What is the nutritional value of vegetables, and which ones are best for you?
This page explains the nutritional value of vegetables, and includes a list of vegetables that promote healthy weight loss, heart health and lower inflammation.
Forget bread and starchy grains – vegetables are the mainstay of any healthy diet.
There is a growing body of research that supports lower cereal consumption and higher vegetable and fruit consumption.
- Vegetables provide healthy, low glycemic carbohydrates and fiber.
- Vegetables are an essential source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols.
- Vegetables are anti-inflammatory.
The nutritional values of vegetables are unsurpassed – many vegetables have a low glycemic index and high nutrient content compared to other foods.
These properties help you to burn fat, build muscle and enjoy a healthy metabolism.
About the nutritional value of vegetables
For example, dark green vegetables are typically rich in calcium, iron, B vitamins and vitamin C (to name a few).
If you enjoy your greens as steamed vegetables instead of raw, you’ll actually get more nutritional value out of those vegetables!
Yellow and red vegetables are typically good sources of vitamins A, C, E and carotenoids.
Nutritional value of organic vegetables
If you like vegetable gardening, you’ll probably know that the nutritional value of vegetables that are organic, is often higher than non-organic produce (1).
Your local grower will usually stock the freshest, in-season and most nutrient-rich produce.
Why is locally grown important?
A study of organic broccoli in New Jersey (2008) found that vitamin C levels were 2 times higher fresh, in-season (October) broccoli compared to previously-measured, out-of-season imported broccoli (May) (5).
Frozen organic broccoli had lower vitamin C than fresh broccoli in both seasons (5).
There are many recent studies (such as this one) that support these findings.
In other words, the nutritional value of vegetables is influenced by the farming methods they are subjected to.
A healthy food list – delicious vegetables
The following list covers the nutritional value of vegetables that are typically found in your local store.
If you’re into vegetable gardening, you might already be growing these yourself.
Nutritional value of lettuce
Lettuce comes in a variety of colours and shapes. The best rule of thumb is to look for dark green or multi-coloured varieties which are richest in phytochemicals.
Pale, whitish lettuce leaves have little nutritional value, because they have lower amounts of pigment in them. And the pigment is the thing that contains all the good stuff.
For example, the nutritional value of iceberg lettuce is lower than cos lettuce.
Cos lettuce contains significantly more vitamin A, C, K and folate than iceberg lettuce (2).
Nutritional value of mushrooms
Mushrooms are a good protein source; grab a bagful if you’re looking to burn fat, build muscle.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in iron and vitamin C, a good source of protein and fiber.
They contain a compound that boosts immunity and has anti-cancer properties, among other things (4).
Crimini mushrooms are even better immune-boosters and have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, making them a useful dietary addition for people with arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
They also contain conjugated linoleic acid, a compound which can bind to certain enzymes and lower estrogen production. Hormone-dependent breast cancer sufferers may benefit from crimini mushrooms (4).
The presence of certain bacteria on crimini mushrooms appears to provide the mushrooms with vitamin B12, a vitamin that’s only known from animal foods. Crimini mushrooms might offer important nutritional value for vegans; these mushrooms also a rich source of 18 different minerals including selenium and tryptophan (4).
This is another example of how the nutritional value of vegetables is linked with soil health.
Nutritional value of olives
Olives are actually fruits, but they are included them in this page because most people think of them as vegetables.
In moderation, olives and extra virgin olive oil are good for you. They’re both high in fat,and even though it’s ‘healthy’ fat, be careful with portion size.
Serving Size – tour thumb is a good indicator – how many olives would fit along the length of your thumb? That’s one serve.
A nutritional value of olive oil is the oleic acid content. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to reduce the expression of some aggressive breast cancer genes.
Olive oil is also rich in phytosterols, compounds which may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Olives are rich in omega 6 fatty acids which are prevalent in the Western diet. In a balanced diet, omega 6 fatty acids are balanced with plenty of omega 3 fatty acids.
Nutritional value of sprouts
Sprouts are a convenient addition to recipes. They’re usually just different types of beans and peas so they’re full of protein, fiber and nutrients.
The nutritional value of sprouts varies according to the type of sprout you’re eating.
Alfalfa sprouts are a good source of vitamin K and folate (2).
Mung bean shoots are a good source of vitamin K and copper (2).
