When it comes to eating vegetables—Mom was right. They're good for you! That probably doesn't come as a surprise. Most of us know that eating vegetables (and fruits) is a healthy habit. But still, most Americans are not eating the recommended 2 to 4 cups (the exact amount varies depending on age and sex). All veggies count towards your daily quota. That includes starchy ones (like potatoes), leafy greens, canned tomatoes and frozen spinach. To help nudge you towards upping your intake, here are 10 reasons why vegetables are so good for your health.
1. Fight inflammation
Sometimes inflammation is good, but too much chronic inflammation isn't great for our bodies. Veggies are one of the best foods to eat to help you fend off inflammation. They are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals to help your body.
2. Improve blood pressure
Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure, according to the CDC. When it comes to your diet and blood pressure, eating too much salt isn't great. But, eating more potassium-rich foods can help reduce the damage of a high-sodium diet. Vegetables, like beets and spinach, deliver potassium (amongst other nutrients) and the fiber from vegetables also helps your heart.
3. Up your fiber
Most of us don't hit our recommended fiber intake (that's 38g/day for men and 25g/day for women). Eating high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and yes, vegetables can help you get enough of this key nutrient. Fiber is great for your heart and gut, but also can keep you full and reduce your risk of developing diabetes. All vegetables have fiber, so choose a variety to get your fill. Artichokes, sweet potatoes and peas all make our list of foods with more fiber than an apple.
4. Help your eyes
Eye health may be top of mind if you stare at a computer and phone all day, which can strain your eyes, according to the American Optometric Association. If you want to protect your eyes, eat more vegetables (you'll also want to take some screen breaks and see your eye doctor). Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids that help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). You'll find them and other eye-protecting carotenoids in basil, corn, red peppers, spinach and broccoli.
5. Improve your skin
You can help take care of your skin by staying hydrated and getting quality sleep, but what you eat can help too. Tomatoes deliver lycopene, which can actually help protect your skin from sunburn (sunscreen is important too). Kale and avocados can help keep your skin more elastic. Many vegetables, like cucumbers and celery, also have a high water content to help you meet your hydration goals for glowing skin.
6. Reduce risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in America and diet plays a big role in helping keep your heart healthy. Vegetables give you potassium and fiber, two nutrients that are good for your heart. Adding lots of veggies to your diet can also help you keep your weight in a healthy range, which takes some pressure off your heart. Leafy greens, avocados and tomatoes make our list of top heart-healthy foods, but all veggies have benefits for your heart.
7. Benefit for blood sugar
Whether you have diabetes or not, vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients, so they can help fill you up and can minimize blood sugar spikes during meals. Adding some arugula to your pasta helps bulk up your plate and keep you satisfied. Try adding peppers to tacos or cauliflower to stir-fries. Some vegetables are higher in starches and carbs—think potatoes, corn, squash, peas—but they can still be included in your diet. (Here are 10 of the best vegetables to eat when you have diabetes.)
8. Reduce risk of cancer
No diet choice is guaranteed to keep you cancer free, but vegetables are full of cancer-fighting nutrients and antioxidants that may reduce your risk of certain types of cancers. Cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, have been studied for their cancer-fighting power. They deliver potassium, folate, vitamin C and phytochemicals, as well as sulforaphane (highest in broccoli) which may protect your cells from carcinogens. Variety is key here, as all veggies have different nutrients and protective effects.
9. Keep your brain young
If you want to keep your brain sharp, including vegetables in your diet is the way to go. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, are part of the MIND Diet, which was designed by researchers to help reduce your risk of Alzhemier's disease and dementia. The antioxidants and folate they deliver are key nutrients for your brain.
10. Improve your immune health
It's no secret that what you eat impacts your immune system. Vitamin C is a key nutrient that's found in lots of vegetables (people are always surprised to learn that broccoli and bell peppers have more vitamin C than an orange) that helps keep your immune system strong. Eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods is also important for your immune system, so include lots of different veggies as well as fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and protein sources.
Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.