Vegetables are essential in a healthy diet, adding fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial chemicals.
Which vegetables are most beneficial? Usually, those vegetables with the deepest, most vibrant colors are the ones packed with more nutrients. However, all vegetables bring nutrients essential to your diet, different from those in other vegetables, and you should vary your diet. For instance, parsnips are low in vitamin C and beta-carotene, but they have high levels of fiber. Beans have high levels of fiber, vitamin B, calcium and iron, not so much vitamin C. So don't limit yourself and vary your choice. This is your best chance to get everything you need.
Aim for 3 to 5 servings of vegetables every day.
A serving of cooked vegetables is about four heaped tablespoons.
A serving of raw vegetables, washed, peeled and chopped, will be from 1/2 cup to 1 cup, depending on the type.
There is no need to be fancy. Start with broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. Add cabbage or cauliflower, and beans, including soy beans. Every week try one or two among kale, spinach, chard, spring greens, and other green leafy vegetables, bell peppers of any color, and mushrooms.
Use plenty of garlic and onions as condiments. Leeks and celery are also good.
Look for freshness first and most. Top of your list should be fresh, seasonal vegetables.
Local seasonal vegetables are usually harvested at their peak, they do not have to be cold-stored for long periods, and local seasonal vegetable don't need to travel far. They keep most of their nutrients and top flavor. Vitamins and other nutrients fade away with time.
- green vegetables should be fresh and crisp
- roots and tubers should be firm
- bulbs, like onions, should be dry and free of mould
- too small vegetables might be tasteless
- overgrown vegetables might be coarse.
Don't be tempted to buy more vegetables than you can use. Always buy them in the quantities you need. Keep a look for seasonal bargains, but buy in bulk only if you plan to freeze or preserve the excess.
Frozen and canned vegetables also count. Frozen vegetables are also harvested at their peak, prepared -usually cleaned and given a quick bath in boiling water to set color- and frozen very quickly. Nutrient loss is minimal and freezing halts any further degradation. Sometimes, not always, they have additives to preserve color, and that is the only concern.
If vegetables are not refrigerated quickly after harvest, their nutrients vanish in a couple of days. Compared to vegetables that were picked up, cold-stored, transported then to the other side of the world, with further storage, trucking and boxing before they made it to your grocery shop and to your table, frozen vegetables might be more nutritious.
Though canned vegetables are not as nutritious as fresh or frozen, canned vegetables are better than no vegetables at all. Choose cans with minimum extras: meaning minimum added salt or sugars, substances not relevant. Most canned vegetables will have some form of preservative or undergo special process, apart from the boiling bath, to kill any lurking germs and to break up enzymes that would lead to degradation of food; this is an essential food safety measure, even if it reduces some of the nutrients.
The nutrients lost during the canning process are usually of the water-soluble kind, like vitamin C and B vitamins, including folic acid. Carotenoids, the kind of compounds giving color to carrots, tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables, thrive through the canning; sometimes their levels improve and they become more digestible. Canned carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, corn, or canned tomato sauce might be a good option.
Vegetables are also a very good source of dietary fiber, that also helps to keep healthy.
Antioxidants fight free radicals. Antioxidans help to keep looking young and feeling good.