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15 healthiest vegetables: Nutrition and health benefits

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Eating plenty of vegetables may be one of the simplest ways to improve health and well-being.

All vegetables contain healthful vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber — but some stand out for their exceptional benefits.

Specific vegetables may offer more health advantages to certain people, depending on their diets, overall health, and nutritional needs.

In this article, we look at 15 of the most healthful vegetables and suggest ways to enjoy them as part of a balanced diet.

1. Spinach

A mother and three children are shopping for fresh produce in the supermarket. The mother is holding a bunch of carrots and smiling. There are boxes of broccoli, carrots, and eggplant in the store.Share on PinterestAndersen Ross/Getty Images.

Spinach is a leafy green vegetable and a great source of calcium, vitamins, iron, and antioxidants.

Due to its iron and calcium content, spinach is a great addition to any meat- or dairy-free diet.

One cup of raw spinach is mostly made up of water and contains only 7 calories.

Doctors recommend maintaining a consistent vitamin K intake over time for people taking these medications.

How to eat spinach

People enjoy spinach raw in salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Cooked spinach also has significant health benefits and is a great addition to pasta dishes and soups.

2. Kale

Kale is a very popular leafy green vegetable with several health benefits. It provides around 7 calories per cup of raw leaves and good amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.

Kale may benefit people with high cholesterol. One small 2008 study reports that males with high cholesterol who drank 150 milliliters of kale juice each day for 12 weeks experienced a 10% reduction in low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol and a 27% increase in high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol.

Research from 2015, meanwhile, suggests that kale juice can reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

If a person is taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin, they should use caution when increasing their intake of dark leafy greens. It is best to maintain a consistent vitamin K intake while taking these medications.

How to eat kale

People use baby kale in pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches.

Broccoli

Broccoli is an incredibly healthful vegetable that belongs to the same family as cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. These are all cruciferous vegetables.

Each cup of chopped and boiled broccoli contains:

around 31 caloriesthe full daily requirement of vitamin Ktwice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C

According to the National Cancer Institute, animal research has found that certain chemicals, called indoles and isothiocyanates, in cruciferous vegetables may inhibit the development of cancer in several organs, including the bladder, breasts, liver, and stomach.

These compounds may protect cells from DNA damage, inactivate cancer-causing agents, and have anti-inflammatory effects. However, research in humans has been mixed.

How to eat broccoli

Broccoli is very versatile. People can roast it, steam it, fry it, blend it into soups, or enjoy it warm in salads.

For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.

4. Peas

Peas are a sweet, starchy vegetable. They contain 134 calories per cooked cup, and they are rich in:

fiber, providing 9 grams (g) per servingprotein, providing 9 g per servingvitamins A, C, and Kcertain B vitamins

Green peas are a good source of plant-based protein, which may be especially beneficial for people with vegetarian or vegan diets.

Peas and other legumes contain fiber, which supports good bacteria in the gut and helps ensure regular bowel movements and a healthy digestive tract.

They are also rich in saponins, plant compounds that may help protect against oxidative stress and cancer.

How to eat peas

It might be handy to keep a bag of peas in the freezer and gradually use them to boost the nutritional profiles of pasta dishes, risottos, and curries.

Sweet potatoesShare on PinterestGuido Mieth/Getty Images.

Sweet potatoes are root vegetables. Baked in its skin, a medium sweet potato provides 103 calories and 0.17 g of fat.

Each sweet potato also contains:

much more than an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin A25% of their vitamin C and B6 requirements12% of their potassium requirementbeta carotene, which may improve eye health and help fight cancer

Sweet potatoes may be a good option for people with diabetes. This is because they are low on the glycemic index and rich in fiber, so they may help regulate blood sugar.

How to eat sweet potatoes

For a simple meal, bake a sweet potato in its skin and serve it with a source of protein, such as fish or tofu.

6. Beets

One cup of raw beets contains:

58.5 calories442 milligrams (mg) of potassium148 micrograms of folate

Beets and beet juice are great for improving heart health, as the vegetable is rich in heart-healthy nitrates. A small 2012 study reports that drinking 500 g of beet juice significantly lowered blood pressure in healthy people.

These vegetables may also benefit people with diabetes. Beets contain an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid, which might be helpful for people with diabetes-related nerve problems, called diabetic neuropathy.

How to eat beets

Roasting beets brings out their natural sweetness, but they also taste great raw in juices, salads, and sandwiches.

7.

A 2018 review of 10 articles reports that dietary carrot intake was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.

How to eat carrots

Carrots are extremely versatile. They work well in casseroles and soups, and they provide great health benefits when eaten raw, possibly with a dip such as hummus.

