Although vegetable nutrition facts vary with each individual vegetable, vegetables of similar colors contain similar nutritional benefits. While some vegetables are considered to be super foods due to their large supply of nutrients, all edible vegetables provide exceptional nutritional benefits. Nutrition research shows that each vegetable contains its own set of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. To view the vegetable nutrition facts for individual vegetables, you may visit the vegetable nutrition pages by clicking on the links below.
Of all the plant foods, the vegetable group offers the most diversity. There are hundreds of varieties available in many different colors, shapes, sizes, flavors, and textures. The various shades of vegetables include green, yellow, orange, red, white, and purple. Technically, the vegetable realm consists of any edible part of a plant including the leaf, stem, tuber, root, bulb, berry, and seed. It excludes mushrooms because they're considered to be a fungus. In common usage however, vegetables are referred to as fleshy edible plants that are more mineral rich and less sugary than fruits. Most vegetables are easy to prepare and can be eaten raw or cooked. Around the world, vegetables are eaten as either an accompaniment to the main course (such as meat) or they are the main dish and meat or another protein is the side dish.
At one time, the fruits and vegetables that consumers bought had been grown on local farms and orchards or they came from family gardens. Today, due to advances in agricultural and food-handling technology, most fruits and vegetables are mass produced to be distributed nationwide. In many parts of the world, fruits and vegetables are still grown on local farms, orchards, and in family gardens. Aside from chemical-free wild plant foods, fruits and vegetables from local farms, orchards, and family gardens are the most nutritious. In several other parts of the world, modern technology has made it possible for mass production growers to harvest a steady year-round stream of produce. The produce is then distributed in refrigerated train cars and trucks to food brokers and wholesale food distributors nationwide.
Although consumers in these locations are never limited to seasonal foods from their own locality, greater availability of fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods has come at a price. Mechanical growing and handling methods combined with the rigors of long distance shipping, have prompted large-scale commercial growers to be more concerned with the hardiness of the produce and less concerned with its flavor and texture. So, although fruits and vegetables in supermarkets often appear fresh, sturdy, and of uniform size, they usually don't equal the taste of produce that's grown locally. Also, most produce that's grown locally (on small scale farms and orchards) is usually organically grown. This means more nutrients and less toxins. Consumers who live in large-scale production regions of the world are becoming more aware of the differences between locally grown organic produce and that which has been grown on a large scale and shipped from suppliers nationwide. Due to the increased demand for locally grown organic produce, there has been an increase in the number of local farms and orchards who send their harvests to green markets in nearby cities. In the United States, residents of suburbs and small towns can also buy local produce at farm stands, farmer's markets, or directly at the farms and Orchards.
There are several ways to classify vegetables. Generally, vegetables are classified according to their botanical families or what part of the plant is eaten (such as the root, stalk, or leaves).
This vegetable group includes salad greens, spinach, collards, kale, radicchio, and watercress. Leafy vegetables may grow in tight loose heads or individually on stems. A few leafy greens, such as turnip greens and beet greens, are actually the tops of root vegetables. Salad greens, such as lettuce, are usually served raw. Sturdier more flavorful greens, such as kale and collard greens, are usually served cooked. They can also be eaten raw. Most leafy vegetables are rich in carotenoids (such as beta carotene), vitamin C, and are good sources of fiber and folate. They also provide varying amounts of chlorophyll, iron, and calcium.
This vegetable group includes celery, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and artichokes. Most vegetables in this category are great sources of vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. They also provide a great supply of dietary fiber. Their flavors are mild to slightly sweet. These vegetables are usually eaten alone or served with a range of sauces or other accompaniments.
The vegetables in this category are the parts of plants that store energy. They include corn and fresh legumes (edible pod legumes and shell legumes) such as snap beans, lima beans, and green peas. Although all legumes are vegetables, dried legumes are usually placed in their own category. Generally, Seeds and Pods vegetables contain more protein than other vegetables and contain more complex carbohydrates than leafy, stalk, or flower vegetables. When these vegetables are immature and freshly picked, their carbohydrate content is in the form of sugars. In time, after harvesting, the sugars turn into starch. These vegetables tend to be good sources of B vitamins and the minerals zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
These vegetables grow underground and act as the nutrient storehouses of plants. This vegetable group includes onions, turnips, potatoes, beets, carrots, radishes, and parsnips. These vegetables are considered to be satisfying because they're sturdy and dense. In some cases, the tops of these vegetables (such as beet greens and scallions) contain more nutrients than their roots or bulbs.
