The health benefits of vegetables usually show in long run by improving your overall health and keeping the internal systems in perfect condition. The consumption of vegetables takes care of your digestive, excretory, and skeletal system, as well as blood pressure levels. With a diet rich in vegetables, you are being benefited with abundant antioxidants that keep away diseases like cancer, cardiovascular problems and strokes. Moreover, vegetables deliver ample amounts of vitamins, including folate, vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin B6, as well as carotenoids like beta carotene from carrots, lycopene from tomatoes, zeaxanthin from greens, and lutein from spinach and collard greens. Vegetables also help in keeping your weight under control and promoting healthy skin and hair. There have been innumerable research studies done all over the world that strongly suggest having fresh, green vegetables on a regular basis is far better than going for supplementary tablets to get the wholesome nutrition that you need.
Nutritional Value of Vegetables
Antioxidants: Did you know that including vegetables in your diet is probably the easiest way to stay healthy, trim and nourished? Since vegetables are low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, they help you to stay in optimum health over the long term by keeping your weight in check.
As mentioned earlier, vegetables have abundant levels of antioxidants that prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Dark green vegetables have lots of phenolic flavonoid antioxidants and minerals. These vitamins and minerals are essential for the proper functioning of your body. Deficiencies of these vitamins and minerals can lead to serious deficiencies of your bones, teeth and vital organs. Moreover, antioxidants boost the body’s immunity and keeps from developing infections and diseases. Leafy green vegetables have a bioflavonoid known as ‘Quercetin’. This is responsible for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of vegetables along with its unique, anticancer properties. Quercetin also effectively cuts down the flow of substances that lead to allergies. This compound plays the role of an inhibitor of mass cell secretion, thereby decreasing the release of interleukin-6. Most of the green, yellow and orange vegetables also have high percentage of calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B-complex, vitamin A, vitamin-C, vitamin K, zea-xanthins, α and β carotenes and crypto-xanthins.
Dietary Fiber: Vegetables are great options for consuming dietary fiber. Owing to the high percentage of fiber level in vegetables, your digestive track stays well toned. Vegetables are abundant in soluble as well as insoluble dietary fiber, known as non-starch polysaccharides (NSP). This dietary fiber absorbs the extra water in your colon and thereby retains the moisture content in the fecal matter. This aids in digestion, preventing chronic constipation, hemorrhoids, rectal fissures, and diarrhea. Your digestive system becomes sleeker and its ability to process foods becomes smoother, keeping many ailments away. Eating more fiber-rich foods keep your digestive system clear and healthy, helping you to avoid problems like constipation, bowel irregularity, colon cancer and even polyps. Since they have high fiber, vegetables also tend to make you feel full for longer, and stops unnecessary snacking, so they can help reduce your weight.
Cancer Prevention: Cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli have a high content of indoles and isothiocyanates. These components have protective properties against colon cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer and other types of cancers. Broccoli sprouts have immensely higher sulforaphane than the matured broccolis, which is a cancer-protective substance. Furthermore, as said before, since vegetables are great antioxidants, they also alleviate the chances of fatal diseases like cancer.
Proteins and Amino Acids: If you eat less animal products in your diet, you must ensure that your diet is high in protein-rich vegetables to compensate for the proteins that you are missing. Once you have the correct combination of vegetables in your meals, you will gain ample amount of amino acids that are required to live healthy. Eat plenty of beans and spinach, along with whole grain rice for a balanced meal.
Water Content: Vegetables naturally have high levels of water; this is the reason why they are generally fat free and low in calories. You can rest assured of both your weight and health once you start on a vegetable-rich diet. The more you consume vegetables, the more the water intake that flushes out waste products and toxins from your body.
Minerals: Green leafy vegetables are high in magnesium and a have low glycemic index, thus proving to be helpful for patients with type 2 diabetes. If you eat at least 1 serving of green leafy vegetables each day, it will considerably lower the risks of diabetes. Green vegetables are also rich in iron and calcium, except for Swiss chard and spinach, since they are high in oxalic acid.
Vitamins: In general, vegetables have a high vitamin content. However, vitamin K is usually prevalent in almost all vegetables. The high level of vitamin K in green vegetables makes them an ideal and natural way to prevent bone problems. Vitamin K is necessary for the production of osteocalcin, a protein mandatory for proper bone health. In a survey, the addition of green, leafy vegetables considerably decreased the chances of hip fractures in middle-aged women.
Lycopene and Beta Carotene: Green vegetables have high levels of beta-carotene, which improve immune function considerably once it is converted into vitamin A. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which protects your eyes from vision problems. A diet deficient in green vegetables often leads to the possibilities of blindness, and other illnesses in children and adults.
