Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

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Veggies contain loads of nutrients that can help you look and feel great, and they're some of the healthiest foods you can eat!

Vegetables truly are one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytochemicals you can find, which makes them excellent food cures. You should be getting at least five servings of vegetables daily, but I encourage you to eat even more than that, since they’re so good for you. Keep in mind that starchy veggies like corn, peas, potatoes (white and sweet), and winter squash contain more calories than water-rich, nonstarchy vegetables.

One of the great things about eating your daily servings of vegetables is that they provide you with an array of nutrients, including the B vitamins folate, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6; antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, quercetin, and anthocyanins; and countless other phytonutrients.

B vitamins like folate and B6 keep your hair strong and healthy. Some research suggests that they may also reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseaseand slow age-related memory loss. Folate, in particular, contributes to the production of serotonin, so it may help ward off depression as well as improve your mood, and vitamin B6 aids in dopamine production, which may reduce PMS symptoms. Riboflavin and niacin are two additional B vitamins that may help prevent cataracts.

Research suggests that antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and anthocyanins may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Research shows that vitamin C may also help slow bone loss and decrease the risk of fractures. Vitamin C allows the body to make collagen, too. Collagen is a major component of cartilage, which aids in joint support and flexibility. Collagen also helps keep your skin and hair looking healthy and beautiful. Anthocyanins and quercetin are anti-inflammatory antioxidants that are also often found in vegetables. Current research suggests that anthocyanins and quercetin may help slow the rate of age-related memory-loss and protect against arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Another important vitamin in vegetables is vitamin E, which works with vitamin C to keep skin healthy as you age. This vitamin also helps protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. It may also help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Veggies that contain beta-carotene, such as pumpkin, winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens, contribute to the growth and repair of the body's tissues. Beta-carotene may also protect your skin against sun damage. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body at a carefully controlled rate. A diet rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, another powerful carotenoid, has been associated with a reduced risk of developing inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

In addition to vitamins, vegetables contain other nutrients such as minerals, water, and fiber. Some of the minerals that are commonly found in veggies include magnesium, potassium, and iron. Magnesium and potassium help maintain blood pressure control and bone health, and magnesium may also protect against migraines and PMS symptoms. Iron contributes to healthy hair.

You can also think of nonstarchy vegetables as “juicy foods,” since they mostly consist of water. Foods that have a high water content tend to be low in calories, since all that water adds volume and dilutes the calories. That, in addition to the high fiber content in vegetables, also helps fill you up for a minimal calorie cost, making them a smart addition to any weight-loss plan. And the water contained in vegetables, like the water you drink, hydrates your cells, flushes toxins from your body, assists with normal organ functioning, and helps you maintain optimal energy levels.

Fiber found in vegetables is also multipurpose: It not only keeps you feeling full, controlling your hunger, but it also stabilizes blood sugar, which helps keep your mood and energy level steady. The fiber in veggies may also lower cholesterol and blood pressure. And, a high-fiber diet has been associated with reduced risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

While vegetables offer many health benefits, they can sometimes trigger IBS in individuals who are sensitive — particularly if the vegetables are raw or high in fiber. And if you suffer from migraines, be aware that certain vegetables, including canned and pickled vegetables, may trigger headaches in sensitive individuals. Canned vegetables are typically high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure, so look for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties, and rinse regular varieties thoroughly to significantly cut down on the salt.


Artichoke Hearts | Artichokes | Asparagus | Beets | Bell Peppers | Carrots | Celery | Chili Peppers | Cucumbers | Eggplant | Green Beans | Horseradish Root | Kohlrabi | Mushrooms | Okra | Parsnips | Pumpkin | Rhubarb | Rutabaga | Seaweed | Snow Peas | Squash | Sugar Snap Peas | Summer Squash | Tomatoes | Tomato Paste | Tomato Sauce | Turnips | Veggie Burgers | Yellow Squash | Zucchini