Due to their high starch content, vegetables in this category tend to be higher in calories than most above ground vegetables. Also due to their high starch content, some of these vegetables can act more like simple sugars. This means that they can trigger rapid rises in blood sugar and insulin. When eaten in moderation, these vegetables provide a good source of nutrients. Potatoes are good sources of vitamin C and potassium. Sweet potatoes and carrots are great sources of beta carotene. Radishes and turnips are good sources of fiber and vitamin C. Several studies suggest that onions and garlic may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Eggplants, squash, peppers, and tomatoes are all part of this vegetable group. They are the pulpy, seed-bearing bodies of the plants on which they grow. Technically, in botanical classification, these vegetables are classified as fruits because they are the fleshy part of plants and contain seeds. Since they're commonly used as vegetables, that's how they're generally categorized. Most fruit vegetables are higher in calories than leafy vegetables, stalks, or flowers and tend to be good sources of vitamin C. Since these vegetables offer a variety of flavors and textures that blend well with many dishes, they're useful as seasonings and accents. In many parts of the world, fruit vegetables are staple foods.
When selecting vegetables, choose those with vivid colors and crisp textures. Check for mold and avoid buying those with strong unpleasant odors.
Leafy vegetables that are yellowing or browning indicate wilting and rotting. They should be vivid in their green color, moist, and crisp. Tiny holes in leafy vegetables are an indication of insect damage.
When selecting flowers, buds, and stalks - florets, such as those on broccoli and cauliflower, should not have strong unpleasant odors. The florets should be tightly closed and uniform in their color. The leaves on flower vegetables should be vivid green and not wilted. The stems should be firm and crisp without any slime.
When selecting vegetables in the Seeds and Pods category the husks of corn should be fresh-looking, tight, and green. They shouldn't be yellowed or dry. Part of the husk can be pulled back to insure that the corn kernels are plump and fill the ear. The kernels at the tip should be smaller (large kernels at the tip are an indication that the corn is over-ripe). The silk should be moist, soft, and light golden in color. The best way to choose fresh podded beans is at a market that sells them loose so pods of equal size can be selected. When edible pod legumes are very stiff or the seeds are visible through the pods, this is an indication that the fresh legumes are over-ripe. Fresh shell legumes should be plump and tight-skinned. Shelled lima beans should be grass-green. Fava beans should be a light grey-green.
In regards to vegetables in the Roots, Bulbs, and Tubers category, roots (such as those of beets, carrots, and turnips) should be smooth, hard, and uniform in shape. Their surface should be unbruised and free of cuts. Their colors should be vivid. Carrots should be a healthy reddish-orange, not pale or yellow. The darker the orange color, the more beta carotene is present. The top or shoulders of carrots may be tinged with green, but dark green or black on the top of carrots is an indication of decay. The green part on the top of carrots (not the leaves) will probably be bitter and should be trimmed before eating the carrots. The leaves of root vegetables should be crisp and vivid green with no wilting or yellow spots. Potatoes should feel firm and be clean, smooth, well-shaped, uniform in color, and free from sprouts. A sprouting potato is an indication that the potato has started to age and may contain increased amounts of solanine (a naturally occurring toxin). The eyes of potatoes (the buds from which sprouts can grow) should be few and shallow. The skins of potatoes should be free of cracks, wrinkles, and dampness. Green tinged skins are an indication of improper storage and also the presence of solanine.
Fruit vegetables should be plump and heavy with smooth skins. They shouldn't have any bruises, blemishes, or deep cracks. Sometimes cracks may appear at the ends of stems. That's considered acceptable and doesn't affect the vegetables' flavors. If there are any leaves, they should be fresh and green.
Most vegetables should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator (also called vegetable crisper). Vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and garlic should be placed in ventilated containers and stored separately in a cool dark place instead of the refrigerator. Unused portions of cut onions can be stored in the refrigerator. All vegetables should be stored away from fruits. Fruits give off ethylene gas as they ripen, which causes vegetables near them to decay rapidly.
