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The Skinny on Vegetables

There’s seldom a living human being that doesn’t know the health benefits vegetables play in our lives and diets. But not all veggies are alike when it comes to being good for us, so it helps to have a little background on color, texture and nutrient content.

According to the USDA, which recommends 3-5 servings of vegetables a day for adults, any vegetable counts whether fresh, frozen or canned. The sub-groups are what separate the winners from the merely average in terms of health benefits. Those groups include dark green, the red and orange varieties and starchy veggies.

The Leafy Greens

Kale, cabbage, broccoli and spinach fall into this category and are extremely beneficial when included regularly in your diet. They offer a low calorie component to the meal and are also useful in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. In the case of kale and spinach, nutritionists warn to always choose organic to avoid the intake of pesticides that can be found on commercial varieties. And those with kidney problems or hypothyroidism may want to decrease their intake of these two leafy greens.

Eat The Rainbow

It’s true that variety will keep meals interesting so choosing vegetables with color such as carrots, tomatoes, peppers and corn are certainly recommended. However, some of these veggies belong to the nightshade family and while most individuals will have no problem consuming them, it’s important to understand their potential impact. Coming from the Solanaceae family, common nightshades include eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, chili peppers and bell peppers. Nightshades can cause problems for people with autoimmune diseases, joint pain, inflammation or any digestive sensitivity. In addition, too much of any red or orange veggie can actually cause a temporary orange discoloration of the eyes or skin due to an overabundance of carotenoids.

Nothing in Life is Free

You often hear nutritionists and diet spokespersons encouraging you to eat all the veggies you want because they are free calories, or in terms of diets considered free points. In the case of the starchy group including potatoes, corn, peas and beans, they need to be counted as a starch. These varieties usually land on the high glycemic index and will break down more quickly releasing glucose into the bloodstream. They also contain more calories and carbs than their more healthful counterparts.

When considering nutrient content - potassium, folic acid, fiber and vitamins A, C and K – most all vegetables will contribute to an overall healthy diet. However, it’s important to understand what vegetables contribute which nutrients, particularly if you are watching your intake for medical reasons. 

The bottom line is there are really no bad vegetables. However, there are incorrect ways of preparing them that can diminish the benefits of a seemingly healthful meal. So read up, stay informed, but most importantly make sure you eat your vegetables.