Artichoke Hearts

The heart of the artichoke is the meaty, delicious prize at the center of the artichoke. (Note there is a small amount of meat on the leaves too.) Like other nonstarchy vegetables, artichoke hearts are low in calories and have a high water and fiber content, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weightor prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Artichoke hearts are also a good source of potassium and folate, nutrients that may reduce the risk of heart diseaseand osteoporosis and help lower blood pressure, improve mood, and slow memory decline. This vegetable also supplies magnesium and vitamin K, two nutrients that boost bone health. When buying canned artichoke hearts, select those packed in water rather than oil if you’re watching your calorie intake. Canned artichokes are high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure, so rinse them in running water before eating. Frozen varieties typically don’t contain added salt.

Artichokes

Artichokes are actually the flower of a plant in the same family as marigolds, daisies, and sunflowers. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, artichokes are low in calories and have a high water and fiber content, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Artichokes are also a good source of potassium and folate, nutrients that may reduce the risk of heart diseaseand osteoporosis and help lower blood pressure, improve mood, and slow memory decline. Artichokes also supply magnesium and vitamin K, two nutrients that boost bone health.

Asparagus

Asparagus are spring vegetables that come from a flowering plant. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, asparagus is low in calories and has a high water content and a good amount of fiber, making it a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent and manage heart diseaseor type 2 diabetes. Asparagus also contains vitamin E and beta-carotene, antioxidants that may help prevent arthritis, cataracts, macular degeneration, and skin damage. Asparagus is also rich in vitamin K, which may help preserve bone health.

Beets

Like other nonstarchy vegetables, beets are low in calories and have a high water content and a good amount of fiber, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weightor prevent or manage heart disease or 2 diabetes. Many diabetics avoid beets because they think they’re high in sugar, and while they do contain more sugar than most other vegetables, they’re still low in calories and perfectly healthy, as long as you account for the carbs in your diet. Beets are a good source of folate, a B vitamin that helps maintain healthy hair and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and potassium, a mineral that helps lower blood pressure and preserve bone health. Beets also contain anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants that may protect against arthritis and age-related memory loss.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are refreshing, mild-flavored vegetables that come in many different colors, including red, yellow, and green. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, bell peppers are low in calories and have a high water content and a good amount of fiber, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Bell peppers are one of the best sources of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps protect against and manage arthritis, osteoporosis, cataracts, and macular degeneration, and keeps skin, hair, and teeth healthy. Bell peppers also contain vitamin B6, which some research suggests may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Red bell peppers are a good source of vitamin E, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin, other antioxidants involved in joint, skin, and eye health. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to raw vegetables and experience discomfort after eating them.

Carrots

Like other nonstarchy vegetables, carrots are low in calories and have a high water content and a good amount of fiber, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. They are especially rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that may help prevent arthritis, cataracts, and macular degeneration, in addition to helping maintain healthy hair and skin. The potassium in carrots also helps lower blood pressure and preserves bone health. IBS sufferers take note: Cooked vegetables, including carrots, are typically easier to digest than raw ones.

Celery

Celery is a low-calorie vegetable with a high water content, making it a good addition to your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. As with other juicy vegetables, the water in celery hydrates your body and helps flush out toxins, keeping your skin and other organs healthy. Celery is also a good source of quercetin, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that some research suggests may help prevent arthritis and memory loss. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to raw vegetables and experience discomfort after eating them.

Chili Peppers

Fresh chili peppers are hot and spicy, unlike bell peppers, which are sweet and mild. Like bell peppers, chili peppers are a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps prevent and manage arthritis, osteoporosis, cataracts, and macular degeneration, and keeps skin, hair, and teeth healthy. Hot chili peppers contain concentrated amounts of quercetin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects that may further help to manage arthritis symptoms and slow memory loss. Red chili peppers in particular contain beta-cryptoxanthin, another antioxidant that may help prevent arthritis. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to spicy foods and experience discomfort after eating them.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a low-calorie vegetable consisting of mostly water, making them a good addition to your diet if you're trying to lose weight. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to raw vegetables and experience discomfort after eating them.

