Rutabagas and turnips lack looks but deliver on nutrition


Rutabagas and turnips lack looks but deliver on nutrition

There are a couple of cousins patiently waiting on the produce shelf to be noticed.  They’re not flashy or considered a “superstar” food but they are affordable, versatile, nutritious, and currently in season now from October through March.  These two closely related root veggies are rutabagas and turnips.  No, they rarely get star billing but make no mistake these two workhorses of the vegetable kingdom are the real deal when it comes to pulling their nutritional prowess for you.

Since the ancient times of the Greek and Roman periods, rutabagas and turnips have been cultivated as a staple food.  To this day, they still adorn meals as a staple food served alongside other vegetables and meat. Both can be used in soups, stews, served with meat or mashed like a potato.

Here’s a look at why each one deserves a regular spot on your dinner plate:


It is only in the United States that this root veggie is known as “rutabaga.”  Otherwise everywhere else, it is referred to as “swedes.” This member of the cruciferous vegetable family, has the name of rutabaga coming from the Swedish word  “rotabagge” meaning root ram, baggy root, and ram’s foot.

Larger than it’s cousin the turnip and believed to be a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, rutabagas are more dense and considered to be higher in many essential nutrients. It is a cool-season vegetable that can withstand frost and mild freezing. 

Rutabagas can be in a range of colors from purple, white or yellow and they exhibit a nutty, sweet mild peppery turnip-like flavor similar to both cabbage and turnips. 

Nutritionally, rutabagas provide a wealth of important nutrients.  A one-half cup serving contains only 33 calories, 0 grams of fat, 277 milligrams of potassium, 3.4 grams of fiber, and 16 milligrams of vitamin C. 


Turnips bear a similar resemblance to potatoes but belong to the Brassicaceae family of which also include cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and kale.

Don’t cut off the fresh green turnip tops to throw away.  Buy turnips with their tops intact as the greens are richer in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than the flesh part of turnips themselves.

One cup of turnips will provide just 51 calories, 76 milligrams of calcium, 21 milligrams of magnesium, and 407 milligrams of potassium.  The leafy greens of turnips contain 33 milligrams of vitamin C per cup, 6,373 International Units (IU) of vitamin A, and 318 IU of vitamin K which is three times the daily requirement for adults. 

The real reason rutabagas and turnips are good for you

Rutabagas and turnips share a common trait – they are both members of the family of cruciferous vegetables.  Cruciferous vegetables come from the Brassicaceae or mustard family possessing sulfur-containing glucosinolates giving them their distinctive aroma and taste.  These same veggies also contain a host of phytochemicals and antioxidants that have many important health benefits for us.

What makes cruciferous vegetables a powerhouse of nutritional perks are the compounds formed after glucosinolates are broken down called isothiocyanates and indoles.  These two biologically active compounds can lower cancer risk by reducing activity of enzymes that stimulate carcinogens and they protect DNA from damage.  Other roles isothiocyanates and indoles have in cancer prevention is to prevent normal cells from becoming cancerous cells, to slow the growth of cancer cells and it’s possible they may induce cancer cells to die off. 

Studies have shown regularly consuming cruciferous vegetables such as rutabagas and turnips may lower the risk of lung, colorectal, prostate, bladder, melanoma, esophageal and breast cancers. 

Besides rutabagas and turnips’ power in cancer reduction, these same vegetables also support other aspects of our health.  Their high content of fiber, vitamin C, folate, calcium, beta-carotene and phytochemicals aid in the following manner:

·      Their fiber content helps in weight loss by providing a feeling of fullness.

·      This same high fiber content is valuable for reducing constipation and diverticulosis by supporting bowel health.

·      They may decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

·      They help fight infections and heal wounds by keeping the immune system strong

·      Rutabagas are a good alternative for those with diabetes to eat instead of more starchy potatoes.  They have about 20% less starch than potatoes aiding in better blood glucose control.

One consideration for anyone with low thyroid functioning or hypothyroidism is because of the glucosinolates found in both rutabagas and turnips, a high intake of either one can result in a production of a compound called goitrin.  Goitrin inhibits thyroid hormone production as this compound competes with iodine for absorption. Those with hypothyroidism should discuss this with their doctor before including rutabagas and turnips in their diet.