We all know that vegetables are good for us. But are you aware that each veggie has something special to offer?
We all know that vegetables are good for us. But each veggie has something special to offer. "The recommendation is to eat a variety, since they each individually shine in one area of vitamins or nutrients," says Toby Smithson, R.D., a representative for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That said, some vegetables pack a bigger nutritional punch than others or provide an especially convenient way to get essential nutrients. Read on and see if your favorite vegetable made the list of most nutritious veggies.
1. Brussels Sprouts
"These mini cabbages provide 160 percent the daily value for vitamin C, are a good source of potassium and are low in calories — just 56 calories per half cup," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. Just be aware that they smell less than appetizing when overcooked, so avoid boiling them. But that sulfurous scent is due to an organic compound called glucosinolate sinigrin, which may have cancer-fighting properties.
Serving tip: Place Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add sesame seeds and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.
"High amounts of quercetin, a plant-based phytochemical found in the outermost layers of onions, gives them an anti-inflammatory effect that preliminary research shows may improve conditions such as arthritis, asthma and heart disease," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. "Preliminary research shows that people who consume a lot of onions and other allium vegetables such as scallions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives have a lower risk of stomach, colon and prostate cancers," she says.
Serving tip: Add sweet red onions to salads and salsas or grill them. Use the pungent flavor of yellow onions to jazz up any main or side dish.
3. Sweet Potatoes
"This sweet and starchy tuber is rich in beta-carotene, which gives it its orange color," says Sharon Palmer, R.D., author of "The Plant-Powered Diet." Humans convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which gives you healthy skin and mucus membranes, fortifies the immune system and fosters eye health. A half-cup serving of sweet potatoes has just 90 calories but more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin A.
Serving tip: "Chop sweet potatoes into soups, stew and chili, or make fries," says Palmer. "Slice them in wedges, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and herbs, and roast in the oven until tender on the inside and browned on the outside."
Turns out, Popeye was right! Many dietitians tout spinach as one of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. "Spinach is loaded with vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, and it's an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin that helps maintain healthy DNA and may keep cancer-promoting genes 'turned off,'" says Karen Collins, R.D., Nutrition Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Besides that, spinach provides potassium and magnesium, both of which help keep blood pressure under control.
Serving tip: "Add frozen spinach to homemade soup as it cooks or frozen or canned soup as it reheats," Collins says. But avoid boiling it in a pot of water, as that can cut the amount of folate and vitamin C in half, she says. Instead, cook by steaming, stir-frying or sautéing.
This superfood is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and also provides fiber and potassium. "Tomatoes also contain cancer-fighting plant chemical called lycopene," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. A tomato's color makes a difference: Yellow tomatoes have the lowest calories; green tomatoes are highest in vitamin C; and orange are highest in vitamin A and folate. The common red tomato ranks lowest in sodium and highest in potassium.
Serving tip: "Since lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, eat tomatoes heated and served with a small amount of olive oil (a source of monounsaturated fat) for best absorption," says Smithson.
"This cruciferous vegetable is a nutrient all-star, packed with vitamins A, C, potassium, iron and folate, plus the phytochemical lutein, which helps with eyesight," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. "Kale also provides calcium in a significant amount and in a form that the body can absorb well," says registered dietitian Karen Collins.
Serving tip: "Everyone's favorite kid-friendly recipe is baked kale chips sprinkled with Parmesan cheese," says Smithson. "Kale also makes a great pizza topping. Or add chopped fresh or frozen kale to soup, lasagna or stir-fry," Collins says.
Read more: 13 Ways to Add the Health Benefits of Kale to Your Diet
"These tasty fungi have a huge potential as a food source of vitamin D when exposed to UV light for just five minutes," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. At the grocery store, buy mushrooms labeled as grown in ultraviolet light. Mushrooms can also help cut calories. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimate that if you sub mushrooms for ground meat three times a week in a meal like sloppy Joes, chili or lasagna, you can lose five pounds in a year.
Serving tip: Make a mini pizza by using a Portobello mushroom as the crust. Then top with tomato sauce, diced vegetables and low-fat cheese. Bake in the oven.
"Don't underestimate the humble pea," says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer. She considers the pea a nutrient-rich vegetable, as it's a good source of 12 essential nutrients and powerful phytochemicals. "One great thing about peas is that they are especially rich in fiber and protein, which means that they can help replace animal protein on your menu every once in a while," Palmer says.
Serving tip: Steam peas and serve them with new potatoes or toss them into salads or pasta dishes. You can even try them as a pizza topping!
9. Red Bell Peppers
"Bright bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin A and C and a good source of folate, lycopene and other carotenoids," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. "Vitamin C is a protector vitamin in every way," Smithson says. "It helps us heal wounds, fight infections and also helps protect cells from damage."
Serving tip: "Raw bell peppers are a crunchy treat that you can toss in a salad or serve with hummus," Smithson says. You can also stuff them with cooked, lean ground beef and rice pilaf before baking or roast them over a stovetop flame and serve over steamed green beans or as a taco filling.
