Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

Veggies contain loads of nutrients that can help you look and feel great, and they’re some of the healthiest foods you can eat!

Vegetables truly are one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytochemicals you can find, which makes them excellent food cures. You should be getting at least five servings of vegetables daily, but I encourage you to eat even more than that, since they’re so good for you. Keep in mind that starchy veggies like corn, peas, potatoes (white and sweet), and winter squash contain more calories than water-rich, nonstarchy vegetables.

One of the great things about eating your daily servings of vegetables is that they provide you with an array of nutrients, including the B vitamins folate, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6; antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, quercetin, and anthocyanins; and countless other phytonutrients.

B vitamins like folate and B6 keep your hair strong and healthy. Some research suggests that they may also reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseaseand slow age-related memory loss. Folate, in particular, contributes to the production of serotonin, so it may help ward off depression as well as improve your mood, and vitamin B6 aids in dopamine production, which may reduce PMS symptoms. Riboflavin and niacin are two additional B vitamins that may help prevent cataracts.

Research suggests that antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and anthocyanins may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Research shows that vitamin C may also help slow bone loss and decrease the risk of fractures. Vitamin C allows the body to make collagen, too. Collagen is a major component of cartilage, which aids in joint support and flexibility. Collagen also helps keep your skin and hair looking healthy and beautiful. Anthocyanins and quercetin are anti-inflammatory antioxidants that are also often found in vegetables. Current research suggests that anthocyanins and quercetin may help slow the rate of age-related memory-loss and protect against arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Another important vitamin in vegetables is vitamin E, which works with vitamin C to keep skin healthy as you age. This vitamin also helps protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. It may also help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Veggies that contain beta-carotene, such as pumpkin, winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens, contribute to the growth and repair of the body’s tissues. Beta-carotene may also protect your skin against sun damage. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body at a carefully controlled rate. A diet rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, another powerful carotenoid, has been associated with a reduced risk of developing inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

In addition to vitamins, vegetables contain other nutrients such as minerals, water, and fiber. Some of the minerals that are commonly found in veggies include magnesium, potassium, and iron. Magnesium and potassium help maintain blood pressure control and bone health, and magnesium may also protect against migraines and PMS symptoms. Iron contributes to healthy hair.

You can also think of nonstarchy vegetables as “juicy foods,” since they mostly consist of water. Foods that have a high water content tend to be low in calories, since all that water adds volume and dilutes the calories. That, in addition to the high fiber content in vegetables, also helps fill you up for a minimal calorie cost, making them a smart addition to any weight-loss plan. And the water contained in vegetables, like the water you drink, hydrates your cells, flushes toxins from your body, assists with normal organ functioning, and helps you maintain optimal energy levels.

Fiber found in vegetables is also multipurpose: It not only keeps you feeling full, controlling your hunger, but it also stabilizes blood sugar, which helps keep your mood and energy level steady. The fiber in veggies may also lower cholesterol and blood pressure. And, a high-fiber diet has been associated with reduced risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

While vegetables offer many health benefits, they can sometimes trigger IBS in individuals who are sensitive — particularly if the vegetables are raw or high in fiber. And if you suffer from migraines, be aware that certain vegetables, including canned and pickled vegetables, may trigger headaches in sensitive individuals. Canned vegetables are typically high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure, so look for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties, and rinse regular varieties thoroughly to significantly cut down on the salt.