We all know we’re supposed to eat our vegetables, but do you ever wonder why? Besides making a colorful plate, vegetables are great sources of nutrients that support a healthy body. Many are also considered superfoods that bring lots of vitamins and minerals to the table.
Spinach is packed with vitamins and minerals, and one cup of spinach provides over half the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which supports the immune system. That same cup of spinach also provides your entire daily vitamin K requirement.
Beets and beet juice can improve heart health. This is due in part to being a great source of nitrates, a compound that promotes blood flow and in turn promotes healthy blood pressure. Beets contain an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to help people who suffer from nerve problems related to diabetes, like diabetic neuropathy.
The idea that carrots give you better vision may actually be true; one cup of carrots contains four times the recommended daily amount of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene, an antioxidant, is converted into vitamin A, which can help improve eyesight. One study on the effects of beta-carotene showed supplementation can also slow cognitive decline!
Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that also includes kale, cabbage, and cauliflower. The high levels of collagen, calcium, and vitamin K in broccoli have been shown to maintain and improve bone health. High levels of fiber in broccoli have even been shown to help prevent colon cancer; plus, fiber is also a key component in maintaining gut health.
Some people consider avocado the perfect food. It’s easy to digest, contains healthy fats that help stabilize blood sugar levels, and contains the immune-supporting antioxidant glutathione. These combined factors can reduce the risk of heart disease.
A fellow member of the cruciferous vegetable family, kale boasts similar benefits to broccoli. It outshines broccoli by containing extremely high amounts of vitamins A, K, and C and a quarter of the daily recommended amount of manganese. Manganese contributes to metabolism function and plays a role in blood clotting, reducing inflammation, and regulating blood glucose levels. Vitamins A and K are fat soluble, so try pairing your kale with healthy fats to maximize nutrient absorption!
Mushrooms are a fat-free, low-calorie, low-sodium vegetable packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While exact nutritional benefits vary by type, the most common mushrooms we eat are shiitake, chanterelles, oyster, button, and truffles. No matter what kind you try, mushrooms are a great source of beta-glucan, a form of soluble fiber shown to help regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Besides making whatever you cook smell amazing, garlic is a great addition to any dish. Garlic is a natural antibiotic, and a compound in garlic called diallyl sulfide is 100 times more effective at fighting the most common cause of bacterial intestinal infections.
Asparagus acts as a natural diuretic and helps keep you regular due to its high fiber content. It’s also a good source of amino acids, vitamins K and B, zinc, and beta-carotene. In ancient times, asparagus was used as an aphrodisiac.
10. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, with just one cup containing 16% of the daily recommended amount of dietary fiber. Sweet potatoes contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, assisting in regularity and overall gut health. Studies done on mice show antioxidants found in purple sweet potatoes – called anthocyanins – may even protect against certain types of cancers.
Just one cup of peas contains around seven grams of fiber – nearly 25% of the recommended daily amount for adults. Peas are a great source of plant-based protein, which is especially important for people following vegetarian or vegan diets. Some weight lifters even use pea protein powder to up their overall protein intake without adding too many extra calories.
Although technically a fruit, tomatoes are a great nutrient-dense food to add to your diet. They are an excellent source of free radical–fighting antioxidants, which help prevent cancer, and provide a high amount of potassium, which supports blood pressure and heart health.
Along with antioxidants, phytochemicals occur naturally in onions and have been shown to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. A 2019 study found that people who consume allium vegetables – i.e., onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and the like – were 79% less likely to develop colon cancer. Another 2019 study showed that quercetin, a compound in onion skins, lowers blood pressure when taken in supplement form.
14. Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are extremely rich in vitamin K, a large factor in bone and blood health, as well as vitamin C, which promotes iron absorption. Like many vegetables, brussels sprouts are high in fiber as well. While they’re not everyone’s favorite, roasting brussels sprouts brings out a delicious, almost caramel flavor and is very easy to do – try this recipe for easy roasted brussels sprouts with carrots!
The bottom line
Vegetables are chock-full of nutrients, like fiber, cancer-fighting antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals that support bone, brain, gut, blood, and heart health. Although it may be hard to convince some to eat their veggies, the benefits provided from a wide variety of vegetables far outweigh the risk a picky eater takes by trying something new. Trying new foods one at a time can help even the pickiest eater at your table round out their diet with these delicious foods.