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Exploring the Health Benefits of Fennel - An Unconventional Vegetable or Herb?

Written by Coach Cathy Barry Schadskaje - Eclipse Track & Field Club



With a distinct appearance and a unique flavor profile, fennel is not your typical vegetable. But beyond its unconventional nature lies a powerhouse of health benefits waiting to be discovered. In this blog, we delve into the various ways fennel can boost your well-being and the unique qualities that fennel holds.


History:


Fennel has its history deeply rooted in Mediterranean cuisine and was first cultivated in Italy in the 17th Century. However, fennel has been around for centuries previously used by the Egyptians for food and medicine, as a snake bite remedy in China and hung from doorways to ward off evil spirits during the Middle Ages. (1995, 2005, The Herb Society of America).




Fennel has a white bulb, green stalks and dill-like leaves with a fresh anise (black licorice) flavour. At first glance it resembles a member of the onion family but on further inspection, one would think it's related to dill. And while it is thought of as a vegetable, fennel is an herb and belongs to the carrot family. Both however are incorrect. Fennel's appearance also lends one to believe that it is intimidating and hard to cook. I would wager most pass by fennel, unmoved while inspecting the vegetable aisles.


So how does one eat Fennel:


Fennel can be eaten raw, sauteed, pureed or cooked. It can be used in soups, salads or other dishes. However, when not harvested the fennel flowers produce seeds, and these are the fennel seeds that you buy in a jar and see in sweet Italian sausage and finocchio salami. 


Health Benefits of Fennel:


·       The key nutrients present in fennel are fiber, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, calcium and iron. The fresh fennel bulb is a good source of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin critical for immune health, tissue repair, and collagen synthesis (2Trusted Source). 


·       Vitamin C also acts as a potent antioxidant in your body, protecting against cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals (3Trusted Source). 


·       Both the bulb and seeds contain the mineral manganese, which is important for enzyme activation, metabolism, cellular protection, bone development, blood sugar regulation, and wound healing (4Trusted Source).


·       Aside from manganese, fennel and its seeds contain other minerals vital to bone health, including potassium, magnesium, and calcium (5Trusted Source). Potassium helps your nerves, muscles heart to function well, and helps move nutrients and waste around your body's cells.


·       Most importantly and interesting is fennel's the antioxidants and potent plant compounds they contain Essential oil of the plant has been shown to contain more than 87 volatile compounds, including the polyphenol antioxidants rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and apigenin (6Trusted Source). Polyphenol antioxidants are potent anti-inflammatory agents that have powerful effects on your health. Studies suggest that people who follow diets rich in these antioxidants have a lower risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, cancer, neurological diseases, and type 2 diabetes (7Trusted Source)., including improved digestion and reduced inflammation.


·       Improved digestion. In many parts of the world, it’s common to eat a little bit of fennel after a meal to aid with digestion and relieve gassiness. Fennel has been shown to help with digestion by reducing inflammation in the bowels and decreasing bacteria that cause gassiness. Research shows that fennel oil could help ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.


·       Relief from period cramps. Research shows that fennel is as effective as conventional medicines at easing discomfort from period cramps. Studies also show that fennel can reduce the production of oxytocin and prostaglandin, two hormones that contribute to painful periods.


·       Colic relief. Colic is a common medical condition affecting newborn babies. It can cause fussiness and discomfort. Research shows that fennel — alone or combined with other medicinal herbs — works to improve colic symptoms.


·       Rich source of antioxidants. Fennel contains many antioxidant compounds including rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and apigenin. Antioxidants can help fight cell damage from free radicals and reduce your risk of many chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.



What about Athletic Performance and Fennel:


When it comes to enhancing physical performance and recovery, the goal is to increase time to exhaustion, reduce muscle damage and optimize recovery. This is done by reducing inflammation, increasing blood flow to the muscles and decreasing oxidative stress through a variety of foods packed with phytonutrients, flavonoids and all that good stuff. Fennel seeds have been found to help in all those aspects. 


Like beetroot, fennel seeds can significantly increase nitric oxide production, opening your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to allow more nutrients and oxygen into your muscles (Swaminathan et al., 2012). This is beneficial to athletes as it provides for more cellular respiration, more nutrient transport and a more efficient workout or performance. This means athletes will experience less perceived effort for the same amount of work and will increase endurance and output. 



How to Consume Fennel:


Fennel Seeds - while providing excellent nutrition, fennel seeds are lightweight, easy to consume and cheap. Fennel seeds can be added to your trail mix, sprinkled on yogurt, adding it to peanut butter or avocado toast and even throwing it into your cottage cheese. Fennel can also be used in cuisine, as a flavouring to fish or meat dishes or in salads. 

Fennel is versatile and a healthy addition to any diet and can boost your performance to the next level.

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