Adding more vegetables to your diet can lead to decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, bone loss and obesity. If that is not motivation enough, eating more vegetables can also promote bowel regularity and stable energy levels. All vegetables provide some health benefits, but including the most nutrient-dense choices with the most vitamins, minerals and antioxidants will lead to the greatest return on your health investment.
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Kale is considered the superstar of vegetables. It has the highest concentrations of the potent antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin of any fruit or vegetable. It is also a good source of fiber, iron, calcium, manganese, potassium, folate, vitamin B-6, vitamin C and vitamin K. Luckily, kale can now be conveniently found already cut, washed and ready to add to salads, stir-frys or smoothies.
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Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and provides strong phytochemicals that play a role in anti-aging and cancer prevention and boost your immune system. Broccoli also provides, potassium, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate and fiber. Broccoli is best eaten steamed or raw.
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Carrots are an important source of carotenoids, powerful antioxidants that can support health by reducing the impact and damage caused by free radicals. Carotenoids are what gives carrots their bright orange color. Also a good source of fiber, vitamin K and lutein, carrots are one of the vegetables that are healthier when eaten if slightly cooked, which renders the nutrients more available for digestion and absorption.
Red Bell Pepper
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Red bell peppers are one of the best sources of vitamin C (even better than oranges). These sweet, crunchy peppers also provide vitamin A and fiber and when cut into strips are a healthy, low-calorie snack that can be enjoyed on the go.
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Garlic is part of the allium family and is best known for its natural antibiotic properties and supporting heart health and immunity. Garlic is best when chopped and given time to sit before cooking. Chopping garlic ruptures its cells and allows two components, alliin and alliinase, to join and form the powerful compound allicin. Allicin is the active health-promoting component of garlic. Garlic is delicious added to soups, sauces, dips, stir-frys and marinades or just roasted with some olive oil and spread on bread.
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One medium sweet potato provides twice the daily requirement for vitamin A and half the daily requirement for vitamin C. Rich in fiber, iron and potassium, sweet potatoes are widely available and inexpensive. Baking them or chopping them and adding them to soups, stews or stir-frys are great ways to incorporate this healthy vegetable into your diet.
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Like kale, spinach is a dark green leafy vegetable that is high in vitamins A, K and C, folate, magnesium, iron, manganese, calcium, potassium and many other trace minerals. Spinach can be sauteed, added to salads, smoothies, soups or pasta dishes.
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Tomatoes contain carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene), vitamin E, vitamin C and potassium. They are also a significant source of quercetin, a flavonoid that gives tomatoes their red color. Quercetin has been shown to protect cell structure, promote vitamin C activity and provide immune support. Cooking tomatoes with the skin and some fat such as olive oil will ensure the greatest absorption of these important nutrients.
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Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family. High in vitamins K and C, they provide strong phytochemicals. Cut them in half or quarters and don't overcook them.
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Avocados are a great source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium and carotenoids. Their unique blend of healthy fats is what makes avocados most beneficial. Due to the fat content, adding avocado to a salad can help in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients from the other vegetables.
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Why Is It Important to Eat Vegetables?
- American Heart Association: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
- National Cancer Institute: Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention
- Cancer.org: Broccoli
- Cancer.org: Phytochemicals
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Garlic
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
Rachel Chesler has been working as a registered dietitian for almost 20 years. Her wide range of experience includes working in pediatric hospitals, research and development in a sports nutrition company, private practice and the State of FL Health Department (WIC). She earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of New Haven and completed an internship at NY-Cornell University Hospital.