Let’s face it. Most non-starchy vegetables are good for you, but if you could only pick seven, which should you select? Some veggies stand out for their high nutrient density or for other properties, such as their high antioxidant or anti-inflammatory activity. Let’s look at seven healthy vegetables you can add to your plate.
Eat Your Leafy Greens
Leafy greens top the list of nutrient-dense vegetables since they’re packed with vitamins, like vitamin K, a vitamin important for blood clotting. They’re also an abundant source of calcium, magnesium, iron, and folate, a B vitamin. Studies show eating a diet rich in greens may have heart health benefits too.
Greens contain natural nitrates. The inner wall of blood vessels converts nitrates to nitric oxide, a gas that improves how blood vessels function. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death among people aged 65 or older. A diet rich in leafy greens may also lower your blood pressure.
Leafy greens also contain lutein and beta-carotene, two carotenoids that studies suggest may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of visual loss in people over the age of 50.
Lots of perks of eating green, healthy vegetables!
Broccoli tops the list of favorite non-starchy vegetables and it’s packed with nutrition and health benefits. This green vegetable is rich in glucosinolate, a sulfur-containing plant compound, and an enzyme called myrosinase that activates glucosinolate. This turns them into anti-cancer compounds called isothiocyanates, compounds that may lower the risk of breast cancer.
Broccoli is also high in vitamin K and calcium, which is important for bone health, and it’s a powerhouse of fiber for heart and digestive health. If you don’t enjoy mature broccoli, try sprinkling broccoli sprouts on your next salad. They’re an even better source of glucosinolates than mature broccoli.
Watercress is in a class by itself when it comes to nutrient density. One study ranked 10 foods based on percent daily values per 100 calories. Watercress was the most nutrient-dense food, followed by Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, and spinach. Notice a trend here? They’re all leafy greens! Another reason to fill your plate with the green stuff, but don’t forget to include some color too.
One study found that compounds in watercress reduced damage to the DNA (genetic material) inside blood cells called lymphocytes. Therefore, scientists theorize that watercress may prevent the type of DNA damage that can lead to cancer. In fact, the study found that watercress reduced DNA damage by almost 23%. Splendid stuff!
Carrots are the best of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that gives them their orange color. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, although only about 15% of beta-carotene converts to vitamin A. But beta-carotene is also an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant for added protection against oxidative stress. You’ll absorb more of the beta-carotene from carrots if you eat them with a source of fat. How about sauteing those carrots in olive oil? Preparing them this way will help you get the maximum health benefits from every bite.
Mushrooms are delicious sauteed and they have surprising health benefits. These tasty fungi are rich in potassium, a mineral important for heart health and blood pressure control and contain natural compounds, including beta-glucan, that boost immune health. According to research, compounds in mushrooms help regulate immunity and ward off cancer by ramping up the immune system and allowing it to respond to cancer cells. Yet, mushrooms have a modulating effect on immunity by boosting immune defenses against bacteria and viruses while reigning in inflammation. Plus, they contain selenium, a trace mineral that helps protect cells against oxidative damage.
Red cabbage gets its rich reddish-purple color from anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins. Studies suggest that anthocyanins may be beneficial for heart health. In fact, an animal study found that an extract from red cabbage reduced the build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries, the vessels that carry blood to the heart. Clogs within these vessels can lead to a heart attack. So, those worried about keeping their hearts healthy should always include purple and red cabbage in their diets.
The Bottom Line on Healthy Vegetables
There are so many ways to enjoy these seven exceptional and healthy vegetables. Whether you sauté, roast, steam, or grill them, you’re in for a healthy treat. If possible, buy organic and buy local for your health and your community.