Leeks belong to the same family as onions, shallots, scallions, chives and garlic.
They look like a giant green onion but have a much milder, somewhat sweet flavor and a creamier texture when cooked.
Leeks are usually cultivated, but wild varieties, such as the North American wild leek — also known as ramps — are gaining popularity.
Ramps are popular with foragers and top chefs alike due to their potent flavor, which is a cross between garlic, scallions and commercially grown leeks.
All varieties of leeks are nutritious and thought to offer a host of health benefits.
Here are 10 health benefits of leeks and wild ramps.
1. Contain a Variety of Nutrients
Leeks are nutrient-dense, meaning that they’re low in calories yet high in vitamins and minerals.
One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked leeks has only 31 calories (1).
At the same time, they’re particularly high in provitamin A carotenoids, including beta carotene. Your body converts these carotenoids into vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune function, reproduction and cell communication (2).
They’re also a good source of vitamin K1, which is necessary for blood clotting and heart health (3).
Meanwhile, wild ramps are particularly rich in vitamin C, which aids immune health, tissue repair, iron absorption and collagen production. In fact, they offer around twice as much vitamin C as the same quantity of oranges (4, 5).
Leeks are also a good source of manganese, which may help reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and promote thyroid health. What’s more, they provide small amounts of copper, vitamin B6, iron and folate (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
Leeks are low in calories but high in nutrients, particularly magnesium and vitamins A, C and K. They boast small amounts of fiber, copper, vitamin B6, iron and folate.
2. Packed With Beneficial Plant Compounds
Leeks are a rich source of antioxidants, particularly polyphenols and sulfur compounds.
Antioxidants fight oxidation, which damages your cells and contributes to illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Leeks are a particularly great source of kaempferol, a polyphenol antioxidant thought to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer (9, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
They’re likewise a great source of allicin, the same beneficial sulfur compound that gives garlic its antimicrobial, cholesterol-lowering and potential anticancer properties (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
Meanwhile, wild ramps are rich in thiosulfinates and cepaenes, two sulfur compounds needed for blood clotting and thought to protect against certain types of cancer (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16).
Leeks are rich in antioxidants and sulfur compounds, especially kaempferol and allicin. These are thought to protect your body from disease.
3. May Reduce Inflammation and Promote Heart Health
Leeks are alliums, a family of vegetables that includes onions and garlic. Several studies link alliums to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke (17Trusted Source).
While most of these studies have tested onions or garlic, leeks contain several beneficial compounds thought to lower inflammation and protect heart health (18).
For instance, the kaempferol in leeks has anti-inflammatory properties. Kaempferol-rich foods are associated with a lower risk of heart attacks or death due to heart disease (10Trusted Source).
Moreover, leeks are a good source of allicin and other thiosulfinates, which are sulfur compounds that may benefit heart health by reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and the formation of blood clots (13Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
Leeks contain heart-healthy plant compounds shown to reduce inflammation, cholesterol, blood pressure, the formation of blood clots and your overall risk of heart disease.
4. May Aid Weight Loss
Like most vegetables, leeks may promote weight loss.
At 31 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked leaks, this vegetable has very few caloriesper portion.
What’s more, leeks are a good source of water and fiber, which may prevent hunger, promote feelings of fullness and help you naturally eat less (21Trusted Source).
They also provide soluble fiber, which forms a gel in your gut and is particularly effective at reducing hunger and appetite (22Trusted Source).
Additionally, research consistently links diets rich in vegetables to weight loss or reduced weight gain over time. Adding leeks or wild ramps to your diet can boost your overall vegetable intake, which may increase this effect (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
The fiber and water in leeks can promote fullness and prevent hunger, which may aid weight loss. Furthermore, this vegetable is very low in calories.
5. May Protect Against Certain Cancers
Leeks boast an array of cancer-fighting compounds.
For instance, the kaempferol in leeks is linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases, especially cancer. Test-tube research shows that kaempferol may fight cancer by reducing inflammation, killing cancer cells and preventing these cells from spreading (11Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
Leeks are also a good source of allicin, a sulfur compound thought to offer similar anticancer properties (26).
Animal studies reveal that ramps grown in selenium-enriched soil may help lower cancer rates in rats (27Trusted Source).
What’s more, human studies demonstrate that those who regularly consume alliums, including leeks, may have up to a 46% lower risk of gastric cancer than those who rarely eat them (28Trusted Source).
Similarly, high intake of alliums may be linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Some studies suggest that leek compounds may fight cancer and that high intake of alliums, including leeks and wild ramps, may lower your risk of this disease. Still, more studies are needed.
6. May Promote Healthy Digestion
Leeks may improve your digestion.
That’s in part because they’re a source of soluble fiber, including prebiotics, which work to keep your gut healthy (31Trusted Source).
These bacteria then produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as acetate, propionate and butyrate. SCFAs can reduce inflammation and strengthen your gut health (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
Research suggests that a prebiotic-rich diet may aid your body’s absorption of important nutrients, which can boost your overall health (34Trusted Source).
Leeks are a good source of soluble fiber, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. In turn, these bacteria reduce inflammation and promote digestive health.
7–9. Other Potential Benefits
Although leeks aren’t studied as rigorously as onions and garlic, emerging research suggests that they may offer additional benefits.
- May lower blood sugar levels. The sulfur compounds in alliums have been shown to effectively lower blood sugar levels (35Trusted Source).
- May promote brain function. These sulfur compounds may also protect your brain from age-related mental decline and disease (35Trusted Source).
- May fight infections. Research in animals shows that kaempferol, which is present in leeks, may protect against bacterial, virus and yeast infections (10Trusted Source).
Although these results are promising, more studies are necessary.
Leeks may help lower blood sugar levels, promote brain function and fight infections. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
10. Easy to Add to Your Diet
Leeks make a delicious, nutritious and versatile addition to any diet.
To prepare them, cut the roots and dark green ends off, keeping only the white and light green parts.
Then, slice them lengthwise and rinse under running water, scrubbing away the dirt and sand that may have accumulated between their layers.
Leeks can be eaten raw, but you can also poach, fry, roast, braise, boil, or pickle them.
They make a great addition to soups, dips, stews, taco fillings, salads, quiches, stir-fries and potato dishes. You can also eat them on your own.
You can refrigerate raw leeks for about a week and cooked ones for around two days.
Unlike cultivated leeks, wild ramps are incredibly pungent. Just a small amount of ramps can add a burst of strong, garlic-like flavor to your favorite dish.
Leeks are versatile and easy to add to your diet. You can eat them on their own or add them to a variety of main or side dishes.
The Bottom Line
Leeks and wild ramps boast a variety of nutrients and beneficial compounds that may improve your digestion, promote weight loss, reduce inflammation, fight heart disease and combat cancer.
In addition, they may lower blood sugar levels, protect your brain and fight infections.
These alliums, which are closely related to garlic and onions, make great additions to a healthy diet.