Allyl sulfides: Garlic, onions, chives, leeks and scallions are rich in allyl sulfides that help in lowering high blood pressure and protecting the stomach and digestive tract from fatal diseases like cancer.
How Many Vegetables Should We Eat?
It is said that the more vegetables we consume, the more benefits to our health we will enjoy. You should consume at least 2.5 to 6.5 cups of fresh vegetables every day. Also, make sure you eat 4-5 different types of vegetables. The more variety and colors of vegetables you include in your diet, the more extensive the benefits to your health will be. Also, include seasonal vegetables in your diet. Some vegetables are only available in certain areas of the world at certain times of the year. If you are in a country or a city with a large amount of imports, then you can probably get most seasonal vegetables throughout the year, but there are still some that are grown in such limited amounts that they are only on the market for a few months each year. As luck would have it, some of them are the most important and beneficial for human health. Seasonal vegetables also have higher nutrient value if eaten during proper time of the year. They keep you protected from many seasonal health disorders.
Given below is a list of some vegetables. Click on them to find their health benefits in greater detail:
Do Vegetables Help to Lose Weight?
It is a well-established fact that eating veggies is a healthy way to lose or maintain weight. Moreover, vegetables are storehouses of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and other nutrients that keep you fit and healthy. In fact, vegetables are called ‘negative calorie foods’ because it actually helps to lose weight by spending more amount of energy to digest the food than it actually adds to your overall caloric intake.
You will find two types of vegetables, starchy and non-starchy. You can include both of these in your diet; however, the non-starch varieties can be consumed in unlimited quantities. Starchy vegetables have more sugar, so you need to keep the quantity in check. Starchy vegetables include peas, plantains, squash, potatoes, and yams; the rest are the non- starch vegetables, which include cauliflower, asparagus, artichokes, beets, carrots, broccoli, onions, cucumber, leeks, eggplant, tomato, peppers, mushrooms, spinach, salad greens, and zucchini.
However, if you are on strict diet, then consider the so called ‘free foods’; these vegetables contain minimal calories with high nutritional value. These are carrots, radishes, celery, cucumbers, fresh green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms.
To lose weight, it is not necessary to turn into a vegetarian, but if you simply start eating an abundance of fruits, legumes, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds, your health will improve. That type of diet, when combined with other exercise plans, drastically reduces your weight and keeps you fit and healthy. Most of the plant foods are low-calorie and low-fat, while also keeping you filled for a longer time. As they are fresh and whole, your body will get used to eating natural, organic foods, rather than fast food or overly processed foods.
Skin Care and Vegetables
For ages, our mothers and grandmothers have carried on the natural methods to keep their beauty intact. On the other hand, our skins today are usually pampered with loads of expensive creams, toners, cleanses and ointments, but they definitely lack the natural glow and suppleness that earlier generations had. As is often said, nature knows the best ways to keep us in perfect health, whether it is our organs, limbs, skin or hair. The fruits and vegetables that we often tend to forget in our diet are the best treatments for bright, glowing and healthy skin. The vibrant pigments in fruits and vegetables also have immense disease-fighting capabilities. Rich in a host of useful nutrients and powerful antioxidants, vegetables should be included in a daily diet if you want to improve the health of your skin. Both fruits and vegetables can be divided into four color groups; each of them having specific benefits.
- ‘Orange and yellows’ include sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges, and apricots. They have lots of vitamin C, which is highly beneficial to the skin and aids in the growth and protection of collagen. Collagen retains the elasticity of your skin, thus delaying the appearance of wrinkles.
- The group of ‘reds’ includes tomatoes, red peppers, red onions, and papayas, all of which are lycopene-rich. They effectively protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. However, it should be noted that cooked tomatoes offer you more lycopene than raw ones, meaning you get more benefits from tomato sauce than raw tomatoes!
- The next group is ‘greens’, which include broccoli, kiwis, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, green bell peppers, collards, romaine and spinach. These vegetables are mainly rich in vitamin C.
- The ‘blues’ include plums, beets, eggplant, red grapes, and purple cabbage. They are rich in antioxidants, which are needed for healthy, radiant skin. Any combination of vegetables works wonders for the skin, because it not only delays the signs of aging, but also keeps the skin bright, fresh and prevents drying and other skin disorders.
Nowadays, many natural treatment salons opt for vegetable facials and have started using vegetable toner by mixing chopped cucumber flesh, lettuce leaves, lemon juice and chopped tomato into the facial material. You can make this toner at home quite easily to gain a brighter complexion. Vegetable peelings are also performed in many salons, which ensure blemish-free and bright skin.
Vegetables Promote Hair Growth
You might be surprised to know that a healthy diet with many vegetables gives your hair a greater health boost than the most expensive shampoos in the market. Only a proper diet can assure you of hair growth as it’s something that is affected from within. Proper nutrient supply ensures strong, healthy and lustrous hair. Vegetables are undoubtedly the powerhouses of nutrition, since they are packed with the vitamins and minerals that your hair needs most. As discussed before, if you categorize vegetables in terms of color and include at least one serving of each in your diet, you will get ample benefits for your hair.
