Have Fun with Fennel: Your Health May Thank You

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Fennel is one of those “fancy foods” I was intimidated to cook. I usually limit eating it to when I go out to eat at a nice restaurant. This aromatic herb looks like a ‘tribrid’ between an onion, celery and carrot tops.

Reportedly, Roman warriors consumed fennel to make them strong. It was also “thought to have the power to help people keep thin.” Its Greek name marathon, means “grow thin” and “reflects the belief in its ability to suppress appetite.”  

Fennel is actually very easy to prepare and is a super versatile food. All parts of it are edible and delicious: the bulbous root, stalks (similar to the texture of celery), feathery fronds and seeds (inside of blossoms that come with a mature fennel plant).

You can roast or saute fennel, shave it raw and mix in salads for an extra crunchy texture and rich taste, use it in soups or simply sprinkle the fronds over meat and vegetable dishes. For a simple side dish, roast fennel bulbs in the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. This herb is a great flavoring agent with a licorice, anise flavor and fragrance.

Fennel also appears to deliver a variety of health benefits.

So for today’s Meatless Monday, let’s focus on fennel. Remember, if you go meatless every Monday for a year (52 days total), you may reduce your risk for certain diseases, including cancer, heart disease and more.

Fennel may provide protection against cancer.

Along with being rich in several vitamins and minerals that may help reduce the risk of developing different types of cancer, fennel is also rich in an anti-inflammatory phytonutrient called anethole.

One study suggested that anethole suppressed cell survival and induced apoptosis (cell death) in human breast cancer cells.

One raw fennel bulb also contains about 7 grams of fiber. An increased fiber intake has been associated with a reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer, by bulking up the stool and more rapidly eliminating waste (which is believed by some studies to contain carcinogens) from the body. It is recommended that men get about 38 grams of fiber daily, while women need about 25.

Fennel may help with digestive issues.

Fennel has been used for thousands of years as a natural, traditional carminative. Carminatives are drugs used to relieve flatulence. Fennel seeds, in particular, are reported to help prevent spasms in the stomach that may cause digestive discomfort, gas, bloating and cramping. The anethole in fennel is believed to be responsible for providing relief from digestive issues. Sipping fennel tea after or in between meals may aid digestion. You may even chew about a half a teaspoon of fennel seeds, like gum, to release the anethole from the seed and soothe your stomach. An added bonus is chewing on the seeds may help freshen your breath.

Fennel may help provide relief from colic in babies.

Fennel may have such powerful effective ways in treating digestive issues that it might even help colicky babies. Colic is an attack of crying and abdominal pain in early infancy. Reportedly, about 1 to 5 babies develop colic.

Some reports say that a breastfeeding mother who consumes fennel can pass fennel’s beneficial properties to her baby through her breast milk and relieve symptoms of colic. Some reports also say fennel may increase breast milk production.

If you are a breastfeeding mother with a colicky baby or simply looking for ways to increase your breast milk production, it is imperative you speak with your doctor before you attempt to use fennel. And if you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about incorporating fennel into your diet. Several reports say fennel, particularly fennel tea, may have emmenagogues effects, which means it may stimulate menstrual flow. And stimulating menstrual flow in pregnant women is believed to be a cause of miscarriage, by some medical professionals.

Fennel may help regulate menstruation and relieve symptoms of PMS.

Since fennel is an emmenagogue, it may help regulate menstruation by regulating hormones in the body. It may also help with reducing muscle spasms in the stomach and provide relief from PMS symptoms, including cramping, gas and bloating.

Fennel may help reduce the risk of postmenopausal symptoms.

A recent study conducted by The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reported that fennel may help manage postmenopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, sleepiness, vaginal dryness and anxiety. And researchers discovered they can treat these symptoms with fennel (a form of herbal medicine), without the consequences of serious side effects.

“Although HT [hormonal therapy] is the most effective treatment for managing most menopause symptoms, some women have turned to herbal medicine because they are either not candidates for HT or are concerned about the negative publicity surrounding potential side effects.” according to study notes. “Fennel, an herb containing essential oils, has phytoestrogenic properties. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like chemicals in plants that have been used to effectively treat a wide array of menopause symptoms.”

Keep in mind, people with cancers that are sensitive to estrogen should possibly avoid the use of fennel. Talk to a doctor or competent healthcare professional if you have a cancer sensitive to estrogen.

The study involved 79 Iranian women (45 to 60 years of age). The study was completed in Tehran, Iran, where reportedly the average age of women at menopause is younger than in the United States: 48.2 years versus 51, according to the study.

Some participants were given soft capsules that contained 100 mg of fennel, twice daily for eight weeks. The women given fennel showed significant improvements in symptoms with no serious side effects, compared to women that were simply administered a placebo pill.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the essential vitamins and minerals in one raw fennel bulb:

  • Calcium, 115 mg. You probably know calcium is critical for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. What you may not know is this mineral may decrease your risk for colorectal cancer. Recent studies confirm that high calcium intake is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer among both men and women.
  • Magnesium, 40 mg. This mineral is needed by more than 300 human body enzymes to facilitate biochemical reactions. It helps create energy for the body and activates muscle and nerve tissues by enabling potassium and calcium transfer through your cell membranes. If magnesium levels in the body are too low, whole body systems don’t work properly, resulting in fatigue and cramps.
  • Phosphorus, 117 mg. This mineral works with calcium to help build strong bones and teeth. It is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc.
  • Potassium, 969 mg. This must-have mineral works with sodium to balance the fluids and electrolytes in the body. Potassium helps keep blood pressure under control and may even help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age.
  • Sodium, 122 mg. When it comes to enzyme operations and muscle contractions, an electrolyte like sodium is SUPER important! Sodium regulates the blood and protects the body from body function impairment. Sodium also regulates body fluids, while transmitting electrical impulses in the body.
  • Vitamin C, 28.1 mg. You likely know about the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C, but what about this nutrient’s importance regarding aging? Click here to find out.
  • Folate, 63 mcg. Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is one of the eight B vitamins. B vitamins help our bodies properly use the food we eat as fuel. They are involved in building DNA that the body uses for cell growth. For more information on folate, click here.
  • Choline, 30.9 mg. Choline is a nutrient that was recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1998. “The importance of choline in the diet extends into adulthood and old age. In a study of healthy adult subjects deprived of dietary choline, 77% of the men and 80% of the postmenopausal women developed signs of subclinical organ dysfunction (fatty liver or muscle damage)," reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Vitamin A, 2253 IU. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.
  • Lutein + Zeaxanthin, 1420 mcg. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “[l]utein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.”
  • Vitamin K, 147 mcg. This vitamin is critical for proper blood clotting and bone metabolism. It may also help maintain brain function, a healthy metabolism and may even help prevent cancer.

Remember if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have an estrogen sensitive cancer or any existing medical conditions, speak with your doctor first before you run to the market to pick up some fennel.

Have you tried cooking with fennel? Do you enjoy a cup of fennel tea often? Feel free to share your experience with us.

Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.  

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