8. Fermented vegetables

Fermented vegetables provide all the nutrients of their unfermented counterparts as well as healthful doses of probiotics.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are present in the body and in some foods and supplements. Some researchers believe that they can improve gut health.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, probiotics may help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. They may also prevent infection- or antibiotic-induced diarrhea.

Some good vegetables for fermentation include:

cabbage, as sauerkrautcucumbers, as picklescarrotscauliflower

How to eat fermented vegetables

People eat fermented vegetables in salads, sandwiches, or as a side dish.

9. Tomatoes

Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, most people treat them like vegetables and use them in savory dishes.

Research suggests that lycopene may help prevent prostate cancer, and the beta carotene in tomatoes also helps combat cancer.

Meanwhile, other potent antioxidants in tomatoes, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, may protect vision.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study reports that people who have high dietary intakes of these substances have a 25% reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.

How to eat tomatoes

People enjoy tomatoes raw or cooked, and cooking them releases more lycopene.

10. Garlic

People have long used garlic in cooking and medicine. Each garlic clove contains just 4 calories and is low in vitamins and minerals.

However, garlic is a natural antibiotic. For example, a 2018 review notes that people have used garlic for purposes similar to those of antibiotics since the 16th century.

Allium, a component of garlic, may be the source of its health benefits. Confirming this will require more research.

How to eat garlic

Heating garlic reduces its health benefits, so it is best to eat garlic raw, in bruschetta or dips, for example.

11. Onions

Each cup of chopped onions can provide:

64 caloriesvitamin Cvitamin B6manganese

Onions and other allium vegetables, including garlic, contain sulfur compounds.

To get the most from their antioxidants, eat them raw — in sandwiches, salads, and dips such as guacamole.

12. Alfalfa sprouts

Each cup of alfalfa sprouts contains only 8 calories and a good amount of vitamin K.

These sprouts also boast several compounds that contribute to good health, including:

saponins, a type of bitter compound with health benefitsflavonoids, a type of polyphenol known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effectsphytoestrogens, plant compounds that are similar to natural estrogens

Traditionally, some have used alfalfa sprouts to treat a range of health conditions, such as arthritis and kidney problems. However, very few scientific investigations have explored these uses.

Research suggests that alfalfa sprouts contain antioxidants, which are compounds that may help fight diseases including cancer and heart disease.

Eating sprouted legumes such as these may have other benefits. Studies suggest that sprouting, or germinating, seeds increases their protein and amino acid contents.

Germination may also improve the digestibility of alfalfa and other seeds and increase their dietary fiber content.

How to eat alfalfa sprouts

People enjoy alfalfa sprouts in salads and sandwiches.

13.

Unripe, green bell peppers are also popular, though they taste less sweet.

A cup of chopped red bell pepper provides:

39 calories190 mg of vitamin C0.434 mg of vitamin B6folatebeta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A

Antioxidants and bioactive chemicals present in bell peppers include:

ascorbic acidcarotenoidsvitamin Cbeta caroteneflavonoids, such as quercetin and kaempferol

How to eat bell peppers

Bell peppers are extremely versatile and can be easy to incorporate into pasta, scrambled eggs, or a salad. A person might also enjoy them sliced with a side of guacamole or hummus.

14. Cauliflower

Share on PinterestWestend61/Getty Images.

One cup of chopped cauliflower contains:

27 caloriesplenty of vitamin Cvitamin Kfiber

The American Heart Association recommend eating 25 g of dietary fiber each day to promote heart and gut health.

Also, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain an antioxidant called indole-3-carbinol. Research has linked this compound with cancer-combatting effects in animals. However, confirming the effects in humans requires more research.

And like broccoli, cauliflower contains another compound that may help combat cancer: sulforaphane.

How to eat cauliflower

A person can pulse raw cauliflower in a blender to make cauliflower rice or turn it into a pizza base for a low-calorie, comforting treat.

Seaweed

Seaweed, also known as sea vegetables, are versatile and nutritious plants that provide several health benefits. Common types of seaweed include:

kelpnorisea lettucespirulinawakame

Seaweed is one of the few plant-based sources of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. These are essential for health and are mostly present in meat and dairy.

Each type of seaweed has a slightly different nutritional profile, but they are typically rich in iodine, which is an essential nutrient for thyroid function.

Eating a variety of sea vegetables can provide the body with several important antioxidants to reduce cellular damage.

Also, many types of seaweed contain chlorophyll, which is a plant pigment that has anti-inflammatory properties.

Brown sea vegetables, such as kelp and wakame, contain another potent antioxidant called fucoxanthin. Research suggests that this has 13.5 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E.

How to eat seaweed

When possible, choose organic seaweed and eat small amounts to avoid introducing too much iodine into the diet. People enjoy sea vegetables in sushi, miso soups, and as a seasoning for other dishes.

Summary

Eating vegetables every day is important for health.

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