Generally, the nutritional value of sprouted foods is superior; these foods are more easily digested and their nutrients are more available than non-sprouted counterparts. The sprouted version of a food is more nutrient dense (3).
Sprouting begins the germination process, increasing enzyme action and inactivating enzyme inhibitors.
Soaking grains inhibits phytic acid, a compound in grains that reduces mineral absorption (3).
Nutritional value of sweet potatoes
The nutritional value of vegetables such as sweet potatoes comes mainly from the incredibly high amount of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, with 100g of sweet potato providing 384% of the Daily Value of vitamin A.
This root vegetable also contains reasonable amounts of vitamin C and B6.
To maximize the beta carotene benefits, make sure your meal contains at least 3 – 5 grams of fat from a healthy source such as extra virgin olive oil.
Nutritional value of beans
If you want to enjoy healthy whole foods that are high in fiber, you can’t go past beans!
To maximize the nutritional value of beans, make sure you soak them, drain the soak water, then cook them properly. This will improve their digestibility reduce the intestinal gases that form from the oligosaccharides in the beans (4).
Cooking beans with spices such as cumin, fennel, ginger or other aromatic spices will help to stimulate digestion and reduce the formation of gas (4).
Depending on the variety of bean you choose, you’ll get loads of fiber, protein, folate and vitamin B1 (thiamin), iron and many other beneficial nutrients (4). Most healthy diets around the world feature beans of some kind.
Many beans also have a favourable omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio (usually 1:1 or 2:1).
Adzuki beans are a good source of folate and manganese (4).
Black turtle beans are a complete protein source (meaning they contain all essential amino acids) and are a good source of folate.
French beans are a complete protein source and are rich in both fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.
Kidney beans are considered to be a “superfood”. They are a complete protein source with good iron and folate content.
The nutritional value of lima beans is found in their manganese, folate and potassium content (4).
People often associate fiber with grains. But in actual fact, there are many vegetables that are excellent sources of fiber.
Fibrous vegetables include (4):
- turnip greens
- mustard greens
- collard greens
- Swiss chard (silverbeet)
- romain (cos) lettuce
Good vitamin K content and its’ wide range of vitamins and minerals contribute to the nutritional value of celery (2).
Celery is an excellent accompaniment to bean dips and its sodium content makes it a suitable alternative to salt, in soups and savoury dishes.
In fact, celery seed is often a key ingredient in vegetable stock powders.
Celery has other powers. It contains compounds which may help lower cholesterol and prevent cancers, and a compound in celery, phthalides, are thought to help reduce blood pressure by relaxing muscles around the arteries (4).
Starchy vegetables include root (‘storage’) vegetables such as:
- rutabaga (yellow turnips)
- sweet potatoes
Most starchy vegetables have a medium to high glycemic index, generally higher than leafy veg or fibrous vegetables. That doesn’t mean that the nutritional value of starchy vegetables is any less than the others!
The Nutritional value of Carrots
Carrots are moderately starchy but the nutritional value of orange vegetables such as carrots, with regard to vitamin A, is exceptional. They also offer a good amount of fiber and a reasonable amount of vitamins C, K and potassium (2).
Starchy veg offer many health-giving benefits and are a good replacement for grains.
The Nutritional value of Beets
The nutritional value of beets comes partly from its high anthocyanin content – a powerful phytochemical that causes the red colouring of the beetroot. The phytochemicals act as powerful antioxidants that help to fight cancer and inflammatory diseases.
The nutritional value of red vegetables, such as beets, is significant.
Use starch in moderation
Like everything else, starchy vegetables should be eaten in moderation, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
In that case, you’d have lots of leafy and fibrous veg and a moderate amount of starchy veg at each meal.
What are your favourite nutritious vegetables, and how do you like to use them? Comment below and let us know!
(1) Halweil, B. 2007. Critical Issue Report: Still No Free Lunch. The Organic Center, www.organic-center.org
(2) Self Nutrition Data www.nutritiondata.self.com
(3) Dr Mercola’s website www.mercola.com
(4) Worlds Healthiest Foods website www.whfoods.org
(5) Wunderlich, S.M., Feldman, C., Kane S et. al. 2008. Nutritional quality of organic, conventional and seasonally grown broccoli using vitamin C as a marker. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 59 (1), 88-94.
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