Vegetables and fruits have been widely endorsed as healthy. These two are diverse groups of plant-based foods. As a result, they vary greatly in nutrient content. The American Dietary Guidelines of 2010 recommend that fruits and vegetables cover half the plate for each meal!
Vegetables are rich in nutrients and bioactive compounds. These compounds have various health benefits. Examples of beneficial compounds are vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and dietary fibre. Vegetables are diverse, therefore its easier to make dietary choices. I believe plant-based foods can help eliminate hunger and malnutrition.
Research shows that an average person requires the following nutrient quantities per day:
•2800 calories energy
•55 g protein
•450 mg Ca
•20 mg Fe
•3000 mg β – carotene
•50 mg vitamin C
•100 mg folic acid
•1.0 mg vitamin B
•1.4 mg thiamine
•1.5 mg riboflavin
•19 mg niacin
•5 mg vitamin D
Vegetables in a properly planned diet can provide all these nutrients. In this article we will explore reasons vegetables are good for you.
Why are vegetables good for you?
Vegetable consumption improves your psychological well-being
Research shows that dietary fruits and vegetables improve your psychological well-being. Isn’t it awesome? Just eating vegetables regularly and improving your psychic profile! In addition, they also improve vitality, flourishing and motivation.
They offer physical health benefits
Did you know that eating vegetables provides physical health benefits? Regular consumption of vegetables is beneficial to health.
Regular vegetable consumption lowers the risks of:
- Cardiovascular health
- Respiratory problems
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Regular vegetable consumption results in:
- Greater or improved longevity
- Improved mental health
- Reduced cancer risks, this is especially true for digestive system related cancers.
Vegetables are good for your mental health
Eating vegetables is good for mental health. People who eat more vegetables have better mental and psychological profiles. These people are happier than those who eat vegetables less frequently. According to another study, regular vegetable consumption lowers depression and anxiety. Eating them regularly can boost your higher life satisfaction.
Vegetable consumption reduces risks of diet-related weight gain
Most people don’t check their dietary habits at all. They only notice the results which manifest as weight gain. Losing weight is a real struggle than gaining it. However, eating vegetables can make it easier. Some nutritionists are prescribing strict vegan diets for weight loss. These prescriptions have been labelled effective. Furthermore, testimonials show awesome results!
For more on weight loss please read: Why is weight loss slow?
Eating vegetables is good for weight management. It reduces the risk of weight gain and chronic diseases. FAO and WHO recommend adults to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables per day. This recommendation excludes starchy vegetables. Why?
Because non-starch vegetables are low in energy. They also have high water content. Therefore, eating them in large quantities contributes very little to weight. On the other hand, they also give increased satiety. Which means you stay full for longer periods.
What quantity of vegetables is equal to one serving?
Well, the answer is easy. A serving of vegetables is equal to:
- 1 cup of raw
- fresh frozen = ½ cup
- ½ canned vegetables
- ½ cup of vegetable juice
Eating vegetables reduces the risks of non-communicable diseases
Eating them regularly reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases. Consuming more cruciferous vegetables reduces risks of:
- Cancer of the intestine
- Bowel cancer
- Lung cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
Green leafy vegetables have a protective effect against lung cancer. However, the mechanism the system uses is unknown.
Studies show that vegan diets reduce osteoporosis. This is because they contain vitamins (especially D) and calcium.
A combination of these nutrients improves bone health.
Vegetables are good sources of dietary fibre. This improves calcium absorption in the gut. It also reduces the acid load of the diet. As a result, it reduces the dissolving of bones (demineralisation) in the body. Therefore, this improves strength and integrity.
Vegetables can improve your cognitive well-being
What does cognitive well-being mean?
Cognitive well-being is defined as retaining the ability to think, learn and remember. Mental stability declines with ageing. People suffer from cognitive decline (mental health) as they age. However, research shows that regular vegetable diets delay cognitive deterioration. A high intake of fruits and vegetables minimises mental deterioration. In other words, vegan diets can improve mental health.
Vegetables have anti-obesity properties!
Some phytochemicals in vegetables have anti-obesity properties. These compounds suppress the growth of adipose tissue (fat deposits) below the skin. Deposition of fat is closely related to inflammation and oxidative stress. As a result eating vegetable counteracts the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. The 2 conditions are treated by antioxidants. This is explained down below!
Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are the richest sources of anti-obesity phytochemicals. These phytochemicals control the initiation and development of obesity. Yellow fleshed sweet potatoes are also good sources of the antioxidants and provitamin A carotenoids! Also read:
- Orange fleshed sweet potatoes: What’s so special about them?
- 12 Of the best orange fleshed sweet potatoes nutrition facts
Soluble fibre creates a gel-like environment in the small intestine. This reduces enzyme activity. As a result, food is slowly digested. This means nutrients are gradually released from food. Blood sugars spikes and over absorption of nutrients is therefore lessened. The system is significant if we replace energy-dense foods in the diet. Replacing energy-dense foods reduces the overall energy intake from meals. As result, vegetables are an essential part of weight-loss diets.
