What Are the Most Healthy Vegetables

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healthy-vegetables_cCertain vegetables dominate many recipes because they are well liked and very versatile. Our unofficial survey of favorites includes asparagus, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini. To see how these kitchen staples stack up nutritionally, check out the chart at the end of this article.


By Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD

Q: When I'm cooking, I've noticed that many recipes seem to call for the same 10 or 12 vegetables over and over. Is this because they're particularly healthy? Or just versatile?

A: You're right; certain vegetables dominate many recipes because they are well liked and very versatile. Our unofficial survey of favorites includes asparagus, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini. To see how these kitchen staples stack up nutritionally, check out the chart at the end of this article.

Q: Is there a specific group of vitamins or minerals that are present-or lacking-in these popular vegetables?

A: Most vegetables are low in B vitamins. You have to get those from grains. But most of the vegetables on our chart are great sources of potassium, which lowers blood pressure and reduces the incidence of stroke, and magnesium, which is essential for heart, muscle and nerve function.

Q: Can you tell anything about a vegetable by its color? I've heard this but don't know if it's true.

A: There's a good rule of thumb: The deeper a vegetable's color, the more vitamins and minerals it has. By contrast, pale vegetables, like celery, tend to be nutritional lightweights. Also, different-colored vegetables tend to have different nutrients. Those that are deep orange-yellow (sweet potatoes, carrots) are typically crammed with vitamin A; green veggies (broccoli, green bell peppers) tend to be good sources of C. That's one reason nutritionists often say, "A colorful plate is a healthy plate," and why it's important to eat a variety of vegetables, not the same ones over and over.

Q: Besides the usual vitamins and minerals, which other nutrients do I get from my vegetables?

A: Go back to the concept of "color equals healthy," but in another way. Each vegetable color represents a unique set of plant compounds. Even though there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for these powerful substances, studies have found that if you eat veggies high in them, your health may benefit in many ways. Check these out:

Blue/purple veggies (think eggplant skin) contain the antioxidant anthocyanin, which helps protect cells against harmful ions known as free radicals. This powerful plant chemical may reverse aging, sharpen brain power and help prevent heart disease.

Leafy greens (like spinach) contain lutein, an antioxidant that seems to protect your sight. Lutein (and its cousin zeaxanthin) is found in large amounts in dark green leafy vegetables. It appears to help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of late-life blindness.

Yellow/orange veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes) contain carotenoids and bioflavonoids, which lower the risk of some cancers. Carotenoids are colorful plant pigments. Beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid, is converted to vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A helps fight infections, strengthens the immune system and may play a role in cancer prevention.

Red foods (primarily tomatoes) contain lycopene, a strong antioxidant that helps fight prostate cancer and heart disease. The key with lycopene is that it's released when tomatoes are cooked, not raw, so your best sources are tomato sauces, juice, paste and other cooked tomato products.

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