Whether you pull vegetables from your own garden, buy from a farmers market, or get them frozen in a bag from your grocery store, there is no wrong way to get your daily recommended helping of vegetables. However, if you have specific fitness goals to meet, or just don’t particularly like eating your veggies any more now than you did as a kid…which are the most nutritious vegetables you should focus on to get the maximum yield of vitamins, health benefits, and daily essentials?
Get the Best of the Most Nutritious Vegetables
When we’re talking about the healthiest vegetables, we’re talking about the nutrient content: vitamins, minerals, and what they can do for your health. Below are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can get, along with their health benefits, and some ideas on how to fit them into tasty recipes.
A tall plant with edible shoots from the lily family, asparagus has an absolute parade of vitamins and a remarkable nutrient density (plus, as an added bonus: it can be grown all over the U.S. and Canada!). Whether chopped up in a stew or quiche, or baked or sautéed on its own, asparagus can provide you with:
- Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and a significant amount of vitamin K, not to mention thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate.
- A good source of dietary fiber, asparagus also contains important minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium (over half a banana’s worth).
- Research also suggests asparagus is an immune-system booster, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits as well.
Part of the parsley family, celery has closely packed succulent leafstalks that can be eaten raw or cooked.
- Celery is a good source for vitamin B2, vitamin K, and molybdenum, a mineral needed in the body to help synthesize amino acids.
- With a high water content, celery makes a great ingredient for juicing due to the fact that it’s low in sugar and high in refreshing zest.
- Best of all, celery reduces cholesterol levels, treats high blood pressure, and helps prevent liver diseases by aiding in detoxification.
Peas are actually small round seeds that grow in a pod and are eaten as a vegetable.
- Peas are full of vitamins A and C, and contain the minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper.
- A frequent side dish at the dinner table, sweet green peas need almost nothing to be ready to eat (unless you understandably prefer them with a little-melted butter). They also make a delicious addition to salads, combined with mashed potatoes or mac and cheese for the kids, or mashed up themselves and flavored for a healthy spread.
- Green peas are a reliable source of omega-3 fat and provide fiber to aid in healthy digestion. Green peas are also one of the starchy vegetables.
A green variation of smooth-skinned summer squash native to Central America and Mexico, zucchinis provide a multitude of benefits.
- Rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K, one raw zucchini can provide half of the body’s daily value of vitamin C. Other vitamins found in zucchini include vitamin A and vitamin E, and green zucchini is especially rich in potassium and manganese.
- Zucchini may help promote heart health, aid in digestion, and prevent diabetes.
- Maybe one of the best things zucchini can do for you is to replace the noodles in your pasta dishes. How? Zoodles! The most fun word in all of health, zoodles are noodles made out of zucchini. Other vegetables can be turned into noodle replacements as well, but having its own natural carbohydrates, zucchini is a perfect stand-in for pasta.
Leafy Greens vs. Cruciferous Vegetables: What’s the Difference?
The difference between leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables is just what it says: one must have edible leaves that are green, and the other…not necessarily. While there is some crossover, “cruciferous” means it’s from the cabbage family, and leaves of any color might have little-to-nothing to do with it. Cruciferous vegetables are a diverse group that includes arugula, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, radishes, and watercress. Cruciferous leafy greens include bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens. Let’s explore a couple of high-nutrient examples from all of the above!
Nutrient-dense spinach is an Asian plant from the goosefoot family, with large, dark green leaves that can be eaten as a vegetable.
- Spinach is a superfood full of vitamin K, beta-carotene, and amino acids (among so much more). It’s so famous for being a powerful vegetable it was cartoon sailor Popeye’s go-to for strength.
- Spinach can be combined in salads, pastas, casseroles, juices, smoothies, and more. It’s a great way to include a superfood in many of the dishes you already enjoy.
The young shoots of the wheat plant Triticum aestivum, wheatgrass is member of the cereal grass family (along with rye, oats, and barley), and is credited with various health-giving properties.
- The nutritional wonders of wheatgrass include anti-cancer uses, antioxidants that help lower the risk of complications from heart disease, and enzymes that help to decrease blood sugar.