Eggplant

Eggplant is a vegetable with a firm and meaty texture. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, eggplant is low in calories and has a high water and fiber content, making it a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. There are different types of eggplants, but most have a deep purple-black color that comes from anthocyanins, antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent arthritis and memory loss. When getting prepared eggplant, make sure to ask how it is prepared, as eggplant is often served breaded and fried, making it higher in calorie and fat than most vegetables. If you suffer from migraines or IBS, be aware that eggplant can sometimes trigger symptoms.

Green Beans

Like other nonstarchy vegetables, green beans are low in calories and have a high water and fiber content, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Green beans are a good source of quercetin, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that research suggests may help prevent arthritis and memory loss, and lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of antioxidants that may help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to raw vegetables and experience discomfort after eating them.

Horseradish Root

Horseradish is a root vegetable that has a bitter, spicy flavor when grated. It is a very good source of quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that may help with arthritis and age-related memory loss. Horseradish is commonly sold jarred, grated, and mixed with vinegar or beet juice and used as a condiment on beef or fish.

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi, also known as the German turnip, is a root vegetable that is rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that may help prevent and manage arthritis and macular degeneration, and helps maintain healthy hair and skin. Kohlrabi also contains some antioxidants that may help improve memory.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are fleshy, water-filled vegetables that are very low in calories, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight. The potassium in mushrooms helps lower blood pressure and preserve bone health. Mushrooms are also rich in riboflavin and niacin, B vitamins that may help prevent cataracts and migraine headaches, as well as selenium, a mineral with antioxidant properties that may help protect your joints. Mushrooms treated with UV light, which are starting to become available in US supermarkets, are an excellent source of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body absorb and use calcium and has been shown to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes — and even combat PMS. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to raw vegetables and experience discomfort after eating them.

Okra

Okra is a pod-shaped green vegetable and a mainstay of Southern cuisine. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, okra is low in calories and has a high water and fiber content, making it a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease.

Parsnips

Parsnips are root vegetables that look like white carrots and have a mild, slightly sweet flavor. They are a good source of fiber, which aids in weight management and decreases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Parsnips also provide folate, a B vitamin that helps maintain healthy hair and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Parsnips can be prepared the same way as carrots and are commonly found in soups and roasted as a side dish.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a member of the squash family, and like other orange-fleshed vegetables, it is an excellent source of beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, antioxidants that may help prevent arthritis and maintain skin, hair,and eye health. Pumpkin is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of antioxidants that may protect against cataracts and macular degeneration. Pumpkin is a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in lowering blood pressure and preserving bone health. Pumpkin is a low-calorie vegetable that’s rich in fiber, making it a good choice for people who want to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease and type 2 diabetes. When shopping for canned pumpkin, be sure to buy 100 percent pure pumpkin puree rather than pumpkin-pie filling, which has added sugar.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a vegetable with a reddish-pink stalk and large green leaves. The leaves are toxic and the stalks are tough to eat raw and have a very tart flavor; however, the stalks are commonly cooked with sugar or other sweeteners to make sauces, jams, chutneys, or pie filling (so limit these foods if you’re trying to lose weightor have diabetes). Rhubarb is a good source of anthocyanins, anti-inflammatory antioxidants that may help prevent arthritis and memory loss. It also contains a lot of water, which adds volume without calories and keeps skin and other organs hydrated.

Rutabaga

Rutabaga, also known as yellow turnip, is a root vegetable with a slightly sweeter flavor than a turnip. Rutabagas are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that may help prevent and manage arthritis and macular degeneration, as well as help maintain healthy hair and skin. Rutabagas also contain some antioxidants that may aid in improving memory.

Seaweed

Seaweed is a vegetable that is commonly used in Asian cuisine and is often served as seaweed salad and in sushi. If eaten regularly in large quantities, seaweed is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation, decrease triglycerides, and may help to lower high blood pressure and raise good cholesterol. Omega-3s may even reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, help maintain healthy skin and eyes, and slow memory decline. Folate, an important B vitamin, is also found in seaweed and helps keep your hair, skin, and heart healthy.