Vegetables can reduce the risks of several chronic diseases
Increased vegetable consumption reduces risks for several diseases. These include eye diseases, dementia and osteoporosis.
High intake of cruciferous, pigmented and fruiting vegetables reduces the risk for various cancers. Consumption of rooting vegetables reduces the risks for type 2 diabetes.
Vegetable consumption improves microvascular function. That is, it improves the functioning of blood vessels. As a result, there is a low risk of blood vessel damage. Eating vegetables improves your inflammatory status and oxidative stress. It also improves your immune response. Vegetable consumption reduces the effects of inflammation and oxidative stress!
Vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients
Vegetables are a special type of food. This is because they are loaded with nutrients. They are part of many dietary guidelines across the world. This is because they have high nutrient and phytochemical content. These compounds are beneficial to health.
Importance of vegetables in the diet
Vegetables are important because they offer nutritional and health benefits. They are cleaner and healthier raw materials for bodily functions.
Nutritional importance of vegetables
They are excellent sources of dietary fibre
Most vegetables contain dietary fibre. Eating them reduces cardiovascular disease and obesity risks.
Vegetables contain both soluble and non-soluble dietary fibres. Soluble dietary fibre dissolves in water. Examples of soluble dietary fibre are pectin and beta-glucans. Insoluble fibres form the woody material of the plants. Examples of insoluble dietary fibre are cellulose and lignin.
Dietary fibre has a high water binding capacity. As a result, it can imbibe water. This increases viscosity in the stomach. Increase in viscosity improves satiety because the stomach fills up quickly. The water-binding and viscosity increasing properties of dietary fibre are beneficial. They enable dietary fibre to bind to harmful substances. Bound harmful substances like cholesterol cannot enter the bloodstream. Cholesterol precursors and degradation products, bile salts are also bound. These are then egested out of the body.
Dietary fibre increases the bulkiness of faeces. This promotes easier defecation. According to a Healthline article an individual should not go for too long without pooping. Whilst there is no normal standards. A low pooping frequency signals a poor diet or an unhealthy digestive system. This can be solved by increasing dietary fibre in the diet. This is done by introducing high fibre food to the diet.
How fibre works
High fibre meals delay the absorption of sugars and fats. This is because they reduce the transit time
of food in the gut. Therefore dietary fibre helps minimise constipation. It also lowers the risk for haemorrhoids, colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and diverticulosis.
Dietary fibre enables slower digestion. As a result, overeating is prevented because satiety lasts longer. Dietary fibre can be fermented in the large intestine by bacteria. This process produces short-chain fatty acids that have anti-cancer effects. Dietary fibre, therefore, improves gut health by enhancing gut bacteria.
Most vegetables are good sources of dietary fibre. Here is a list of some of them.
Sources of healthy protein
Plant-based proteins have been misunderstood by many. They are described as low quality. This is because no single vegetable contains all essential amino acids in the right quantities. As a result, a varied vegetable diet must satisfy the required protein needs. Some of them, however, contain most of the essential amino acids. These include legumes like lentils and peas. However, these still need supplements. This ensures the availability of all essential amino acids. Some vegetables are indeed poor protein sources. However, this has no relevance in a varied vegetable diet.
Vegetable-based proteins are also healthier. This is because they have a low amino acid density. As a result, they lower risks for uric acid based kidney stones.
A number of vegetables are fairly good protein sources.
Excellent sources of antioxidants
The process of oxidation in the human body produces damaging and unstable chemicals called free radicals. Free radicals can cause damage to your body tissues.
Antioxidants are chemicals that scavenge for free radicals. Their role is to find and neutralise free radicals. These are then converted to stable and harmless compounds. Antioxidants remove the harmful chemicals from the tissues before they cause damage.
Vegetables are top sources of antioxidants. Animal-based foods also contain antioxidants. These are usually in the form of vitamins and minerals. Plant foods contain phytochemicals with higher antioxidant activity than minerals and vitamins.
A diet high in antioxidants reduces the risks of various diseases. Examples of the diseases are heart disease and cancers.
Major antioxidants in vegetables
Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain lutein. Lutein reduces eye lens degeneration and irritation. It also reduces vision loss in in the elderly. The antioxidant is beneficial to eye health.
Green tea flavonoids include myricetin, quercetin and luteolin. They all have antioxidant properties. These are associated with lower heart disease rates in Japan.
Other vegetables and onions contain allium sulphur compounds which are powerful antioxidants.
Carrots, parsley and spinach contain beta carotene. This is a powerful antioxidant which also has vitamin A activity.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages are good sources of indoles. This is another group of plant-based antioxidants. Most vegetables also contain potent vitamin antioxidant, vitamin C or ascorbic acid. Eggplants contain compounds called anthocyanins.
They are excellent sources of carotenoids
Carotenoids pigment compounds that give plants their distinctive colours. Why is this a good thing?
Vegetable sources of carotenoids are good for human health. This is because carotenoids have antioxidant activity. Intake of carotenoids is beneficial to health. They reduce damage to blood, lipids and other body fluids. This damage occurs due to oxidation. Carotenoids can prevent this kind of damage. Carotenoids are present in most leafy green vegetables. They are also present in orange and yellow vegetables. Carotenoids have beneficial effects on lung cancers and coronary heart disease. Lycopene present in tomatoes can prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein.
