Roasted, steamed, grilled, sautéed or consumed in raw form, vegetables can add texture, color and some much-needed nutrition to any dish. Rich in fiber, antioxidants, key vitamins and minerals, a diet filled with an abundance of vegetables can be beneficial to your overall health and well-being. In fact, countless studies have linked increased veggie intake to decreased risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
But despite their nutritional benefits, many Americans find getting the recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day to be a challenge. If you’re looking to reap more of the amazing benefits vegetables have to offer, always keeping a variety of vegetables on hand is a good way to ensure you’re ahead of the game when it comes time to build a healthy, nutrient-dense meal. If it’s hard to find fresh produce in your area, you’ll also be pleased to learn that it doesn’t matter if they start off fresh or frozen — in fact, studies have found that there is not much of a difference in the nutrient content between frozen and fresh vegetables.
Need some inspiration? While any vegetable is a good vegetable, we’ve rounded up some of the most nutrient-dense, healthiest vegetables to start adding to your grocery list. Use our nutritionist-approved guide to create healthy plant-based meals and snacks you can enjoy throughout the day. But don’t just stick to one type of veggie — choose a variety to bulk up your meals and reap the most benefits. If you want to kick the nutrition up a notch, we suggest serving your veggies with an added fat source, such as an oil-based salad dressing. Doing this can help you absorb nutrients like beta-carotene, which has been shown to fight inflammation.
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Carrots are full of phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene, that your body converts to vitamin A, which helps with vision — especially at night. Studies also associate consumption of carotenoid-containing foods, like carrots, with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Carrots contain vitamins K and C, as well as potassium. The fiber contents of carrots can also help you meet your daily fiber needs.
When it comes to flavor and texture, carrots can add crunch, flavor and vibrant color to your meals and snacks. Add shredded or sautéed carrots to marinara sauce or enjoy these root veggies raw, shredded in salads, or blended in a healthy smoothie.
RELATED: 12 Easy Recipes That Involve Carrots
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable related to cabbage, kale and cauliflower that gets its healthy rep due to the fact that it’s high in micronutrients, including vitamins C, A and K. In fact, one half cup of raw, chopped broccoli provides 43% of the daily value of vitamin C.
Another benefit of broccoli is that it also contains the phytochemical sulforaphane, which may help prevent against various types of cancer. In addition, it’s filled with other powerful antioxidants like lutein, beta carotene and zeaxanthin, which may decrease the risk for age-related macular degeneration and support overall eye health. Eat it raw, grilled or steamed versus boiled to reap even bigger nutritional benefits.
Mushrooms are technically fungi and they come in many varieties that differ in shape, size, taste and color. The most commonly eaten mushrooms include shiitake, portobello, oyster and white mushrooms (a.k.a. “button”).
The benefits of mushrooms are vast. To start, mushrooms are rich in B vitamins niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, which each have unique role to play in your body (including making red blood cells, improving digestion and maintaining healthy skin).
Due to numerous bioactive compounds, consuming mushrooms might also support cognition, heart health and disease prevention. Mushrooms are also the only non-animal food product with bioavailable vitamin D, making them a great option for vegans and vegetarians. Swap ’em in as a replacement for meat, or enjoy them grilled, sautéed or steamed.
Kale is among the the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It’s packed with a variety of vitamins like A, B6, C and K, plus minerals like potassium, calcium, copper and magnesium that are often lacking in a majority of diets.
Vitamin K is known for its blood-clotting effects and bone-building benefits, and half a cup of kale provides about 440% of the recommended daily value. A single serving of kale also supplies 10% of your daily value for calcium — a perfect non-dairy calcium source for vegans and vegetarians, individuals with a lactose intolerance or an allergy to dairy. The antioxidants found in kale, called glucosinolates, may also help to protect against certain types of cancer.
Eating raw kale boasts the highest nutrition, but you might be surprised that steamed kale retains the most antioxidants compared to other cooking methods according to one study.
RELATED: 45 Best Kale Recipes to Try
Turnips, a type of root vegetable, come in a variety of colors from purple to red and green. Both their roots and leaves, also known as “turnip greens,” are safe to eat.
Rich in fiber and micronutrients — including vitamin C, folate and potassium — turnips have an excellent nutritional profile with health-promoting effects. Not only are turnips relatively inexpensive, but their neutral taste makes them easy to add to a big variety of recipes. Try roasting or mashing them as a lower-carb swap for potatoes.