Don't like orange juice? Have some broccoli instead. "One cup of the green veggie contains all your daily vitamin C needs," says Andrea Giancoli, R.D., a representative for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "In addition, studies link greater consumption of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables with lower risk of lung, colorectal, stomach, breast, prostate and other cancers," says registered dietitian Karen Collins.
Serving tip: Nobody likes undercooked or overcooked broccoli. So steam it to achieve a perfect texture and bright green hue. Soften broccoli's bitter flavor by serving it stir-fried or with peanut sauce or dressing.
"Despite their sweet taste, beets are low in calories and high in fiber, so stock up when you're trying to limit calories without going hungry," says registered dietitian Karen Collins. "Beets are a good source of folate, which benefits women of childbearing age," says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli. They also have phytochemicals that may play a role in reducing inflammation and decreasing risk of heart disease. A three-ounce serving of beets contains eight grams of carbohydrates and about 35 calories.
Serving tip: "Bake beets as you would a potato (keep the skin on)," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. "You can also roast them or grate and add to a salad," Giancoli says.
Spuds fell out of favor when the wave of low-carb diets swept the U.S. But did you know there's more potassium in a small potato than there is in a banana? "Potatoes get a bad rap as a 'white food,' (implying that its lack of color indicates that it's low in nutrients)," says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli, "But it's really a very healthful food." They're also moderately low in calories: A medium potato has 170 calories and a small potato has about 134.
Serving tip: "Be sure to eat the skin," says Giancoli. "It's packed with fiber and nutrients." She suggests roasting potatoes or serving a traditional baked potato with just a dab of low-fat sour cream.
These tasty stalks of green (or white, or purple — they come in three colors) come in at only four calories per stalk. And that's not all. "Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and also helps build strong bones. It's also a good source of riboflavin, which we need for energy," says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli. "Asparagus also supplies inulin, a type of carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, supporting the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the colon," says registered dietitian Karen Collins.
Serving tip: Asparagus is great grilled, roasted or steamed.
Don't let its pale color fool you. "Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of folate," says registered dietitian Karen Collins. "And don't forget that cauliflower is in the family of cruciferous vegetables with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, providing compounds associated with lower cancer risk." Bonus: It's low in calories, so you can eat a lot of it. One cup of cauliflower has only 30 calories.
Serving tip: "Instead of serving ordinary mashed potatoes, steam cauliflower and mash it with potatoes," says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli. "It gives you a more nutritious bang for your calorie buck."
Read more: 9 Healthy and Delicious Cauliflower Recipes
15. Fava Beans
These legumes are rich in fiber, protein (13 grams in one cup), and other essential nutrients. "Eating legumes has been linked with maintaining a healthy weight and lower heart disease rates," says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer.
Serving tip: Cook fava beans with broth and stir them into a pasta dish or stew or eat as a side dish. Serve pureed and seasoned under grilled fish for a beautiful and healthy meal.
The crunchy cucumber is very low in calories, with just eight per half cup. "The cuke is also a good source of vitamin K, which may reduce bone loss and decrease risk of bone fractures," says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer. In addition, they're 95 percent water, which makes them very hydrating.
Serving tip: Add a slice of cucumber to refresh a glass of water, toss chopped cucumber in a salad or use it in tabouleh, a classic Mediterranean salad.
Read more: Make This Quick Dill Pickles Recipe
"Go ahead, eat the whole thing: seeds, stalk, roots and leaves. It's all good for you," says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer. "In addition to its satisfying crunch, celery provides fiber, vitamins A, C, K and folate." Plus, preliminary studies have also found that celery can help treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Serving tip: Use celery as a base for soups and stews, chill it in the fridge as a snack or simply sauté it in a little olive oil. To preserve maximum nutrient potential, chop celery just before adding it to a salad or cooked dish.
"Contrary to popular myth, baby carrots, or 'caroteenies' as they're sometimes called, aren't just an immature variety of the root vegetables," says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. They're cut from a slim, tender variety of carrot and then polished in a large tumble drum. Carrots of all sizes are super healthy. Along with 400 percent of the daily value for vitamin A, a serving of carrots provides vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and K, and plenty of fiber and potassium.
Serving tip: Whip up spiced carrot sticks by soaking carrot sticks in hot water spiced with cayenne, coriander seeds and salt. Allow to cool, drain and serve.
Read more: 10 Sneaky Ways to Eat More Vegetables
Fresh or Frozen?
Which type to buy — fresh or frozen? "Remember that both forms of vegetables (frozen or fresh) provide nutrition," says registered dietitian Toby Smithson. "That's because the nutrients are captured straight from harvesting whereas there is some time lag with fresh picked vegetables from farm to plate," she says.
What Do YOU Think?
What are your favorite vegetables? And what is your favorite way to eat them? Leave a comment below and let us know!