You’ve known since, well, forever that vegetables are good for you. But that begs the question: With so many to choose from, which ones are best? Friend, we’re glad you asked.
According to nutritionists, eating a wide variety of the good stuff (read: plants) is the easiest way to improve your overall well-being, maintain a healthy weight and ward off conditions like heart disease, high cholesterol and cancer. Presenting the 15 most nutritious vegetables you can put in your body (and exactly why they’re so good for you).
Popeye was onto something. According to certified dietician-nutritionist and founder of Real Nutrition Amy Shapiro, “Spinach is a superstar dark leafy green” because it’s high in iron, potassium, magnesium and cartenoids (like vitamin A), as well as vitamins K, C, E and B. Whew. All that to say, it’s full of vitamins and minerals essential to blood clotting, bone metabolism and a healthy immune system, and antioxidants for anti-aging and anti-inflammation. Best of all, spinach is relatively tasteless (and super low in calories, at about six per cup), which makes it an easy addition to smoothies, soups and sauces. Try it in a green smoothie with avocado and apple, toss it in pasta Florentine with grilled chicken or give your dinner a nutritional boost with a side of coconut creamed spinach.
How do we love thee, cauliflower? In ways too numerous to count. All the better that one of our go-to veggies is also one of the most beneficial. A cruciferous vegetable (just like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage), cauliflower is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, folic acid, potassium and fiber. (And here we thought it was just pale broccoli.) “Cauliflower also contains phytonutrients,” says Shapiro, “which have immune enhancing, anti-aging and cancer fighting properties. “If you’re ever at a loss for what to do with all that cauliflower, friend, you’re in the right place. Might we suggest roasted tandoori cauliflower bowls, spicy whole roasted cauliflower or cauliflower fried rice?
We always thought asparagus was just trendy, but now we understand the hype: It’s one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat (that also happens to taste delicious). Shapiro tells us that aside from being low in calories (about four calories per stalk!), it’s rich in fiber, vitamin A, K, B6, folic acid and potassium. “Asparagus contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine,” she says. “Combined with the potassium, the asparagine helps give asparagus a natural diuretic effect, helping the body to rid of excess sodium, water and bloat.” We’re whipping up asparagus flatbread and one-pan eggs with asparagus and tomatoes to test that theory for ourselves.
Remember when your mom told you carrots would help you see? She was right. Aside from being the best, crunchiest vehicle for dips like, ever, they contain vitamin A and carotenoids, which can improve eyesight, Shapiro notes. “They’re a great source of vitamins K, C, B, insoluble fiber and potassium and also help protect against cancer.” We see harissa and honey-roasted carrots in your future.
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DC, and creator of the ketotarian diet, tells us that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are particularly nutritious because they’re high in vitamins and nutrients that “aid in enhancing heart health, fighting cancer, and rebalancing blood sugar.” They’re also low-cal and high-fiber, so they keep you feeling satisfied. And while vegetables aren’t protein-powerhouses like meat, broccoli contains a surprising amount. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving provides 2.6 grams of protein. Among our favorite preparations are broccoli and cauliflower gratin and charred broccoli with sriracha and almond butter sauce.
Small but mighty microgreens are more than just a pretty garnish. “Microgreens fall somewhere between baby greens and a sprout,” Shapiro says. “They’re usually picked seven to 21 days after germination, once the vegetables’ first leaves appear. The result is a smaller, yet more powerful nutrient profile.” Crazy enough, microgreens contain four to 40 times more nutrients by weight than their mature, fully-grown counterparts, along with a larger variety of polyphenols (which prevent the buildup of cancerous free radicals, and can decrease the risk for heart disease and Alzheimer’s). Look for broccoli, arugula, radish, chard or cabbage microgreens at the farmers market (or places like Whole Foods), then top your sandwiches and salads to abandon.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Considering they taste like candy, we could eat these guys every day. Good thing they’re full of vital nutrients and fiber. Dr. Judy Hinojosa, NMD, lead naturopathic physician and owner of Vitality Natural Health Care, tells us they’re chock full of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and beta-carotene. Compared to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are also lower on the glycemic index and “can help the body to maintain normal blood sugar levels.” We’re starting with buffalo-stuffed sweet potatoes and going from there.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Members of the Brassica family (like Brussels sprouts) are great for fighting inflammation, explains ketogenic diet expert Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC. “These vegetables are all considered sulfuric, aiding in methylation—your body’s biochemical superhighway that down-regulates inflammation and keeps your detox pathways functioning optimally.” They can also boost heart health, ward off cancer and rebalance your blood sugar. Say no more: These cacio e pepe Brussels have our name written all over them.
