June 14, 2024

There is no single most healthy vegetable, but eating a variety of vegetables can improve health and well-being. Nutritious options to add to the diet include spinach, peas, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

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.

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 just 6.9 calories. It also provides:

Vitamin K is essential for a healthy body — especially for strong bones, as it improves the absorption of calcium. It is also important for normal blood clotting.

Spinach also provides a good amount of iron for energy and healthy blood, and a high level of magnesium for muscle and nerve function.

If a person is taking blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), they should use caution when increasing their intake of dark leafy greens. 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.

Kale is a very popular leafy green vegetable with several health benefits. It provides 7.35 calories per cup of raw leaves and good amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.

Kale may benefit people with high cholesterol. One 2021 study found that 8 weeks of treatment with kale juice powder increased HDL (good cholesterol) and decreased LDL (bad cholesterol).

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. A person may also enjoy kale chips or juice.

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:

  • 30.9 calories
  • the full daily requirement of vitamin K
  • twice 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.

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

  • fiber, providing 9 grams (g) per serving
  • protein, providing 9 g per serving
  • vitamins A, C, and K
  • certain 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. A person might also enjoy a refreshing pea and mint soup.

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:

  • more than an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin A
  • 25% of their vitamin C and B6 requirements
  • 12% of their potassium requirement
  • beta 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. Eaten in appropriate portions, sweet potatoes are nutritious and may help keep blood sugars in target range.

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.

One cup of raw beets contains:

  • 58.5 calories
  • 442 milligrams (mg) of potassium
  • 148 micrograms of folate

Beets and beet juice are great for improving heart health, as the vegetable is rich in heart-healthy nitrates.

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.

Each cup of chopped carrots contains 52.5 calories and over four times an adult’s daily recommended intake of vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene.

Vitamin A is vital for healthy eyesight, and getting enough of this nutrient may help prevent vision loss.

Certain nutrients in carrots may also have cancer-fighting properties. 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.

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 sauerkraut
  • cucumbers, as pickles
  • carrots
  • cauliflower

How to eat fermented vegetables

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

Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, most people treat them like vegetables and use them in savory dishes. Each cup of chopped, raw tomatoes contains:

Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. 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.

People have long used garlic in cooking and medicine. Each garlic clove contains just 4.47 calories and is high 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.

Each cup of chopped onions can provide:

  • 64 calories
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin B6
  • manganese

Onions and other allium vegetables, including garlic, contain sulfur compounds. Review studies, including a 2019 review and an older 2015 review, suggest that these compounds may help protect against cancer.

How to eat onions

It can be easy to incorporate onions into soups, stews, stir-fries, and curries. To get the most from their antioxidants, eat them raw — in sandwiches, salads, and dips such as guacamole.

Each cup of alfalfa sprouts contains only 7.59 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 benefits
  • flavonoids, a type of polyphenol known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
  • phytoestrogens, 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.

How to eat alfalfa sprouts

People enjoy alfalfa sprouts in salads and sandwiches.

Sweet bell peppers may be red, yellow, or orange. Unripe, green bell peppers are also popular, though they taste less sweet.

A cup of chopped red bell pepper provides:

  • 38.7 calories
  • 190 mg of vitamin C
  • 0.434 mg of vitamin B6
  • folate
  • beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A

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.

One cup of chopped cauliflower contains:

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

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. People may also enjoy cauliflower in curries or baked with olive oil and garlic.

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

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.

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.

Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable that are high in nutrients and antioxidants. They are also rich in fiber, which is good for digestion and can help keep a person full.

One cup of brussels sprouts contains:

How to eat brussels sprouts

While brussels sprouts can be enjoyed raw in salads, they are commonly roasted or baked. Try roasting it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Swiss chard is a dark, leafy green vegetable that is high in antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and polyphenols.

One cup of swiss chard contains:

How to eat swiss chard

It is easy to add swiss chard to stews, stir fries, or pasta dishes. Add chopped leaves in the last few minutes of cooking and allow to wilt.

Asparagus is a popular, tasty vegetable that is rich in filling fiber and a variety of micronutrients.

One cup of asparagus contains:

How to eat asparagus

To prepare asparagus, trim the ends and bake, pan fry, or grill with seasoning. They can be enjoyed as a side dish or as an addition to pastas and salads.

Red cabbage is high in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation. It is also rich in fiber, which means it is good for satiety.

One cup of chopped red cabbage contains:

How to eat red cabbage

Red cabbage can be sautéed in order to release its flavour. Alternatively, try finely chopping it and adding to salads or homemade spring rolls.

Eating vegetables every day is important for health. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, such as antioxidants and fiber.

Research consistently shows that people who eat at least five servings of vegetables a day have the lowest risk of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Enjoy a range of vegetables daily to reap as many health benefits as possible.

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