Our dieting culture demonizes tons of foods- even the foods you thought were healthy. In the same Google search, you might read that a vegetable has tons of health benefits and is a superfood on one site and that it is one of the “worst foods for your health” on a different page. No wonder you feel confused!
The unhealthiest vegetables are ones that have extra fat, salt, and sugar added such as french fries, potato chips, vegetables with cheese sauce, buttery mashed potatoes, carrot cake, etc.
Different vegetables provide different things for the body, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are “healthy” and “unhealthy” ones. If you understand the nutrients that make up your food, you can balance your plate and make all foods work for you! Adding a lot of salt, sugar, or butter to vegetables might make them a little bit less healthy, but sometimes it is worth adding in those things to make vegetables taste good.
Read on for more info about the benefits of vegetables, vegetables that are better for your health, starchy vs. non-starchy vegetables, how to prepare vegetables in a healthy way, and ideas for including more vegetables in your diet.
Benefits of Vegetables
You might know that vegetables are “healthy,” but do you really know what that means? Here are some of the most notable benefits of vegetables.
Vegetables are a great source of fiber. Fiber helps keep your digestive tract regulated and helps you to have regular stools. Fiber also helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut and it helps you feel full and satisfied after you eat. Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough fiber, but increasing your vegetable intake can help with that!
Consuming vegetables has been associated with maintaining a weight that is healthy for your body. Vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrients for a healthy body.
Improved Blood Pressure Levels
In addition to the fiber in vegetables that might benefit your heart, many vegetables are also a good source of potassium- an essential mineral for keeping blood pressure at a healthy level.
Decreased Risk of Cancer
Consuming a wide variety of antioxidants and nutrients from vegetables can actually be protective against cancers! Each vegetable has a unique nutrient profile, so try to mix up your vegetable intake!
Stronger Immune System
Vitamin C and other nutrients found in vegetables can be protective to your immune system and decrease your chance of getting sick.
Are Some Vegetables Better Than Others?
Typically websites list the “worst vegetables for your health” as potatoes, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, celery, and lettuce because these vegetables may have high-levels of pesticides, cause stomach discomfort (i.e. gassy vegetables), and for starchy vegetables with low nutrients. These vegetables should not be avoided, buying organic and finding different ways to eat and cook vegetables can solve any of these problems.
There are no vegetables that I recommend people avoid or remove from their diet. I believe that all vegetables have a place in a healthy diet. That being said, there are some vegetables that you might not like as much as others and that is OK!
Find out what vegetables you enjoy and eat those. Try to expand your palette and add some variety to your vegetable routine, but if you avoid some vegetables that don’t taste good to you, you will still be fine.
Eating any vegetables is better than eating none, so start with what is doable for you. As you get more comfortable with cooking and eating vegetables, you can try out new cooking methods and seasonings as you introduce more vegetables into your diet. You may have tried a vegetable cooked one way and thought it was disgusting, but trying it cooked in another way might be just the thing to change your mind!
Starchy Vs. Non-Starchy Vegetables
Starchy vegetables are ones that have higher amounts of carbohydrates than others. That is really the biggest difference between starchy and non-starchy vegetables. All vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber that is essential to your body.
Unfortunately, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rep lately, but they are actually extremely important for your body. Carbs are your body’s main energy source and they power your brain and your muscles throughout your entire day. Most people need at least 50% of their daily calories coming from carbohydrate sources- that is how important they are!
When you are balancing your plate, it is still important to recognize that starchy vegetables will be higher in carbohydrates and in calories. Consuming too many starchy vegetables at meals, when combined with other carbohydrate-heavy foods, can raise your blood sugar and end up being higher in calories than your body actually needs. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid starchy vegetables, but you just need to recognize that they count as a starch for your meal!
For example, at dinner time, a good way to plan a healthy, balanced meal is to make a ¼ of your plate starch, ¼ protein, and ½ non-starchy vegetables. If you want to include starchy vegetables, they would just go in the starch group!
