Pretty much everyone would be better off eating more vegetables. That’s a no-brainer. (Only 1 in 10 American adults say that they eat the recommended 2 to 3 cups every day.)
But some of veggies’ benefits may surprise you. Here are five.
1. They’ve got more than just vitamin C.
Everyone knows that vegetables have vitamins. But if that leads you to think that an energy bar or a bottle of Vitaminwater or a vitamin pill can take the place of a bowl of broccoli, think again.
Vegetables not only supply vitamins that are often added to pills or foods (like A, C, and folate), they’re also rich in potassium, lutein, magnesium, vitamin K, fiber, and other nutrients that aren’t so easy to find. And vegetables have other phytochemicals that may turn out to protect your health.
2. They’re potassium depots.
Potassium explains, at least in part, why vegetables help lower blood pressure and the risk of stroke. And most Americans don’t get enough potassium.
Experts recommend 4,700 milligrams a day. That’ll take more than a banana
(420 mg). In fact, of the five vegetables that have at least 10 percent of a day’s potassium per serving, only two (spinach and Swiss chard) are low in calories.
The other three (lima beans, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes) have roughly 100 calories per serving. And those are small potatoes. Expect about 200 calories in a typical white or sweet potato.
Solution: double those servings of broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, zucchini, and other veggies that have 5 percent of a day’s potassium but only around 20 calories. And eat more vegetables (and fruit), period.
After all, potassium can help counter the blood-pressure-raising sodium that you consume. Doctor’s orders: Eat your portobellos!
3. They may shield your eyes.
Spinach, kale, broccoli, collards. Green vegetables are rich in lutein and its cousin zeaxanthin, which are the main carotenoids in the lens of the eye.
In a study of roughly 35,000 postmenopausal women, those who consumed the most lutein and zeaxanthin had an 18 percent lower risk of cataracts over the next 10 years.1 It would take more evidence to nail down whether lutein—and not something else about vegetable eaters—protects the eye. But why wait when that bowl of garlicky sautéed spinach beckons?
4. Greens may prevent diabetes.
Studies don’t find a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in people who eat more vegetables. (Those studies compare people of the same weight, though. If veggies helped keep you lean, they would lower your risk.)
But eating more of some kinds of vegetables may make a difference. In a meta- analysis of six studies, for example, people who ate the most green leafy vegetables (at least 1 1/3 servings a day) had a 14 percent lower risk of diabetes than those who ate the least (one serving every five days).2
That could be because green leafies are so rich in magnesium, which may keep insulin working…or because people who eat them do something else to lower their risk.
5. They’re delish.
Veggies are used to being the butt of jokes. But the joke’s on people who miss out on sautéed artichokes, stir-fried Brussels sprouts, broccoli with sesame dressing, and spiced roasted cauliflower. Mmm.
Photos: Kate Sherwood/CSPI and Jen Urban/CSPI.
- Try these tips to cover half your plate with fruit and vegetables.
- A DASH-style diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, and veggies, and more.
- A simple way to boost veggies: The Healthy Cook turns salad into supper.
Want more veggie-rich meal ideas? Salad Days!—the latest cookbook from Nutrition Action’s Healthy Cook, Kate Sherwood—will help you expand your repertoire with imaginative combinations of greens, vegetables, herbs, whole grains, and proteins. You’ll find healthy variations on classics like Chicken Caesar and Cobb, as well as more adventurous combos like Black Beans & Red Rice with Smoked Paprika Dressing and Sesame Shrimp with Caramelized Shallot Citrus Dressing.