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We need to eat our vegetables, but information about how to prepare them can be conflicting. Cooking certain vegetables—winter squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, for example—can release more nutrients. Others, however, are better for us if they’re eaten raw. It’s the latter group we’ll discuss here: six top veggies to enjoy in raw, fresh form.
Still one of the trendiest and healthiest vegetables around, kale is popularly known as a superfood, and for good reason. This leafy green is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which is unique for its high concentrations of glucosinolate, a plant compound shown to possess protective qualities against alimentary and lung cancer. However, the enzyme that converts glucosinolates to isothiocyanates (small, cancer-fighting molecules) is easily destroyed by heat, meaning that cooking this vegetable can actually offset its cancer-protecting powers. In addition to its cancer-fighting properties, kale is also high in calcium, beta carotene, and vitamins C and K.
Try this: To enjoy kale and all of its nutritional powers, simply chop it up and toss in olive oil with a little lemon juice and black pepper for a refreshing and healthy snack or meal.
#2. Red Bell Pepper
Versatile and flavourful, red bell peppers are a common ingredient in a variety of raw and cooked dishes. This low-calorie food holds roughly 150 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin C begins to break down if cooked above 375 degrees fahrenheit, meaning the vegetable loses some of its nutritional value when cooked.
Try this: Simply cut a raw pepper into slices for a crisp, tasty snack on-the-go.
DID YOU KNOW…
…that broccoli is one of the foods known to ease symptoms of gastritis, an inflammation or irritation of the lining of the stomach? Read about it in our post Gastritis Diet: Foods That Heal and Foods To Avoid.
Like kale, broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable and holds the same anti-carcinogenic properties outlined above. In comparison to other cruciferous vegetables, though, broccoli has the highest concentration of carotenoids, a category of compounds shown to decrease the risk of disease, particularly cancer and eye diseases. (See also our post Eat Your Brassicas! The Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables.)
One caveat: As SFgate.com explains, “Some folks [may] experience gas and bloating from difficult-to-digest sugars found in raw cruciferous vegetables” like broccoli.
Try this: For an easy, crunchy snack, try tossing raw broccoli with vinegar and salt in a large bowl.
“Strong to the finish, ‘cause I eats my spinach!” Turns out our favourite sailor-man had it right (the evidence continues to support him!): Popeye’s motto on the strength-fortifying leafy green has been shown to have a scientific basis. Both cooked and uncooked spinach contain twice the amount of iron as other leafy greens, as well has a high nitrate concentration which helps raise calcium levels to improve muscle strength. Spinach also includes folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and potassium, which are more available when eaten raw.
Try this: Try blending spinach with apple, kiwi, and coconut water for a sweet and simple juice that incorporates the benefits of spinach in the raw.
HEALTHIEST VEGETABLES: HOW MUCH?
In targeting the healthiest vegetables, go for:
- Dark green: 1.5 cups per week
- Red and orange: 5.5 cups per week
- Beans and peas: 1.5 cups per week
- Starchy: 5 cups per week
- Other (mushrooms, onions, zucchini, etc.:) 4 cups per week
#5. Brussels Sprouts
Another cruciferous vegetable rich in compounds protective against cancer, Brussels sprouts have been shown to increase levels of a detox enzyme in the colon and lower risks of colorectal cancer. Brussels sprouts are also high in folate and vitamin C, which are best absorbed when eaten raw.
Although roasted Brussels sprouts are hard to turn away from, raw Brussels sprouts can be just as tasty—you won’t know until you try it!
Try this: Simply chop your Brussels sprouts and toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper for a delicious and healthy salad or side dish.
#6. Bok Choy
Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage and is another cancer-fighting member of the cruciferous family. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention also ranked bok choy second out of 41 powerhouse fruits and vegetables for nutrient density.
Try this: To enjoy bok choy raw, simply chop it up and add to your favourite salad or toss in dressing on its own.
Healthiest Vegetables? Consider These Factors
So which are the healthiest vegetables? It’s hard to make a “wrong” choice when it comes to veggies, and certainly you’ll get a variety of answers depending on who you ask. But based on research, broccoli, spinach, and kale consistently get top marks. They’re chock-full of nutritional goodness and are especially good sources of folic acid and magnesium (key nutrients particularly for pregnant women). Folic acid is needed to help support our hormonal health and also aids the production of serotonin and dopamine, which keep us feeling good. Greens also contain B vitamins, needed throughout the brain for a variety of functions.
HEALTHIEST VEGETABLES: TAKE YOUR PICK
What we put on our plate plays a major role in keeping us healthy. And, as we know, veggies should have a featured role. The healthiest vegetables provide immense benefits. They contain most of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function properly, for example, and they’re also high in fiber and low in calories.
At lunch and dinner, and even at breakfast, fill half of your 9-inch plate with non-starchy vegetables, taking into account these guidelines:
- 2 cups of raw vegetables, or…
- 1 cup of cooked vegetables, or…
- 1 cup of raw vegetables and ½ cup of cooked vegetables
To get the maximum benefits from vegetables, include different types—like non-starchy varieties, vegetables that are high in fiber content, and those that are known to strengthen our immune system and help fight disease, including cancer.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
For related reading, please visit these posts:
- How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Do You Really Need?
- Complete Nutrition: Vegetables Are Essential
- Are Frozen Vegetables Healthy?
This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.