)
Supports Healthy Digestion
Veggies are some of the best sources of fiber, which plays a pretty large part in keeping things moving along your digestive tract. So it's not surprising to learn that radishes, boasting 2 grams of fiber per cup, can be good for your belly.
"Radishes are rich in lignin, a type of insoluble fiber," explains Rissetto. As insoluble fiber moves through your digestive tract, it remains intact and absorbs fluids, waste, and byproducts produced by the natural digestive process. This "keeps waste moving in a steady pattern through the gastrointestinal tract," shares Rissetto, helping prevent constipation and other GI issues.
While radishes can have some advantages to gut health, if you have IBS or a similar gut condition or even just a sensitive stomach, know that cruciferous veggies, including radishes, can cause gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort due to their raffinose, a complex sugar that's challenging for some folks to digest.
Decreases Risk for Diabetes
In a 2017 scientific review, researchers say that radishes can have "antidiabetic effects." While more research is still needed, the fiber in radishes can also slow down glucose absorption, thus preventing blood sugar levels from spiking, according to a 2018 review. Plus, other lab and animal studies have shown radishes to reduce glucose absorption in the intestine, which can help manage and potentially prevent diabetes as well. What's more,
How to Pick, Prep, and Eat Radishes
Typically, radishes are available fresh in the produce section, and you might find them sold by the pound (or as bunches) with the leaves attached or de-stemmed and packed in plastic bags. Go for radishes that are plump, firm, and smooth. Make sure the leaves are bright green and fresh. Avoid radishes with black spots or cracking, as well as oversized (aka older) radishes; raw radishes taste best when they're young and about 1-inch wide, according to Texas A&M University.
Radishes aren't usually sold frozen or in cans, but they're sometimes available pickled, says Rissetto. However, pickled radishes tend to have added sugar, so check the ingredients or considering pickling them yourself, she suggests.
To prep fresh radishes, scrub and wash the orbs, then cut the root tip and stems to help the veggie last longer, according to MSU. (The stems spoil faster, so they'll make the radish rot quickly if you leave them on.) While you can technically peel radishes, you might not want to with certain varieties such as red radishes, which get most of their peppery flavor from the skin. From there, you can slice, dice, or grate the radishes — or just serve them whole.
Don't be so quick to toss out those stems and leaves; they're totally edible. In fact, research suggests that radish leaves have even more antioxidants than the vegetable itself. Radish leaves are also high in fiber and have a similar peppery flavor, notes Byrd. The top of the stems just under the leaves tend to be more tender, while the bottom close to the radish might be too tough to eat, so go ahead and toss those parts in the compost bin.
Store radishes and their leaves (separately) in the refrigerator. The radishes should last about two weeks, while the leaves will last two to three days, according to MSU. When it's time to cook, both the radishes and leaves can be sautéed, roasted, steamed, or eaten raw.
If you're unsure where to start, check out these tasty ways to eat radishes at home:
As a roasted side dish. If you're not crazy about the spicy flavor of raw radishes, try roasting them for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. "Roasting tones down the peppery flavor and brings out their natural sweetness," making them more pleasant for different palates, notes Rissetto. These maple-roasted radishes with dill feta, for example, offers the perfect combo of sweet and savory.
In a salad. Spice up a boring salad with thinly sliced raw radishes. Try it in a spring pea shoot salad with figs, blue cheese, and walnuts, or make a radish caesar salad for a fun twist on a classic dish. You can also toss sautéed or roasted radishes into warm salads.
As a pickled condiment. "Pickled radishes make for a delicious meal topper," says Rissetto, who loves adding them to meat-based meals for a bit of brightness and acidity. To DIY, "combine chopped radishes, water, vinegar, a little sugar, and your favorite spices in a jar," she says. Let sit for a few minutes (or a couple of hours, if you have the time) to let the radishes absorb the flavors. Crunched for time? Try Sukina Pickled Radish (Buy It, $6, instacart.com).
As a garnish. Due to its peppery taste, a single radish can go a long way. Try garnishing a main entrée — like this herb-baked salmon — with a thinly sliced radish for a dose of color, nutrients, and flavor. You can also grate or shred a radish on simple dishes, such as avocado toast.