Vegetables are well-known for being good for your health. Most vegetables are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, some vegetables stand out from the rest with additional proven health benefits, such as the ability to fight inflammation or reduce the risk of disease. This article takes a look at 14 of the healthiest vegetables and why you should include them in your diet.
This leafy green tops the chart as one of the healthiest vegetables, thanks to its impressive nutrient profile. One cup (30 grams) of raw spinach provides 56% of your daily vitamin A needs plus your entire daily vitamin K requirement — all for just 7 calories. Spinach also boasts plenty of antioxidants, which can help reduce the risk of chronic disease. One study found that dark green leafy vegetables like spinach are high in beta-carotene and lutein, two types of antioxidants that have been associated with a decreased risk of cancer. In addition, a 2015 study found that spinach consumption may be beneficial for heart health, as it may lower blood pressure.
Carrots are packed with vitamin A, providing 428% of the daily recommended value in just one cup (128 grams). They contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives carrots their vibrant orange color and could help in cancer prevention. In fact, one study revealed that for each serving of carrots per week, participants’ risk of prostate cancer decreased by 5%. Another study showed that eating carrots may reduce the risk of lung cancer in smokers as well. Compared to those who ate carrots at least once a week, smokers who did not eat carrots had a three times greater risk of developing lung cancer. Carrots are also high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium.
Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables. It is rich in a sulfur-containing plant compound known as glucosinolate, as well as sulforaphane, a by-product of glucosinolate. Sulforaphane is significant in that it has been shown to have a protective effect against cancer. In one animal study, sulforaphane was able to reduce the size and number of breast cancer cells while also blocking tumor growth in mice. Eating broccoli may help prevent other types of chronic diseases, too. A 2010 animal study found that consuming broccoli sprouts could protect the heart from disease-causing oxidative stress by significantly lower levels of oxidants. In addition to its ability to prevent disease, broccoli is also loaded with nutrients. A cup (91 grams) of raw broccoli provides 116% of your daily vitamin K needs, 135% of the daily vitamin C requirement and a good amount of folate, manganese and potassium.
Garlic has a long history of use as a medicinal plant, with roots tracing all the way back to ancient China and Egypt. The main active compound in garlic is allicin, a plant compound that is largely responsible for garlic’s variety of health benefits. Several studies have shown that garlic can regulate blood sugar as well as promote heart health. In one animal study, diabetic rats were given either garlic oil or diallyl trisulfide, a component of garlic. Both garlic compounds caused a decrease in blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity.
Another study fed garlic to participants both with and without heart disease. Results showed that garlic was able to decrease total blood cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol in both groups. Garlic may be useful in the prevention of cancer as well. One test-tube study demonstrated that allicin induced cell death in human liver cancer cells. However, further research is needed to better understand the potential anti-cancer effects of garlic.
5. Brussels Sprouts
Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and contain the same health-promoting plant compounds. Brussels sprouts also contain kaempferol, an antioxidant that may be particularly effective in preventing damage to cells. One animal study found that kaempferol protected against free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells and can contribute to chronic disease. Brussels sprout consumption can help enhance detoxification as well. One study showed that eating Brussels sprouts led to a 15–30% increase in some of the specific enzymes that control detoxification, which could decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.
Additionally, Brussels sprouts are very nutrient-dense. Each serving provides a good amount of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, manganese and potassium.
Like other leafy greens, kale is well-known for its health-promoting qualities, including its nutrient density and antioxidant content. A cup (67 grams) of raw kale contains plenty of B vitamins, potassium, calcium and copper. It also fulfills your entire daily requirement for vitamins A, C and K. Due to its high amount of antioxidants, kale may also be beneficial in promoting heart health. In a 2008 study, 32 men with high cholesterol drank 150 ml of kale juice daily for 12 weeks. By the end of the study, HDL cholesterol increased by 27%, LDL cholesterol decreased by 10% and antioxidant activity was increased. Another study showed that drinking kale juice can decrease blood pressure and may be beneficial in reducing both blood cholesterol and blood sugar.
Ginger root is used as a spice in everything from vegetable dishes to desserts. Historically, ginger has also been used as a natural remedy for motion sickness. Several studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of ginger on nausea. In a review comprised of 12 studies and nearly 1,300 pregnant women, ginger significantly reduced nausea compared to a placebo. Ginger also contains potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful in treating inflammation-related disorders like arthritis, lupus or gout.
In one study, participants with osteoarthritis who were treated with a concentrated ginger extract experienced reduced knee pain and relief from other symptoms (35). Further research suggests that ginger could aid in the treatment of diabetes as well. A 2015 study looked at the effects of ginger supplements on diabetes. After 12 weeks, ginger was found to be effective in decreasing blood sugar levels.