Nutritional Values of Vegetables

Want to know about the nutritional values of vegetables and which ones are best for you?

This page includes a list of vegetables that promote healthy weight loss, heart health and lower inflammation.

Forget bread and starchy grains, vegetables are the mainstay of any healthy diet.
There is a growing body of research that supports less cereal consumption and higher vegetables and fruit consumption; a diet more akin to our ancestors’.

Vegetables provide carbohydrates and fiber.

They’re also an essential source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols. And, they’re mostly alkaline foods.

The nutritional value of vegetables is unsurpassed – many vegetables have a low glycemic index and high nutrient content compared to other foods.

These properties help you to burn fat build muscle and enjoy a healthy metabolism.

About nutritional values of vegetables

Different types of vegetables have different nutritional values. The method of growing also has an influence.

For example, dark green vegetables are typically rich in calcium, iron, B vitamins and vitamin C (to name a few). If you enjoy your greens as steamed vegetables instead of raw, you’ll actually get more nutritional value from them!

Yellow and red vegetables are typically good sources of vitamins A, C, E and carotenoids.

If you like vegetable gardening, you’ll probably know that the nutritional values of organic vegetables are often higher than non-organic produce (1).

Your local grower will usually stock the freshest, in-season and most nutrient-rich produce.

Why is locally grown important?

A study of organic broccoli in New Jersey (2008) found that vitamin C levels were 2 times higher fresh, in-season (October) broccoli compared to previously-measured, out-of-season imported broccoli (May) (5).

Frozen organic broccoli had lower vitamin C than fresh broccoli in both seasons (5).

The following vegetable list covers the nutritional values of some vegetables that are typically found in your local store.

If you’re into vegetable gardening, you might already be growing these yourself.

Nutritional value of lettuce

Lettuce comes in a variety of colours and shapes. The best rule of thumb is to look for dark green or multi-coloured varieties which are richest in phytochemicals.

Pale, whitish lettuce leaves have little nutritional value, because they have lower amounts of pigment in them. And the pigment is the thing that contains all the good stuff.

For example, the nutritional value of iceberg lettuce is lower than cos lettuce.

Cos lettuce contains significantly more vitamin A, C, K and folate than iceberg lettuce (2).

Nutritional value of mushrooms

Mushrooms are a good protein source; grab a bagful if you’re looking to burn fat, build muscle.

Shiitake mushrooms are rich in iron and vitamin C, a good source of protein and fiber.

They contain a compound that boosts immunity and has anti-cancer properties, among other things (4).

Crimini mushrooms are even better immune-boosters and have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, making them a useful dietary addition for people with arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

They also contain conjugated linoleic acid, a compound which can bind to certain enzymes and lower estrogen production. Hormone-dependent breast cancer sufferers may benefit from crimini mushrooms (4).

The presence of certain bacteria on crimini mushrooms appears to provide the mushrooms with vitamin B12, a vitamin that’s only known from animal foods. Crimini mushrooms might be important for vegans; they’re also a rich source of 18 different minerals including selenium and tryptophan (4).

Nutritional value of olives

Olives are actually fruits, but I’ve included them in this page about the nutritional value of vegetables because most people think of them as vegetables.

In moderation, olives and extra virgin olive oil are good for you. They’re both high in fat, and even though it’s ‘healthy’ fat, be careful with portion size. Your thumb is a good indicator of a serving size – how many olives would fit along the length of your thumb? That’s a serve.

A nutritional value of olive oil is the oleic acid content. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to reduce the expression of some aggressive breast cancer genes.

Olive oil is also rich in phytosterols, compounds which may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Olives are rich in omega 6 fatty acids which are prevalent in the Western diet. In a balanced diet, omega 6 fatty acids are balanced with plenty of omega 3 fatty acids.

Nutritional value of sprouts

Sprouts are a convenient addition to recipes. They're usually just different types of beans and peas so they’re full of protein, fiber and nutrients.

The nutritional value of sprouts varies according to the type of sprout you’re eating.

Alfalfa sprouts are a good source of vitamin K and folate (2).

Mung bean shoots are a good source of vitamin K and copper (2).

Generally, the nutritional value of sprouted foods is superior; these foods are more easily digested and their nutrients are more available than non-sprouted counterparts. The sprouted version of a food is more nutrient dense (3).

