Water chestnuts are aquatic tuber vegetables that grow in marshes, ponds, paddy fields, and shallow lakes.
Water chestnuts are native to Southeast Asia, Southern China, Taiwan, Australia, Africa, and many islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
They are harvested when the corm, or bulb, turns a dark brown.
They have a crisp, white flesh that can be enjoyed raw or cooked and are a common addition to Asian dishes such as stir-fries, chop suey, curries, and salads.
However, water chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis) should not be confused with water caltrops (Trapa natans), also often called water chestnuts. Water caltrops are shaped like bats or buffalo heads and taste like yams or potatoes.
Water chestnuts have many uses and are linked to several benefits. Here are five science-backed benefits of water chestnuts, plus ideas for how to eat them.
1. Water chestnuts are very nutritious yet low in calories
Water chestnuts are full of nutrients. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of raw water chestnuts provides:
- Calories: 97
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Carbs: 23.9 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Potassium: 17% of the recommended daily intake
- Manganese: 17% of the recommended daily intake
- Copper: 16% of the recommended daily intake
- Vitamin B6: 16% of the recommended daily intake
- Riboflavin: 12% of the recommended daily intake
Water chestnuts are a great source of fiber and provide 12% of the daily fiber recommendation for women and 8% for men.
Research shows that eating plenty of fiber may help promote bowel movements, reduce blood cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar levels and keep your gut healthy.
Additionally, most of the calories in water chestnuts come from carbs.
However, they are generally low in calories because raw water chestnuts are 74% water.
Summary: Water chestnuts are very nutritious and contain high amounts of fiber, potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, and riboflavin. Most of their calories come from carbs.
2. Water chestnuts are packed with antioxidants
Water chestnuts contain high amounts of disease-fighting antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules that help protect the body against potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. If free radicals accumulate in the body, they can overwhelm the body’s natural defenses and promote a state called oxidative stress.
Unfortunately, oxidative stress has been linked to a higher risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers.
Water chestnuts are especially rich in the antioxidants ferulic acid, gallocatechin gallate, epicatechin gallate, and catechin gallate.
Test-tube studies have shown that antioxidants in the peel and flesh of water chestnuts can effectively neutralize free radicals involved in chronic disease progression.
Interestingly, antioxidants in water chestnuts, like ferulic acid, also help ensure that the water chestnut flesh stays crispy and crunchy, even after cooking.
Summary: Water chestnuts are a great source of the antioxidants ferulic acid, gallocatechin gallate, epicatechin gallate, and catechin gallate. These antioxidants can help the body combat oxidative stress, which is linked to many chronic diseases.
3. Water chestnuts can reduce the risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally.
The risk of heart disease is elevated by risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol (LDL cholesterol), strokes, and high blood triglycerides.
Interestingly, water chestnuts have been used historically to treat risk factors such as high blood pressure. This is likely because they are a great source of potassium.
Many studies have linked diets abundant in potassium with reduced risks of stroke and high blood pressure — two risk factors for heart disease.
Suggested read: 12 healthy foods high in antioxidants
An analysis of 33 studies found that when people with high blood pressure consumed more potassium, their systolic blood pressure (upper value) and diastolic blood pressure (lower value) reduced by 3.49 mmHg and 1.96 mmHg, respectively.
The same analysis also found that people who ate the most potassium had a 24% lower risk of developing a stroke.
Another analysis of 11 studies including 247,510 people found that those who ate the most potassium had a 21% lower risk of stroke and an overall reduced risk of heart disease.
Summary: Water chestnuts are a great source of potassium. Diets rich in potassium have been linked to reduced heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and strokes.
4. Water chestnuts can aid in weight loss
Water chestnuts are classified as high-volume food. High-volume foods contain either a lot of water or air. Both are calorie-free.
Despite being low in calories, high-volume foods can effectively curb hunger.
As hunger can affect your ability to stick to a diet, swapping less filling foods for filling foods that provide similar calories can be an effective strategy for losing weight.
Water chestnuts are made up of 74% water.
If you struggle with hunger, swapping your current source of carbs for water chestnuts may help you stay fuller while consuming fewer calories.
Summary: Water chestnuts are made of 74% water, which makes them a high-volume food. Following a diet abundant in high-volume foods may help you lose weight, as they can keep you fuller for longer with fewer calories.
5. Water chestnuts could reduce the risk of oxidative stress and help fight cancer growth
Water chestnuts contain very high levels of the antioxidant ferulic acid.
This antioxidant ensures that the flesh of water chestnuts stays crunchy, even after they are cooked. Moreover, several studies have linked ferulic acid to a lower risk of several cancers.
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In a test-tube study, scientists found that treating breast cancer cells with ferulic acid helped suppress their growth and promote their death.
Other test-tube studies have found that ferulic acid helped suppress the growth of skin, thyroid, lung, and bone cancer cells.
The anti-cancer effects of water chestnuts are likely related to their antioxidant content.
Cancer cells rely on large amounts of free radicals to allow them to grow and spread. As antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, they may compromise cancer cell growth.
That said, most of the research on water chestnuts and cancer is based on test-tube studies. More human-based research is needed before giving recommendations.
Summary: The flesh of water chestnuts is very high in ferulic acid, an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of oxidative stress and cancer.
How to use water chestnuts
Water chestnuts are a typical delicacy in Asian countries.
They are highly versatile and can be enjoyed raw, boiled, fried, grilled, pickled, or candied.
For example, water chestnuts are often peeled, diced, sliced, or grated into dishes such as stir-fries, omelets, chop suey, curries, and salads.
They can also be enjoyed fresh after washing and peeling, as they have a crispy, sweet, apple-like flesh. Interestingly, the flesh continues to stay crisp even after boiling or frying.
Some people use dried and ground water chestnut as a flour alternative. This is because water chestnuts are high in starch, which makes them a great thickener.
Water chestnuts can be purchased fresh or canned from Asian food stores.
Summary: Water chestnuts are incredibly versatile and easy to add to your diet. Try them fresh or cooked into stir-fries, salads, omelets, and more.
Water chestnuts are aquatic vegetables that are nutritious and delicious.
They are a great source of antioxidants and other compounds that may help prevent age-related diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Water chestnuts are also highly versatile and can be added to various dishes.
Try adding water chestnuts to your diet today to reap their health benefits.