You might be able to guess some of the starchy and non-starchy vegetables, but here is a list to give you a better idea.
- Sweet Potato
- Winter Squash
- Beans and lentils
- Green Beans
- Summer Squash
- Spaghetti Squash
- Brussel Sprouts
- Bean Sprouts
The Healthiest Ways to Prepare Vegetables
When cooking vegetables, the nutrient content can change with longer cooking times and higher temperatures. Even boiling vegetables can result in a loss of nutrients due to leaching out into the water.
Steaming is one of the best ways to cook vegetables because it retains a lot of the nutrients. But, remember that eating vegetables is better than not eating vegetables, so if you prefer a different cooking method, go for it! Sometimes losing some of the nutrients is worth cooking vegetables in a way that tastes good to you.
The other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes vegetables can have a lot of salt and fat added to them, which doesn’t really add any health benefit, and can actually be harmful to your health. For example, bacon-wrapped asparagus adds quite a bit of saturated fat to those veggies. Sweet potatoes topped with butter, cinnamon sugar, and marshmallows make it more of a dessert!
Does this mean that those foods are off limits? No, it just means that you should be aware of the foods you are putting into your body and recognize that those toppings should be had in moderation.
Ideas for Including More Veggies in Your Diet
If adding vegetables into your daily routine has been a challenge, here are a few ideas to make it a little easier and more desirable!
- Cook extra of vegetables that reheat well. If you are steaming broccoli or cauliflower, make more than you will eat that night and put the rest in the fridge to heat up the following day!
- Take some time each week to cut up raw vegetables in advance. When you are looking for a snack, it is much easier to grab the peppers that are already cut up and portioned out. Do yourself a favor and make healthy eating a little more convenient!
- Keep frozen and canned vegetables on hand for a quick and easy side dish. The unfortunate thing about produce is that it doesn’t always stay fresh for a long time, so frozen and canned are a great option. If you don’t have the chance to go to the store for a while, it can be really easy to just skip out on the vegetables unless you have some on hand!
- It is usually a cheaper option to cut up raw vegetables yourself for snacking and cooking. However, most grocery stores have a section for pre-cut produce that saves a lot of time and energy. It is often a more expensive option, but it is worth it for a lot of people!
- Double the amount of vegetables your recipe calls for. This is usually easy to do in a stir fry, soup, or pasta dish. If your recipe doesn’t call for vegetables but you can find a sneaky way to incorporate them, go for it!
- Make your own sauces with fresh veggies. If you blend the veggies up really well and put them in a sauce, even the pickiest eaters will likely eat it.
- Add leafy greens, zucchini, and celery to smoothies. It might not sound super appetizing to add spinach or kale to a smoothie, but if you have enough strong flavors, you really cannot even taste it! If green smoothies don’t look appealing to you, add some berries and their color will usually overpower the green.
- Add veggies to frozen pizza or make your own homemade pizzas and top them with vegetables!
- Salads are an easy and nutritious side dish that goes well with lots of meals. Pre-packaged salad kits can be found at most stores and make it super easy to add a vegetable to your meal.
If you understand the different types of vegetables and the differences between starchy and non-starchy ones, you will know how to use them in your diet. That doesn’t mean starchy vegetables are unhealthy for you- in fact, they can be a great addition to your diet!
It probably isn’t necessary to obsess about finding the “most healthy” vegetable and cooking it in the “most healthy” way. While there are some things you can consider as you cook, I encourage you to experiment and figure out how to cook vegetables so that they are a yummy part of your diet- you should enjoy all the foods you eat, even vegetables!
Coyle D. Starchy vs. non-starchy vegetables: food lists and nutrition facts. Healthline.com. Published October 3, 2018.
Valente L. 10 health benefits of eating vegetables, according to a dietitian. Eatingwell.com. Published June 1, 2021.
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