- Wheatgrass can be eaten in salads, blended into healthful smoothies, or even combined as a powder into other food recipes. Usually consumed as a juice, you could also simply throw back a shot of wheatgrass and move on with your day.
Cruciferous Leafy Greens
Beets are a dark red root vegetable widely grown for later processing into sugar, but their above-ground leaves are what we’re after here. Swiss chard is also a beet green from a beet variety with broad white stalks that can be eaten separately from its leafy greens.
- Beet greens supply high amounts of protein, zinc, phosphorus, and fiber. Packed with antioxidants, they’re high in vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, and copper, while being low in fat and cholesterol.
- Beet greens can be treated and prepared just like spinach, and you can keep the stems in while you’re at it to add some extra texture and nutrients.
- Health benefits of beets include the positive results shown for people with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
Collard greens are technically a cabbage, of the variety that does not develop a heart.
- With nutrients that may have a role in cancer prevention, collard greens have a substantial amount of vitamins A, C, and K, along with the minerals manganese, iron, and calcium.
- Widely used in southern comfort and soul food recipes, collard greens have a particularly American history and can be included in a variety of recipes.
So-called because they were cultivated in Belgium during the 16th century, Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family. Brussels sprouts produce edible buds that are similar to cauliflower.
- A great source of vitamin A and vitamin C, Brussels sprouts also contain useful helpings of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
- Brussels sprouts may help protect against cancer, regulate blood sugar, and reduce inflammation.
- Often cooked on their own, Brussels sprouts can be roasted with honey, baked into chips, cooked in olive oil, or even with bacon grease for you non-vegetarians out there.
A variety of cabbage with a green head, broccoli is usually eaten in the form of chopped-down florets.
- Containing B vitamins, vitamin E, and the minerals magnesium, potassium, and zinc, broccoli is a low-calorie source of beta-carotene, and (even cooked) has as much vitamin C as an orange.
- Whether you cook the florets, eat them raw with a fun dip, or include them in vegetarian, vegan, or keto diet recipes, broccoli is a vegetable that won’t let you down.
We often think green when we think about vegetables, but don’t let the color keep you from the huge variety vegetables have to offer.
Carrots are a tapering orange root vegetable from the parsley family and a favorite of rabbits and horses as well as humans.
- Full of vitamins A, K, and C along with molybdenum and fiber, carrots are a well-known healthy food.
- Famous for being a boon to maintaining good eyesight, carrots can offer way more in nutrition. They can lower blood pressure, reduce stroke risk, aid digestion, and even improve oral health!
- Crunch on them raw like Bugs Bunny, peel them into noodle replacements, use carrot chips instead of potato chips, chop them into stews, or purée them for baby food—carrots can go just about anywhere.
A variety of the sweet pepper, while it’s technically an edible fruit in a botanical sense, so many use the red bell pepper as a vegetable in the culinary world that it’s regularly accepted as a vegetable in cooking.
- Along with vitamins A, B6, and C, all bell peppers (not just red) also provide calcium and iron. Red peppers specifically have slightly fewer calories than yellow peppers do, but also more sugar (5 grams as opposed to the yellow’s 0 grams).
- Great in a stir-fry for color, texture, and flavor, bell peppers are sweeter than they are peppery (they’re no jalapeño, that’s for sure), and can easily be included in many recipes, especially salsa.
- Red peppers are also packed with antioxidants and help support healthy night vision.
The red cabbage is a reddish-purple-leaved variety of cabbage (it’s also known as purple cabbage).
- Especially high in vitamin C, cabbage contains antioxidants that may protect against heart disease, vision loss, and certain cancers.
- Probably red cabbage’s best-known dishes are coleslaw and sauerkraut, but it can be included as freely as lettuce in sandwiches, salads, and stews.
Vegetables for Your Table (and Your Health)
You can get a good amount of your essential nutrients from a variety of vegetables, and with so many different ways to prepare them, every meal can not only be delicious and low-calorie but (depending on which veggie you choose) can also reduce cancer risk and help alleviate symptoms of chronic disease. Eating a variety of vegetables is one of the healthiest choices you can make.