Vegetables are certainly among the most essential food that we, humans, must consume. They provide us with vital vitamins and minerals, antioxidant phytochemicals and fiber that support our immune system, digestion and even mental health.
However, there are so many types of veggies we can consume that just eating one or two types may not be enough to get all the nutrients we need. Luckily, there are vegetables that stand out among the rest both for their extraordinary health benefits and also for the nutrients they contain.
To help us get started, registered dietitian and health coach Jessica Cording, along with nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, ranked their list of top 10 healthiest vegetables, each packed with various health benefits and nutrients.
Dark Leafy Greens
Just a bowl of various mixed dark leafy greens can spell the difference between wellness and illness and between life and death.
Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, arugula and Swiss chard are packed with various antioxidants, including carotenoids, which can protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
In fact, Cording said that a single spinach serving not only provides more than half of the recommended vitamin A intake, but is also a good source of vitamin K, magnesium, folate and the antioxidants beta-carotene and lutein, in addition to providing the body with fiber plus three grams of protein.
Kale, on the other hand, has “lots of vitamins A, C and K; plus B-vitamins, potassium, calcium, copper, and more,” Cording added, offering the same leafy goodness as spinach. She also said that kale is “noted for its antioxidant properties and has been studied for its beneficial impact on heart health, blood pressure, and blood sugar.”
Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable rich in antioxidants that “can protect against adverse health conditions,” according to Cording. Like all cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains sulfur-containing phytochemicals called glucosinolates (and their byproduct sulforaphane), which can not only support immune functions and normal inflammatory processes, but also helps the body remove toxins through the liver’s natural detoxification process.
Research has supported that cruciferous vegetable intake protects the body, with one study showing that a broccoli sprout-based drink activated enzymes that picked up bloodstream pollutants before flushing them out via urine.
In addition, Virgin said that broccoli has high levels of vitamins C and K and minerals potassium and manganese, all of which aid in bone and heart health while improving overall immune function.
Aside from offering much of broccoli’s health benefits, Brussels sprouts contain kaempferol, which aids in counteracting cell damage. Cording said that a brussel sprout is “also an approachable ‘gateway’ vegetable for skeptics when it’s roasted until crispy.”
High in vitamins A, C and K as well as fiber, potassium and folate among other vitamins and minerals, Brussels sprouts are great picks for supporting overall immune function and blood and bone health, in addition to warding off adverse health conditions.
Sea vegetables such as seaweed (e.g. kelp, nori, etc.) and the algae chlorella are among some of the most nutrient-dense food that our bodies need.
“Seaweed is a nutrient-rich sea vegetable that provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—including some that are difficult to find in other foods,” Cording said. One of those present is iodine, which helps maintain healthy thyroid hormone levels. However, Cording advised against excessive seaweed intake because too much iodine can negatively affect thyroid health.
Chlorella, on the other hand, is a powerful chelator, able to bind to and remove heavy metals and other toxins such as mercury that might otherwise inflict damage on the liver.
Rich in folate, as well as vitamin K, selenium and B vitamins like thiamin and riboflavin, asparagus is noted by Cording for helping the liver detoxify itself naturally, and is one of a few dietary sources of glutathione, an antioxidant concentrated in the liver that helps bind toxins before escorting them out of the body via urine or bile. Sufficient glutathione levels in the body not only help maintain energy, but also reduce muscle pain, improve sleep quality and boost immune function.
Being a deeply-hued cruciferous vegetable, the vitamin C, sulfur and fiber-rich red cabbage is typically a great pick.
Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, a flavonoid antioxidant found in foods and plants with a dark blue, red or purple color. These powerful antioxidants support the body’s normal inflammatory processes and have been shown to support heart and brain health, most likely a result of their anti-oxidative stress properties. Anthocyanins have also been shown by research to help enhance memory and cognition while lowering cholesterol levels.
Butternut squash is a great alternative to sweet potatoes, having the same powerful nutrients found in the starchy carbohydrate-rich vegetable. It is also rich in magnesium and potassium, both of which aid in maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and a stable mood.A fall favorite, butternut squash is said by Virgin to contain “a hefty dose of beta-carotene (an antioxidant plant pigment that serves as a precursor to vitamin A) to support immune function and possibly reduce disease risk.” Beta-carotene was shown by research to literally give skin a natural glow while providing protection from harmful UV rays. Garlic Cording said that garlic “has been used therapeutically for thousands of years and has been studied extensively for its benefit to heart health and immune system function.”Garlic reduces blood pressure and lowers cholesterol and oxidative stress while helping support heart health. These same attributes are possessed by onions, leeks, chives and scallions, being in the same vegetable family as garlic. It also has antimicrobial properties that make it a potent cold- and flu-fighter, and it has been shown to increase the body’s glutathione supply. Red Onion Onions, Cording said, “are a food source of prebiotic fibers to nourish probiotic bacteria in the gut and have been studied for their potential to help fight disease.” They are also rich in quercetin, an allergy-fighting flavonoid antioxidant. Chili and Cayenne Pepper Sometimes, strong flavors such as those possessed by spicy […]