It’s no secret that eating vegetables is good for your health. Although the specific nutrients found in vegetables vary among different types, all varieties offer health benefits. Eating the recommended five servings of produce a day and including a variety of sources will help you get the vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants your body needs to thrive.
Recipe in the picture: Roasted mushrooms with brown butter & parmesan
“There are certain vegetables that have more nutrients than others. What one vegetable is low in (for example, vitamin C), another can be a good source. That’s why variety is important,” says Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, a media dietitian and founder of Alena Menko Nutrition and Wellness.
Here, we share 10 of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you should add to your plate each week, plus the benefits of doing so.
This leafy green is nutritious, refreshing and packed with flavor. Also known as arugula, arugula has a spicy flavor that is unique among green leafy vegetables. It is rich in vitamin C and is a source of potassium, calcium, magnesium and folate.
Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, a food and nutrition communications consultant, says, “Arugula is an important source of folate, which helps support the production of DNA and is especially important during pregnancy or planning to become pregnant.”
Arugula also contains glucosinolates, compounds most commonly associated with cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Research shows that glucosinolates may have health-promoting properties such as reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. And along with several orange vegetables, arugula is a good source of carotenoids, which are important compounds associated with cardiovascular and eye health.
2. Butternut squash
Butternut squash is a large vegetable with a thick skin and dense, orange center. The flesh of this winter squash is packed with nutrients, with 1 cup containing nearly 50% of the daily value for vitamin C and over 10% each of potassium, fiber and magnesium. Butternut squash is also a source of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A which is essential for eye health and vision.
Recipe in the picture: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
“Dice and roast butternut squash in the oven or puree it into a soup,” says Stark. This versatile vegetable can also be used in mixed dishes such as casseroles or pureed for use in baked goods such as pancakes or muffins.
Carrots are a type of root vegetable, a group that also includes potatoes, beets, turnips and parsnips. This nutrient-dense vegetable is rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber and potassium.
Carrots also contain compounds that some research has found may reduce the risk of certain cancers. A study, published in the journal Nutrients 2020 found that higher self-reported intake of carrots was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Although there are several limitations to this study, carrots are packed with important nutrients that make them worth adding to your diet regularly to support better overall health.
Look for carrots in a variety of colors including orange, yellow and purple. Add them to baked goods, oatmeal, soups, salads and sandwiches or simply eat them as a snack with your favorite vegetable dip.
Onions may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering adding vegetables to the diet, but this member of the allium family, a group of vegetables that also includes garlic and leeks, is packed with nutrients and anti-cancer compounds.
Onions are a naturally low-calorie and low-fat food and are a source of important micronutrients including vitamin C and potassium. Interestingly, the outer layers of onions have been found to have the highest concentration of antioxidant compounds, so try to peel them as minimally as you can before using them in cooking to reap the greatest benefits.
“Onions provide a plant compound called quercetin that can lower blood pressure and promote an overall healthy heart,” says Stark. However, many studies on quercetin’s effect on blood pressure have been done with onion extracts, and the research is mixed.
Regardless, onions add an earthy, savory flavor to your cooking and offer a source of many important nutrients that earn them a place on this list. Stark recommends slicing and toasting onions for a tasty sandwich or burger.
5. Brussels sprouts
Cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. “Mini, cabbage-like Brussels sprouts are rich in vitamin K [which is] especially important for blood clotting and bone health,” says Stark. Additionally, 1 cup of Brussels sprouts contains over 100% of the daily value for vitamin C and over 10% of the daily value for fiber.
Recipe in the picture: Crispy Shredded Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts, along with other cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cabbage and broccoli, contain glucosinolates. These plant compounds are associated with reductions in inflammation, which may have health benefits.
“Use a grater to ‘shave’ Brussels sprouts into fine strands as a base for a salad or to add to stir-fries,” says Stark. They’re also delicious quartered, tossed with oil, salt and pepper and roasted until brown and mostly crispy.
Mushrooms are technically a fungus but are categorized as a vegetable when it comes to your eating pattern. They are naturally low in calories, fat and sodium; however, they are rich sources of many other nutrients and compounds that have been associated with positive health benefits.
Mushrooms contain fiber, potassium and several B vitamins including niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). “When exposed to UV light during the cultivation process, mushrooms are also a rich source of vitamin D, which contributes to strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium,” says Stark. Additionally, mushrooms are a source of ergothioneine, an amino acid that acts as an antioxidant and is associated with several health-promoting benefits including a lower risk of cancer.
Try chopping and adding mushrooms to ground beef for a mixed, plant-forward dish. Stark also recommends sauteing mushrooms over high heat to promote browning and contribute a hearty, umami-rich flavor to any dish.
Potatoes often get a bad rap, but these nutrient-dense vegetables are an excellent source of important nutrients like potassium, fiber and vitamin C.
“As a rich source of potassium, potatoes can help naturally lower blood pressure by combating the effects of too much sodium in your diet,” says Stark.
They are also rich in carbohydrates, making them a popular choice for active people and athletes. One study found that eating potatoes during endurance exercise is as effective for performance as eating carbohydrate jellies. This could make potatoes particularly appealing to athletes looking for whole food sources of carbohydrates during exercise.
When cooking potatoes, choose methods that limit added saturated fat and sodium from ingredients such as oil, butter and salt. Some research has found that eating fried potatoes on a regular basis may be associated with increased mortality risk.
“A lesser-known source of vitamin C, bell peppers, especially colorful ones like red, yellow, and orange, are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant involved in iron absorption, skin and tissue repair, and immune function,” says Stark. One medium bell pepper (about 3.5 ounces) contains over 100% of the daily value for vitamin C.
Bell peppers are also a source of carotenoids, health-promoting compounds associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“Stick out and stuff mini peppers with spreadable cheese and a sprinkle of pistachios for a snack,” advises Stark.
9. Green peas
Peas are a type of legume, a category of vegetables that includes lentils and beans.
“Green peas are one of the most protein-rich vegetables that are also loaded with fiber,” says Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN. One cup contains over 25% of one’s daily fiber needs along with 8 grams of plant-based protein. A single cup also contains close to 100% of the daily value for vitamin C and about 10% of the daily value for iron, vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium. Peas are not only super nutritious, but they are also affordable. Choose frozen or canned to extend their shelf life; just keep an eye on added flavorings and sodium.
“Use canned and drained or frozen peas to boost protein in stews, soups, pasta dishes, and more,” says Stark.
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey
These colorful root vegetables are packed with health-promoting nutrients, making them one of the best vegetables to add to your regular rotation. One cup of beets contains 4 grams of fiber and over 10% of the daily value of potassium. Beetroot is also a source of folate, magnesium and phosphorus.
Recipe in the picture: Beet & goat cheese salad
Beetroot contains compounds called betalains that have antioxidant activity and are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Betalines may also play a role in blood pressure management. Beetroot and beetroot juice are often used by athletes as an ergogenic aid due to their high nitrate content. These nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body, which can help increase blood flow.
Beets can be messy to prepare because their color bleeds easily on cutting boards and other surfaces, including hands and clothing, so be careful when preparing them. “Use drained, canned beets for a less messy way to add beets to grain bowls and vegetable salads,” advises Stark.
Vegetables come in so many different shapes, sizes, forms and flavors, all with their own unique nutritional profiles and health benefits. To get the most benefits, try adding several different types to your regular week. Choosing canned or frozen options can make it more affordable and easy to do so. Variety is the spice of life, after all—and it can only be a boon to better health!