Potatoes are the number one eaten vegetable in America, followed by tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. Put these three together and you’ll see why. According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, per person, Americans eat more than 100 burgers (1/4 pound patties) a year. Lettuce and tomatoes are typically added on top of the burgers, and fried potatoes (french fries) are eaten alongside the burger. The average burger-eating American consumes vegetables as an afterthought, but boy do we Americans sure love those greasy burgers thrown between a white bun.
While potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce (I’m talking the green kind, iceberg pretty much is nutritionless) certainly aren’t worthless, there are tons of other veggies out there, many of which are superior in terms of health compared to America’s top three. Relatively all vegetables have something to offer, but a notable few will offer you more bang for your buck in terms of supplying your body with nutrients.
Let’s take a look at five star-studded veggies that you will certainly want to consider adding to your diet.
Greens: Leafy greens, such as kale, collards, and swiss chard, are loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, folate, magnesium, iron, lutein, potassium, and phytochemicals. They also tend to be very high in calcium, which researches speculate may be the reason why many types of greens hold a slightly bitter taste. Greens also pack in a lot of fiber for few calories. For instance, a cup of cooked kale provides 3 grams of fiber for only 40 calories. And if you’re on a tight budget, greens are certainly the way to go. I’ve seen kale and collards at my local supermarket for as little as 15 cents a pound! They’re also exceptionally easy to grow, so if you’re just starting out a garden, you’ll have a high rate of success with growing greens. Not sure how to make them? Check out these no-fuss ways to cook up greens, or take a look at this article on how to easily add greens into your everyday meals.
Sweet Potatoes: Switch out those regular white, starchy potatoes for vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), these orange, candy-like potatoes rank #1 among all other vegetables. In addition to vitamin A, sweet potatoes are full of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Also, unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes rate low on the glycemic index. This means that they are digested slowly, allowing blood sugar to rise at a gradual rate. This process will keep you full for a longer period of time. So although sweet potatoes seem rather sweet and sugary, the fiber they contain (twice the amount of a typical Russet white potato) slows the release of sugar preventing any harmful spikes in blood sugar. Regular potatoes on the other hand have a high glycemic rating, causing the blood sugar to quickly rise upon eating them. High glycemic foods can be taxing on the body, whereas low glycemic foods help maintain steady energy levels. Low glycemic index foods can promote weight loss, a decreased sensitivity to insulin, a decreased risk of heart disease, and lower cholesterol levels. If you must get your weekly dose of french fries, try experimenting with making sweet potato fries instead. These are super delicious and a great change of pace from regular french fries. Sweet potatoes can also be easily made in the oven by baking them at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until soft. Baked sweet potatoes are like nature’s candy!
Broccoli: I advocate pretty much any green vegetable because their color is usually a representation of the many nutrients they hold. Broccoli is particularly full of vitamin C, carotenoids, and folic acid, a vitamin necessary for producing healthy red blood cells. It’s also loaded with fiber. A cup of broccoli contains 3-4 grams of fiber. This is one of the easiest veggies to make. Try simply steaming broccoli for 6-8 minutes, and then adding a little olive oil, vinegar, S&P. Broccoli is also delicious sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and soy sauce.
Squash: Like the previous mentioned vegetables, squash is loaded with fiber. It also has a starchy texture that will psychologically help to make you feel extra full and satisified. Because of it’s texture, squash is a good substitute for potatoes. Most varieties are surprisingly low in calories, ranging from 30-70 calories per cup. Most squash are also loaded with vitamin C as well as vitamin A, which helps to give them their bright orange color. For more information on what to do with squash, read this.
Brussel Sprouts: Just 1/2 cup of brussel sprouts will provide you with 81% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C, for as little as 30 calories. Brussel sprouts also have significant amounts of vitamin A, folate, manganese, and iron. They also contain sulforaphane, one of the most powerful phytonutrients found in cruciferous vegetables that works to fight off cancer. The phytonutrient is known to trigger the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals, help in decreasing chemically-induced breast cancers, and kill off colon cancer cells. If you’ve previously sworn off to brussel sprouts because of terrible childhood memories, I beg that you give them another chance. If you’re not a brussel sprout fan, I definitely recommend you try roasting them before completely giving up on the nutrient-packed veggie. Roasting the brussel sprouts surprisingly changes their taste, caramelizes their flavor for a delicious, irresistible side dish. Simply drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 375F.
When choosing vegetables, it’s important to remember to strive for variety. Each vegetable contains a different combination of vitamins and nutrients, of which will be beneficial to your body. Look for a wide range of colors when picking out veggies. Maybe choose greens or broccoli to add some green into your diet, sweet potatoes, squash or carrots for some orange, tomatoes for some red, eggplant for some purple, etc. etc. The colors tend to reflect their different combinations of nutrients. Also, the rainbow of colors is certainly visually appealing for your eye and will ensure that you won’t get bored with your diet! So try out my challenge, and for the upcoming week add more veggies to your diet, while decreasing the portions of meat you consume. Skip the burger, and make vegetables the star of your meal rather than just the afterthought.