Many health experts highly recommend cleaning and drying produce soon after bringing it home. This makes it more readily available. Organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs just need to be rinsed with cold water to remove any dirt that may have accumulated on them during picking and transporting. Non-organic produce can be cleaned with a biodegradable produce wash which is available at local health food stores. After washing with produce wash, non-organic produce should be rinsed with cold water. Produce should be dried with soft cloth towels or left to air-dry. Depending on the produce and its' degree of ripeness, it should be stored in the refrigerator crisper or the countertop. Greens can be spin-dried. Once dry, they should be placed in Ziploc plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator crisper. Greens should be thoroughly dry before storage, otherwise they may turn slimy. Dried herbs and spices should be placed in glass jars or bottles and kept in a dark cupboard. Dates should be placed on them. Dried herbs should not be kept for more than three or four months.
Vegetables stand as the cornerstone of a healthy diet. They supply nearly all of the vitamins and minerals required for good health, and most of them contain complex carbohydrates which provide energy. Most vegetables also provide fiber and a few of them, such as legumes, are great sources of plant protein. Vegetables contain no cholesterol, have little or no fat, and are low in calories. Vegetables are nutrient dense. This means that for the small amount of calories they contain, their level of nutrients is high.
Although cooked vegetables contain some of their original nutrition properties, raw vegetables are the best source of vegetable nutrients. Raw vegetables are most often consumed in salads or alone with vegetable dip. With the increase for health improvement and the various electronic appliances available on the market today, vegetable consumption in other forms is becoming more common. Due to their high nutrition content and their low levels of natural sugars, vegetables are often the main ingredients in live food juices and green smoothies. Drinking raw fresh-pressed juice is not only a great source of nutrition, but has been used as a protocol to heal various illnesses such as cancer. Raw vegetable/fruit juice consists mostly of vegetables, and compatible fruit (such as apples) are often added. Never drink green juice by itself. Green juice is nutritionally overpowering and will cause adverse effects when consumed by itself. The most recommended way to consume green juice is to add non-green vegetables such as carrots and/or fruit such as apples. Green smoothies are another great way to consume raw vegetables. They usually consist of green leafy vegetables and sweet fruits. The best tasting green smoothies are those made with mild tasting green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, watercress, or lettuce) and tropical low-water content fruits (such as bananas, mangoes, and papaya). Other fruits and vegetables can be added. Either way, consuming a variety of raw vegetables is a great way to get an adequate supply of plant food nutrition.
Color is a good clue to the nutrient content of vegetables. Most yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash get their color from their high content of beta carotene and other carotenoids. Carotenoids are precursors of vitamin A. Dark-green leafy vegetables also contain carotenoids, but they're masked by the vegetables' high content of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a natural blood purifier, an anti-inflamatory, and it's nutrient dense. It also helps to bring acid/alkaline balance to the body, it helps to remove unwanted residues, and it helps to activate enzymes.
Leafy vegetables (such as collard greens and dark green lettuce) contain lots of water, few carbohydrates, and are rich in carotenoids and vitamin C. They're also good sources of fiber, folate, and supply varying amounts of iron and calcium.
Flowers, buds, and stalks (such as celery, broccoli, and cauliflower) tend to be rich in vitamn C, calcium, and potassium. They're also a good source of fiber. Cauliflower and broccoli also provide cancer-fighting compounds.
Seeds and pods (such as lima beans, peas, and corn) generally have more plant protein than other vegetables. They're also a good source of complex carbohydrates and contain varying amounts of B vitamins, zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
Roots, bulbs, and tubers are also good sources of nutrients. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Sweet potatoes and carrots are great sources of beta carotene. Radishes and turnips are good sources of fiber and vitamin C. Several studies suggest that onions and garlic may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Fruit vegetables (such as eggplants, squash, peppers, and tomatoes) tend to be good sources of vitamin C.
Note: Although vegetables have several nutrients in common, each vegetable is a great source of one or more nutrients that other vegetables may not have. To learn more about the vegetable nutrition facts and health benefits of individual vegetables, you may visit the vegetable nutrition pages by clicking on the links above.