If you’re looking to add more color to your diet, bell peppers are the perfect choice. Not only are they versatile, but they are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. In addition, bell peppers contain bioactive compounds like phenols, flavonoids and carotenoids that exhibit antioxidant properties to help fight against disease in the body. One red bell pepper provides about 169% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin C, contributing towards a healthy immune system. And if you are looking for a mood-booster, the B6 found in these vibrant peppers may improve stress, anxiety and mood, according to one study. Bell peppers can be enjoyed grilled, sautéed, in dips, soups or sauces or even in their raw form.
RELATED: 18 Foods Highest in Vitamin C
Asparagus is a natural diuretic and acts as a prebiotic, feeding healthy gut bacteria. The stalks contains an abundance of vitamins such as B9 (also known as folate), vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. In fact, just half a cup of cooked asparagus, contains 134 micrograms of folate, a nutrient that is vital during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects.
When it comes to minerals, they are most concentrated at the upper parts of asparagus spears, close to the tip. Traces of minerals found in asparagus include heart-healthy potassium, calcium and selenium. Rich in antioxidants, asparagus is particularly high in plant compounds called flavonoids — specifically, qercetin and kaempferol which have been found to fight against heart disease. Asparagus can be enjoyed, grilled, roasted or sautéed.
RELATED: 20 Simple Asparagus Recipes to Try
If you haven’t noticed, cauliflower is all the rage these days. Swapping spuds for cauliflower is an easy way to sneak in extra vitamin C (one cup contains almost 100% of your daily recommended amount), vitamin K, potassium, vitamin B6, folate and plant-based omega-3s to your meal.
It’s also known to be a source of an underrated nutrient called choline which is very important for supporting pregnancy, maintaining the integrity of cell membranes and synthesizing DNA. Cauliflower can be cooked using several methods, from steaming and boiling, to sautéing and stir frying.
Green beans are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber and they get their bright green color from the antioxidant chlorophyll.
One cup of cooked boiled green beans pack in 4 grams of fiber, including soluble fiber which has been shown to lower LDL, also known as the “bad cholesterol.” The longer you cook them the quicker they lose their vibrancy. To reap the most nutrition, you’ll want to eat fresh green beans as soon as you can after purchasing. Steam, sauté or serve them raw as a side or added to salads.
Beets are an antioxidant-packed, anti-inflammatory vegetable that’s been shown in research to have positive effects on metabolic disorders, including hypertension and insulin resistance. They’ve also gained popularity lately due to recent research indicating the nitrates found in beetroot juice may improve athletic performance. In addition, beets are rich in folate which is needed to help produce healthy red blood cells. You can steam, roast or pickle beets, but they can also be enjoyed in their raw form. Don’t like the taste? Just wait until you try our recipes for zesty beet dip or fudgy beet brownies.
Recent research suggests that phytochemicals found in onions and other allium vegetables might be beneficial in the prevention of certain types of cancer. They’re also considered to be prebiotics that can help to improve gut health and digestion by working to increase good bacteria. While there are many different types of onions, yellow is the most widely used. Not only will onions punch up the flavor of whatever you’re cooking, they also contain a flavonoid called quercetin, which has been shown to help with improved liver function.
Fun fact: Many nutritionists consider tomatoes both vegetables and fruits. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which give the salad staple its rosy red color. Research has shown that a diet rich in lycopene may support vascular function and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. Not only that, numerous studies suggest that the carotenoids found in tomatoes may have anti-cancer properties. While consuming tomatoes raw can provide lycopene, cooking them may also increase the bioavailability of this mighty antioxidant.
If you’ve ever followed the Mediterranean diet, you know how versatile and tasty eggplant can be. Whether baked, grilled, roasted or sautéed, eggplants can be enjoyed with a drizzle of olive oil and your favorite herbs and seasonings. Eggplant is also an adaptable vegetable that can absorb the flavor of whatever else is going in your dish. Eggplants are high in anthocyanins, a pigment with antioxidant properties that can protect against disease. Studies have shown that eggplant contains cardioprotective compounds for a healthier heart.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
This story was originally written by Jaclyn London, a registered dietitian who led the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab from 2014 to 2019. It was most recently updated by registered dietitian Valerie Agyeman, who also hosts the Flourish Heights podcast, where she focuses on topics like overlooked nutrition, wellness and women’s health topics. She has over 10 years of nutrition communications, corporate wellness and clinical nutrition experience. Valerie is a trusted expert who regularly appears on networks including ABC’s Good Morning Washington, and is a contributing expert to publications like Women’s Health, The Thirty and Shape.
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