Both spinach and Swiss chard are leaf vegetables that many people enjoy eating. Some people can’t tell the difference between the two, since the appearance and flavor is quite similar. So how do they compare with one another?
Botanically, the two plants are totally different species. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a member of the amaranth family. Chard (Beta vulgaris) is a member of the chenopod family. It should be noted that beets also have the scientific name of Beta vulgaris because beets and chard are the same species. The main difference between the two is that beets are primarily grown for the roots while chard is mainly grown for the leaves. Beet leaves and chard are basically the same thing.
Chard also originated in the Mediterranean region while spinach got its start in Persia. Incidentally, the name “chard” comes from the Latin “carduus”, which means artichoke thistle, though it obviously isn’t a thistle or related to artichokes.
Despite being entirely different species and belonging to completely different plant families, spinach and chard are amazingly similar. In fact, they are more alike than they are unalike. As mentioned, they look and taste similar, though chard tends to have a milder flavor. They are alike in other ways, too.
These plants favor the same growing conditions and both tend to grow vigorously in cool temperatures. Both are biennial, requiring two years to produce seeds. They are harvested in the same way and they can be interchanged in the same recipes.
So how do they compare, nutritionally? They are quite similar in this, too. Both are very low in fat content, though chard has about half the fat that spinach does. Neither contains cholesterol. Chard does contain almost three times as much sodium, though neither is exceptionally high in this mineral.
Both are quite low in calories. A hundred grams of chard has about 19 calories while the same amount of spinach has 23.
Both are very high in vitamin A, C and K, although chard has nearly twice as much of the last vitamin. Both are good sources of vitamin E and riboflavin. Spinach contains nearly ten times more folate.
The two vegetables are also comparable in minerals and are good sources of iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. Note: Chard and spinach are comparable in the amount of iron they contain. It is a myth that spinach is exceptionally high in iron and the myth was encouraged by the Popeye cartoon. The cause of the myth was a simple mathematical error of dropping a decimal point. It was found that 100 g of spinach contains about 2.71 mg of iron. However, when it was written down, the transcriber wrote it as 271 mg of iron, which would indeed be exceptionally high.
One thing that could be said, however, is that since the body needs vitamin C in order to properly absorb iron, and as both of these plants contain a large amount of vitamin C, both are valuable sources of dietary iron.
What all of this boils down to is that although spinach and swiss chard are completely different plants, they are so similar in so many ways that the differences aren’t worth much mention. Both are extremely healthy. If you prefer chard to spinach, eat chard. If you prefer spinach, eat spinach. You are getting virtually the same nutrients from either. Both are easy to grow and harvest, too. Spinach and chard also are great for both spring and fall plantings.
Put in another way, what you can say about one of these plants, you can probably also say of the other.