Snow Peas

Snow peas are a vegetable with a thin, edible outer pod and flat peas inside (unlike sugar snap peas, which have thicker pods and round peas). Snow peas are a nonstarchy vegetable, so they’re not as high in calories and carbohydrates as regular, starchy green peas. And, like other nonstarchy vegetables, snow peas have a high water and fiber content, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight or prevent or manage heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Snow peas are also a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and teeth and may help prevent and manage arthritis, osteoporosis, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Squash

There are two classes of squash: Winter squash and summer squash. Acorn and butternut squash are types of winter squash. These starchy vegetables are good sources of potassium, fiber, and the antioxidants beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, and may help prevent heart disease, arthritis, memory loss, and diseases of the eyes. Zucchini and yellow squash are types of summer squash and are less starchy and lower in calories than winter squash. They are good sources of vitamin C, lutein, and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that help maintain the health of joints, bones, eyes, hair, skin, and teeth.

Tomatoes

Though they’re technically a fruit, tomatoes are considered a vegetable due to their savory flavor. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, tomatoes are rich in water and low in calories, making them a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight. They are packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C, lycopene, beta-carotene, and quercetin, which help prevent and manage arthritis, skin, hair, and teeth. Tomatoes also provide potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and boost bone health. In some individuals with migraines, tomatoes are a trigger food and should be avoided. IBSsufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to raw vegetables and experience discomfort after eating them.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is made from ripe tomatoes with the skin and seeds removed. It is a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that may help prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, and skin damage. Tomato paste is one of the best sources of the antioxidant lycopene. Tomato paste and other foods rich in lycopene have been thought to protect against certain cancers, including prostate cancer. Tomato paste is also a good source of potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and preserve bone health. If you suffer from migraine headaches, be aware that tomato paste is a trigger for some people.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato or marinara sauce is made primarily from ripe tomatoes and is a good source of potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and preserve bone health. If you suffer from migraine headaches, be aware that tomato paste is a trigger for some people.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato or marinara sauce is made primarily from ripe tomatoes and is a good source of potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and preserve bone health. Tomato sauce is also one of the best sources of the antioxidant lycopene. Tomato sauce and other foods rich in lycopene have been thought to protect against certain cancers, including prostate cancer. Be aware, though: Many canned and jarred tomato sauces contain a lot of salt and sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to add more flavor. Look for tomato sauces that are low in sodium and other additives, or make your own at home. If you suffer from migraine headaches, be aware that tomato sauce is a trigger for some people.

Turnips

Turnips are a strong-tasting, bulb-shaped root vegetable. Turnips are a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that may help prevent and manage arthritis and macular degeneration, as well as help maintain healthy hair and skin. They also contain some antioxidants that may help improve memory. Turnips are commonly served mashed, roasted, or added to stews.

Veggie Burgers

Whether or not you're a vegetarian, veggie burgers are a healthy alternative to meat-based burgers. Veggie burgers vary considerably in their nutritional content based on their ingredients; some have more vegetables and grains making them lower in protein, whereas others have beans or a soy base and are higher in protein. I recommend choosing veggie burgers with at least ten grams of protein to make them a substantial entrée. Most veggie burgers are also a good source of fiber, which aids in weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and >type 2 diabetes.

Yellow Squash

Yellow squash is a type of summer squash similar to zucchini. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, yellow squash is rich in water and low in calories, making it a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight. It is also a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that keeps skin, hair, and teeth healthy and may help prevent arthritis.

Zucchini

Zucchini is a type of summer squash that is commonly green in color, although yellow (“golden”) zucchini exists as well. Like other nonstarchy vegetables, zucchini is rich in water and low in calories, making it a great choice for people who are trying to lose weight. It is also a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that keeps skin, hair, and teeth healthy and may help prevent arthritis. In addition, zucchini contains potassium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure in check. Along with vitamin C, the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in zucchini help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.