Sprouting begins the germination process, increasing enzyme action and inactivating enzyme inhibitors.

Soaking grains inhibits phytic acid, a compound in grains that reduces mineral absorption (3).

Nutritional value of sweet potatoes

The nutritional value of sweet potatoes comes mainly from the incredibly high amount of vitamin A as beta carotene, with 100g of sweet potato providing 384% of the Daily Value of vitamin A.

This root vegetable also contains reasonable amounts of vitamin C and B6.

To maximize the beta carotene benefits, make sure your meal contains at least 3 – 5 grams of fat from a healthy source such as extra virgin olive oil. Boiling is the best cooking method for sweet potatoes, to maximize the blood sugar balancing effects of this vegetable (4).

Nutritional value of beans

If you want to enjoy healthy whole foods that are high in fiber, you can’t go past beans!

To maximize the nutritional value of beans, make sure you soak them, drain the soak water, then cook them properly. This will improve their digestability reduce the intestinal gases that form from the oligosaccharides in the beans (4).

Cooking beans with spices such as cumin, fennel, ginger or other aromatic spices will help to stimulate digestion and reduce the formation of gas (4).

Depending on the variety of bean you choose, you’ll get loads of fiber, protein, folate and vitamin B1 (thiamin), iron and many other beneficial nutrients (4).

Many beans also have a favourable omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio (usually 1:1 or 2:1).

Adzuki beans are a good source of folate and manganese (4).

Black turtle beans are a complete protein source (meaning they contain all essential amino acids) and are a good source of folate.

French beans are a complete protein source and are rich in both fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.

Kidney beans are considered to be a superfood. They are a complete protein source with good iron and folate content.

The nutritional value of lima beans is found in their manganese, folate and potassium content (4).

Fibrous vegetables

People often associate fiber with grains. But in actual fact, there are many vegetables that are excellent sources of fiber.

These include turnip greens, mustard greens, cauliflower, collard greens, broccoli and Swiss chard (silverbeet).

Very good sources include romain lettuce, celery, spinach, fennel, beans and eggplant (4).

Good vitamin K content and its’ wide range of vitamins and minerals contribute to the nutritional value of celery (2).

Celery is a low calorie source of carbohydrates and fiber that is filling. Celery also has a high water content.

Celery is an excellent accompaniment to bean dips and its sodium content makes it a suitable alternative to salt, in soups and savoury dishes.

In fact, celery seed is often a key ingredient in vegetable stock powders.

Celery has other powers. It contains compounds which may help lower cholesterol and prevent cancers, and a compound in celery, phthalides, are thought to help reduce blood pressure by relaxing muscles around the arteries (4).

Starchy vegetables

Starchy vegetables include root (‘storage’) vegetables like swedes, turnips, rutabaga (yellow turnips), potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, parsnips, peas, carrots, beans and beets.

Most starchy vegetables have a medium to high glycemic index, generally higher than leafy veg or fibrous vegetables. That doesn't mean that the nutritional value of starchy vegetables is any less than the others!

For example, carrots are moderately starchy but the nutritional value of carrots, with regard to vitamin A, is exceptional.

They also offer a good amount of fiber and a reasonable amount of vitamins C, K and potassium (2).

Starchy veg offer many health-giving benefits and are a good replacement for grains.

For example, the nutritional value of beets comes partly from its high anthocyanin content – a powerful phytochemical that causes the red colouring of the beetroot. The phytochemicals act as powerful antioxidants that help to fight cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Like everything else, starchy vegetables should be eaten in moderation, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. In that case, you’d have lots of leafy and fibrous veg and a moderate amount of starchy veg at each meal.

Four cups of vegetables each day (one starchy, one fibrous, two green leafy) would be an excellent start.

(1) Halweil, B. 2007. Critical Issue Report: Still No Free Lunch. The Organic Center, www.organic-center.org

(2) Self Nutrition Data www.nutritiondata.self.com

(3) Dr Mercola’s website www.mercola.com

(4) Worlds Healthiest Foods website www.whfoods.org

(5) Wunderlich, S.M., Feldman, C., Kane S et. al. 2008. Nutritional quality of organic, conventional and seasonally grown broccoli using vitamin C as a marker. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 59 (1), 88-94.

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