Hearts of palm, otherwise known as palm hearts, are the soft centers of the palm tree. White and tender, they have a similar flavor to artichoke hearts and look a lot like white asparagus. Many people find that they make for great vegan stand-ins for meat and seafood side dishes. So let's explore the nutrition behind palm hearts, their health benefits, and the top recommendations for preparation.
What Are Hearts of Palm?
Conveniently waiting for you to purchase and enjoy at your grocery store or local farmers market, hearts of palm are the edible vegetable inner cores of palm trees. While they're a longtime food staple of Central and South America, sabal palm trees are also found in the Southern United States, and are even the official tree of both Florida and South Carolina (though it's South Carolina that has the sabal palm tree on its flag and is known as "The Palmetto State"). That being said, most of the commercially available hearts of palm are exported from Costa Rica and are imported by France.
Full of fiber, low on the glycemic index, low in carbs, and high in protein, the slim, white cores of palm trees are vegetarian and vegan favorites that can be used in a number of creative dishes. We have more on hearts of palm recipes at the end of this article, but before we get to how tasty they can be, let's talk about what hearts of palm can do for your health.
Hearts of Palm Nutrition Facts
For such a simple veggie, hearts of palm have a rich nutritional profile. A 1-cup serving of canned hearts of palm contains the following.
- Calories: 41
- Protein: 3.7 grams
- Dietary fiber: 3.5 grams
- Carbs: 6.8 grams
- Sugars: 7 grams
- Fat: 0.9 grams
- Sodium: 622 milligrams
- Potassium: 258 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 94.9 milligrams
- Calcium: 84.7 milligrams
- Magnesium: 55.5 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 11.5 milligrams
- Iron: 4.6 milligrams
Hearts of palm also include smaller amounts and micrograms of manganese, zinc, vitamin B6, copper, and folate. Fresh hearts of palm, however, have almost no sodium content—that is a result of the canning process, and you can reduce the sodium content by rinsing your canned palm hearts before cooking them.
Hearts of Palm: Top 3 Health Benefits
Here are the top three health benefits you can expect from eating hearts of palm.
1. Weight-Loss Aid
Because hearts of palm are so low in fat and so high in protein for a vegetable, they can make a great asset to a healthy diet. Moreover, studies show that protein helps reduce appetite, in part because it reduces levels of the "hunger hormone" ghrelin.
Meanwhile, the fiber content in hearts of palm also leads to feelings of satiety, which leads to fewer calories consumed throughout the day. And that's not all that fiber can do.
2. Dietary Fiber for Digestive Health
Another aspect of fiber beyond slowing down stomach empty and promoting feelings of fullness is that it helps nourish our good gut bacteria. The microbiome of the gut is one of the most important battlegrounds for our immune systems: our good gut bacteria keep the opportunistic bacteria in check.
The fiber we humans can't digest but our good bacteria can is known as prebiotic fiber, found in foods like bananas, lentils, oats, and hearts of palm. The 3.5 grams of dietary fiber in each cup of hearts of palm makes up about 14% of the daily recommended amount of fiber, an excellent asset to your nutrition.
3. Blood Sugar Control
Another benefit of the slow digestive movement of fiber is that it helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. A food's glycemic index number indicates how quickly it increases blood sugar levels: table sugar is at 65, while hearts of palm are at 32, lower even than date palms, which clock in at 36.
Frequent spikes to our blood sugar from substances like refined sugars and corn syrup found in processed food can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, a dangerous metabolic disease that could ultimately be life-threatening if not carefully managed.
The fiber content of hearts of palm isn't the end of its benefit in the area of blood sugar: studies also indicate that manganese content could play a role as well, guarding against a deficiency that may impair carbohydrate metabolism and insulin secretion. Manganese also operates as an antioxidant (just like vitamin C), helping to protect against the dangerous oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the body.
Hearts of Palm: Top 3 Vegan Recipes
Whether you want to use them as an appetizer or in your main dish for dinner, hearts of palm taste so mild that they can be enjoyed in a variety of creative ways, including replacing animal meats, as seen in the following vegan recipes.
That's right: ceviche without fish, all while using hearts of palm.
Ceviche is a South American appetizer traditionally made with marinated raw seafood like tuna, shrimp, or salmon (or all of the above), chopped in with veggies like onions, peppers, tomatoes, etc. And yet, the supple texture of hearts of palm means you can chop it up in much the same fashion, marinate it with lime juice, and combine it with avocados, olive oil, and spices, as seen in this recipe from Megan at Carrots & Flowers. So much like ceviche, you won't know the difference, but you will be able to maintain a vegan lifestyle as you enjoy your food.
Another take on this dish: the Brazilian Hearts of Palm Salad from One Green Planet. Fresh and simple, with no heat-cooking involved.
This recipe from Eating Bird Food is another vegan meat switcheroo. Instead of beef or pork, you run some canned hearts of palm through your food processor, whip up some homemade BBQ sauce, and add apple cider vinegar coleslaw for an authentic taste. Use gluten-free hamburger buns or lettuce wraps, and enjoy.
3. Vegan Hearts of Palm Carnitas
Now for something a little hardier, a vegan main course: carnitas. This recipe from Loose Leaf Vegan shows that hearts of palm are tough enough to withstand long periods of simmering. By combining veggie stock with classic spices like cayenne pepper, garlic, and chili, you can enjoy this healthy vegan version of carnitas, minus the meats.
You Hold Hearts of Palm in the Palm of Your Hand
These inner cores of palm trees are a versatile veggie, perfect for vegan versions of traditional meat dishes and full of their own health benefits and vital nutrients. If you've never used hearts of palm in cooking before, there are tons of recipes out there for crispy salads, tasty casseroles, and more.