What are the most healthful vegetables?
All vegetables contain healthful vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, some stand out for their exceptional health benefits.
Some individuals benefit more from certain vegetables than others, depending on their diet, overall health, and nutritional needs.
In this article, we list 15 of the most healthful vegetables, along with some tips to help people enjoy them as part of a balanced diet.
Spinach is rich in iron.
Due to its iron and calcium content, spinach is a great addition to any meat- or dairy-free diet.
One cup of raw spinach is mostly made up of water and contains only 7 calories. It also provides the following nutrients:
- an adult's full daily requirements for vitamin K
- high amounts of vitamin A
- vitamin C
Vitamin K is essential for a healthy body, and especially so for strong bones. It improves how well the body absorbs calcium.
Spinach also provides a good amount of iron for energy and healthy blood, and a good level of magnesium for muscle and nerve function.
How to eat spinach
People enjoy spinach raw in salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Cooked spinach also has significant health benefits and is a great addition to pasta dishes and soups.
- a 10 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol
- a 27 percent increase in high-density lipoprotein, or "good," cholesterol
Other research suggests that kale juice reduces blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
How to eat kale
People use baby kale in pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches. Also, try making kale chips, or juice kale for its heart-healthy benefits.
Broccoli is an incredibly healthful vegetable that belongs to the same family as cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. These are all cruciferous vegetables.
Each cup of chopped and boiled broccoli contains:
- 55 calories
- the full daily requirement for vitamin K
- twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C
Eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer, which may be because these vegetables contain sulforaphane. In animal research, sulforaphane reduced the size and number of breast cancer cells and blocked tumor growth.
How to eat broccoli
Broccoli is very versatile. People roast it, steam it, or fry it. Also, some people blend it into soups or eat it warm in salads.
Peas are sweet, starchy vegetables that provide 134 calories per cooked cup. They are also high in:
- fiber, at 9 grams per serving
- protein, at 9 grams per serving
- vitamins A, C, and K
- certain B vitamins
Green peas are a good source of plant-based protein, and eating them is an effective way for vegetarian and vegan people to boost their protein intake.
Peas and other legumes contain fiber, which supports good bacteria in the gut to ensure regular bowel movements and a healthy digestive tract.
They are also rich in saponins, which are plant compounds that may provide antioxidant and anticancer benefits.
How to eat peas
It can be easy to keep a bag of peas in the freezer and eventually use it to boost the nutritional profile of pasta dishes, risottos, and vegetable curries. Or, a person can make a refreshing pea and mint soup.
5. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are root vegetables that provide 103 calories and 0.17 grams of fat per medium potato, when it is baked with its skin.
Each potato also contains:
- much more than an adult's daily requirement of vitamin A
- 25 percent of their vitamin C and B-6 requirements
- 12 percent of their potassium needs
- beta-carotene, which may improve eye health and fight cancer
Sweet potatoes may benefit people with diabetes. This is because they are low on the glycemic index scale and high in fiber, so they may help regulate blood sugar.
How to eat sweet potatoes
The easiest way to enjoy a sweet potato is to bake it in its skin and serve it with a source of protein, such as fish or tofu.
Drinking beetroot juice can help lower blood pressure.
One cup of beets contains 58 calories, along with:
- 442 milligrams of potassium
- 148 micrograms of folate
Beets and beetroot juice are great for improving heart health.
This vegetable is high in heart-healthy nitrates. A small-scale 2012 study reports that drinking 500 grams of beetroot juice significantly lowered blood pressure in healthy people.
How to eat beets
Roasting beets brings out their natural sweetness, but they also taste great in salads, sandwiches, and juices.
Each cup of chopped carrots contains 52 calories and over four times an adult's daily recommended intake of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene.
Vitamin A is vital for healthy eyesight, and getting enough of this nutrient may help prevent vision loss.
How to eat carrots
Carrots are an extremely versatile vegetable. They work well in casseroles and soups, and they provide great health benefits when eaten raw with a dip such as hummus.
8. Fermented vegetables
Fermented, or pickled, vegetables provide all the nutrients of their unfermented counterparts, as well as a healthy dose of probiotics.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are present in the body and in some foods and supplements. Some researchers believe that they can improve gut health.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, probiotics may help with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. They can also prevent infection- and antibiotic-induced diarrhea.
Some good vegetables for fermentation include:
- cabbage, to make sauerkraut
- cucumbers, to make pickles
How to eat fermented vegetables
People eat fermented vegetables in salads and sandwiches, or as a side dish.
Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, most people treat them as a vegetable. Each cup of chopped raw tomatoes contains:
- 32 calories
- 427 milligrams of potassium
- 24.7 milligrams of vitamin C
Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant that may play a role in cancer prevention. Research suggests that lycopene can help prevent prostate cancer. The beta-carotene in tomatoes also has anticancer effects.
Other potent antioxidants in tomatoes, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, may protect vision. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study reports that people who have high dietary intakes of these substances have a 25 percent reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.
How to eat tomatoes
People can eat tomatoes raw, but cooking them releases more lycopene.
Garlic has long been used in both cooking and medicine. Each garlic clove contains just 4 calories and is low in vitamins and minerals.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic. A compound in garlic, called diallyl sulfide, may be more effective than two popular antibiotics for fighting the Campylobacter bacterium, according to a lab-based study from 2012.
How to eat garlic
Heating garlic reduces its health benefits, so it is best to eat garlic raw in bruschetta and dips.
- 64 calories
- vitamin C
- vitamin B-6
Onions and other allium vegetables, including garlic, contain sulfur compounds. These may help protect against cancer.
In other research, men with the highest intakes of allium vegetables had the lowest risk of prostate cancer. Also, regular consumption of onions and other allium vegetables may reduce esophageal and stomach cancer risks.
How to eat onions
It is easiest to include onions in meals such as soups, stews, stir-fries, and curries. For maximum antioxidant effects, eat them raw in sandwiches, salads, and dips such as guacamole.
12. Alfalfa sprouts
Each cup of alfalfa sprouts contains only 8 calories and a good amount of vitamin K.
These sprouts also boast several plant compounds that contribute to good health, including:
Traditionally, specialists use alfalfa sprouts to treat a range of health conditions, such as arthritis and kidney problems. However, researchers have conducted few studies into their effectiveness for these conditions.
Eating sprouted legumes may have extra health benefits. Studies suggest that sprouting, or germinating, seeds increase their protein and amino acid content.
How to eat alfalfa sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts are best enjoyed in salads and sandwiches.
13. Bell peppers
Bell peppers are popular as a raw or cooked ingredient.
Sweet bell peppers are commonly available in red, yellow, or orange varieties. Unripe, green peppers are also popular, but these taste less sweet than other colors.
A cup of chopped red bell peppers provides:
- 39 calories
- 190 milligrams of vitamin C
- 0.434 milligrams of vitamin B-6
- beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A
Antioxidants present in bell peppers include capsanthin, quercetin, and lutein (in the green variety), which protects vision.
How to eat bell peppers
Bell peppers are extremely versatile. Add them to spaghetti dishes, scrambled eggs, or sandwiches, or serve them raw with a guacamole or hummus dip.
One cup of chopped cauliflower contains:
- 27 calories
- plenty of vitamin C
- vitamin K
Dietary fiber boosts a person's heart and gut health, preventing digestive issues and reducing obesity.
Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain an antioxidant called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). I3C may reduce cancers of the breast and reproductive systems in both men and women.
Much like broccoli, cauliflower contains another potential anticancer compound: sulforaphane.
How to eat cauliflower
Pulse raw cauliflower in a blender to make cauliflower rice or turn it into a pizza base for a low-calorie, comforting treat. Alternatively, people may enjoy cauliflower in curries, or they may bake it with olive oil and garlic.
Seaweed, also known as sea vegetables, are versatile and nutritious plants that provide several health benefits. Common types of seaweed include:
- sea lettuce
Seaweed is one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. These fatty acids are essential for a person's health and are mostly present in meat and dairy sources.
Each type of seaweed has a slightly different nutritional profile, but it is typically rich in iodine, which is an essential nutrient for thyroid function.
Eating a variety of sea vegetables provides people with several important antioxidants to reduce damage to the body's cells. Many types of seaweed contain chlorophyll, which is a plant pigment that has anti-inflammatory properties.
Brown sea vegetables, such as kelp and wakame, contain another potent antioxidant called fucoxanthin. Research suggests that fucoxanthin has 13.5 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E.
How to eat seaweed
Where possible, choose organic seaweed and eat it in small amounts to avoid introducing excess iodine to the diet. Enjoy sea vegetables in sushi, miso soups, and as a seasoning for other dishes.
Eating vegetables every day is important for health. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, such as antioxidants and fiber.
Research consistently shows that people who eat the most vegetables have the lowest risk of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
Enjoy a range of vegetables daily to reap as many health benefits as possible.