9. Onions and Garlic
Full of aromatic flavor, onions and garlic can take a recipe from bland to brilliant. They’re also full of antioxidants and sulfur compounds, which Hinojosa says “can help reduce the risk of colon, ovarian and mouth cancers.” A French study of 345 breast cancer patients found that increasing garlic consumption, along with onion and fiber, could reduce the risk of breast cancer. And other studies suggest garlic specifically can help solve gut issues, because it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. We’re going to need some breath mints.
All hail kale, the trendiest leafy green to grace your salad. Kale “contains glucosinolates, which are broken down into biologically active compounds during digestion,” says Sarah Rueven, RD, MS, CDN, and owner of Rooted Wellness. “These compounds may help protect cells from DNA damage, help inactivate carcinogens, reduce inflammation and stimulate cell death—all of which may reduce cancer risk.” It’s also high in vitamins A, C, K, and B, potassium, calcium and copper, making it beneficial for heart, brain and bone health. You could eat it raw and whip up a kale salad with crispy chickpeas, or wilt it into a kale minestrone—the possibilities are endless.
11. Collard, Turnip and Mustard Greens
Dr. Axe explains, “They are great sources of vitamins K, A, C and E, along with folate, potassium, magnesium, iron and more, but what really makes them stand apart is their supply of beneficial compounds called glucosinolates (like kale). These compounds have been found to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. They also help inactivate carcinogens and prevent tumor formation and metastasis.” That sounds like a call to make rainbow collard wraps with peanut butter dipping sauce, doesn’t it?
12. Sea Vegetables
We know what you’re thinking. What the heck are sea vegetables? Us too, friend. Basically, it’s seaweed. “Most Americans aren’t eating sea vegetables much, if at all,” Dr. Cole explains. “But this is one food group worth turning into a trend, because seaweed contains a variety of beneficial minerals and a huge number of health-boosting trace elements. These green superfoods are also an abundant source of B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K, and are the most effective way to get iodine, which your body needs for thyroid hormone production.” They’re also anti-inflammatory and blood-sugar balancing; nori, dulse, kombu, kelp and Irish moss are all examples. (Hello, vegetarian sushi cups.)
Beets aren’t just pretty to look at. Rueven says they’re also a fantastic source of fiber, “containing about 3.5 grams per cup. Fiber slows digestion, which keeps us full longer and prevents unwanted spikes in blood sugar. Fiber also can help lower LDL cholesterol (or ‘bad cholesterol’) by preventing its absorption in our digestive tract.” Dr. Cole adds that they’re rich in folate, an essential nutrient for fetal development. And according to an Australian study, they’ve also been found to help lower blood pressure. Ever tried a roasted beet tartare? It’s about time you did.
14. Bell Peppers
If you’re trying to eat the rainbow, bell peppers are a good place to start. All varieties and colors are low in calories while being high in vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid, fiber and antioxidants. The green types also contain lutein, a compound that protects vision. Use bell peppers as a vehicle for lunch in these Greek yogurt chicken salad stuffed peppers, throw them in a stir-fry à la this 15-minute skillet pepper steak or just munch on them raw.
15. Green Peas
Until now, we though peas were just a starchy side dish (and the only green vegetable we’d eat as a kid). And while they do contain more carbs than other non-starchy veggies, they’re actually full of good-for-you compounds, too. That includes fiber, vitamins A, C and K, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin and folate. And 100 grams of cooked peas contains a whopping 6 grams of protein. (Yeah, even the frozen kind counts.) Spring pea soup with mint, anyone?