- The dark green vegetables are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron, which are essential for the production of sebum, an oily substance that is secreted from your scalp and acts as natural hair conditioner. Iron or calcium deficiencies can lead to excessive hair loss.
- Red vegetables have plenty of lycopene. You will find this nutrient in many hair products as well. Red peppers have plentiful amounts of lycopene and the shiny outer skins have a high percentage of silica, a mineral required to maintain your hair’s thickness.
- The orange vegetables (especially carrots) have beta-carotene, which is the antioxidant necessary for healthy hair growth. They’re rich in vitamin C as well, which protects your hair from free radicals. The orange veggies shield your hair from the harmful effects of the sun and keep the moisture inside.
- The yellow vegetables have similar nutritional value as those of orange vegetables. The white vegetables like onions are powerful antioxidants that shield your hair from root to tip. Moreover, they are rich in vitamin C, often considered the “anti-aging vitamin”.
- Onion juice was recommended in ancient times to be applied topically, since it helps in stimulating hair growth. Further studies are being done at different universities round the world regarding onion juice to see if this ancient claim is really true.
Be Careful When Selecting and Storing Vegetables
Needless to say, consuming vegetables when raw gives you maximum benefits, except a few instances when you need to cook them in order to make the vegetable palatable (e.g. – cauliflower and eggplant). However, vegetables can also be consumed after processing and cooking, although it does take away a small percentage of nutrients. Realistically, consuming it in either way is good for your health. Vegetables are enjoyable, convenient, and adaptable foods that are almost essential in your diet to maintain good, overall health.
Flavors of Vegetables: The green, leafy vegetables come in a variety of colors, starting from the bluish-green of kale to the vibrant kelly green of spinach. The leafy greens have random flavors, ranging from sweet to bitter, and again from earthy to peppery. Collards, bok choy, Swiss chard, and spinach have a mild flavor while mizuna, arugula and mustard greens have a peppery flavor. Bok choy is used mainly in stir-fry dishes, as it remains crisp, even after cooking at a tender stage.
Check The Color While Buying: Always check the fresh lively green color of vegetables (or its respective color) while purchasing. The yellowish tinge indicates aging of the vegetable and they might have an “off” flavor. Salad greens are packed with important nutrients and phytochemicals that support the maximum benefit to our day to day vegetable requirement. Frozen and canned vegetables can be healthy, but canned vegetables have the possibility of carrying excessive sodium. If you buy these, rinse them vigorously under cold water before use.
Look for spots, blemishes, fungal mold and marks of insecticide spray. If you see them, do not buy those vegetables. Always purchase whole vegetables and not cut sections of the vegetable. Also, beware of food contamination and foodborne illnesses while buying vegetables.
Use Them ASAP: You should buy vegetables in small quantities so that you can use them up faster. Certain vegetables have a considerably short shelf life, particularly if you go the health route and buy organic, non-processed vegetables. Also, the healthy nutrients of vegetable starts declining over time. After a certain time in storage, harmful bacteria can start growing on vegetables. Moreover, with increased storage time, the vitamin C content in vegetables degrades rapidly, thus hampering its beneficial impact. If you cut and leave vegetables, oxidation will occur as they are exposed to the air. Thus, the enzymes are released and this results in discoloration of the vegetable. However, the vegetables are still perfectly edible and you can stop this oxidation by adding ascorbic acid to the surface areas or by refrigerating the vegetables.
Storing Tips: Do not keep vegetables in hot and humid places. Always keep them refrigerated and pre-cut pieces should be frozen or enclosed by ice. Keep the vegetables in plastic wrappings or in zip pouches to retain the nutrition for short periods, until you use them.
Make sure to rinse all vegetables before eating. In fact, after you have purchased the vegetable, immediately wash it, especially the green leafy ones, as they may have insects or harmful pesticides on them. This extends their shelf life. If you rinse them in salt water for a few minutes, it ensures their ultimate cleanliness. They will then be free from sand, dust and any residual chemical sprays or toxins that they may have been exposed to.
Keep your vegetables completely separate from raw foods like poultry, meat, and seafood. Vegetables should also not be kept in contact with cooking utensils or surfaces like cutting boards etc. You can wrap the green leafy vegetables in perforated plastic or porous paper such as newspaper and then refrigerate them, which increases their shelf life. If you use newspaper, take care that the vegetables are not wet, so the ink from the newspaper does not stick on the vegetables!
Whew! There is a lot to say about vegetables, but mainly, go out and have an adventure in a produce aisle; your body will thank you!