The most common carotenoids are lycopene, beta carotene, alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants are obtained from the diet. They are best absorbed from the intestines in the presence of oil. Adding oil, butter or peanut butter to your vegetables increases chances of absorbing these antioxidants. Carotenoids are high in green, yellow, orange and red vegetables. Some of the sources of carotenoids are:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Bell peppers
- Orange sweet potatoes
Carotenoid consumption reduces the risk for many health problems. They enhance the immune system. In addition, they improve eye health. Carotenoids possess anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the risk of heart diseases. Vegetable diets ensure high intake of carotenoids. These antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals in the body. Cancers develop when free radicals damage cells. This is due to inflammation and cell damage. Consumption of vegetables provides antioxidants which help reduce cancer risks.
They are an excellent source of vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant. This compound can easily change forms and stabilise. As a result, it is a very powerful antioxidant. Even though it is an excellent antioxidant, vitamin C has one problem. Its easy to lose it during food preparation. Vitamin C is abundant in green leafy vegetables. Some of the good sources include coriander leaves, broccoli, peppers, chilli and cauliflower.
Raw vegetable salads contain more vitamin C than cooked vegetables. Also cut and blended vegetables will always contain less vitamin C than whole! Vitamin C can leach into solution. This means you must not throw away the cooking soup!
Vitamin C functions include growth, muscle function and tissue repair. Vitamin C is needed for collagen formation in the body. Collagen is an essential protein in tissues. It is also essential in wound healing and scar tissue formation.
Vegetables contain the important antioxidant vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble molecule that acts as an antioxidant. Vitamin E protects fatty acids in cell membranes. It protects them from damage by reactive oxygen species and free radicals. Vitamin E is an important component of the antioxidant defence mechanism. However, it is obtained exclusively from the diet. Cruciferous vegetables are good sources of vitamin E. Vitamin E also prevents oxidative stress in the body by getting rid of free radicals. Vitamin E prevents a process that is responsible for atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of blood
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin. Almost every food contains folate. Folate is obtained from the diet and also from supplements. Folate is an essential micronutrient in nutrition. The vitamin has an important role in synthesis and breakdown of proteins. It acts both as a coenzyme and as a cosubstrate. This means it assists in some reactions while taking part in some. The body needs folate for normal cell division and DNA synthesis. This is why folate deficiency causes megaloblastic anaemia in humans.
Sources of folate are green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and peas. Brussels sprouts, asparagus and spinach are also top folate sources.
Compounds with health benefits
Vegetables contain many compounds with significant benefits to health.
Flavonoids form a large group of polyphenolic chemicals found in plants. They mainly form part of the skin of vegetables. Some flavonoids have beneficial effects on health. They react with cancer causing compounds. As a result they reduce risks of cancers.
Flavonoids reduce risks for several chronic diseases. These diseases include neurodegenerative diseases, cancers and cardiovascular disorders. A PubMed study has shown that flavonoid consumption is beneficial to health.
The flavonoid cheratin is found in bitter gourds. It has a positive effect on hyperglycaemia. Some flavonoids found in garlic and onion minimise dietary cholesterol levels. Therefore, flavonoids minimise the risks of coronary heart diseases.
Anthocyanins are colour compounds found in vegetables. They exist in nature as purple pigments present in red, purple and blue vegetables. They give these plants their distinctive colours.
Anthocyanins have several health benefits. Research shows that they have strong antioxidant, anti–inflammatory, anti-cancer and antiviral properties.
Vegetable sources of anthocyanins have essential uses in herbal therapy. They improve blood vessel health. These compounds can also treat high blood pressure and diabetic retinopathy. Recent studies show the positive effects of anthocyanins in treatment of major health problems. These include heart disease and cancers.
Main sources of anthocyanins include all purple, red and green vegetables. Here is a small list of anthocyanin containing vegetables I prepared for you.
Nutraceuticals are products derived from foods. These products have extra health benefits. The benefits are in addition to the basic nutritional value of the food.
Vegetable contains nutraceuticals that benefit human health. Most pigments in vegetables eg. chlorophylls and betalains have nutraceutical uses. They possess health benefits against chronic illness. Some nutrition experts believe in the consumption of a rainbow of vegetables. This means that there should be more colour on your plate. Brightly coloured vegetables enhance the body’s health. They have nutraceuticals to minimise tissue damage. Anthocyanins give the purple colours to vegetable. So, they are among the purple vegetable nutraceuticals.
Coloured phytochemicals found in vegetables have a variety of effects. They have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-allergic, anticarcinogenic and antiproliferative (limit growth of cancer cells) effects.
Nutraceutically rich vegetables include black carrot, beetroot, broccoli and chilli.
Most vegetables have therapeutic applications. They make excellent crude drugs for natural forms of medicine. Such drugs are important in ayurvedic medicine, naturopathic and homoeopathic medicine.
Cautions about eating vegetables
Even though vegetables are healthy and nutritious, there are things you need to watch out for.
Some vegetables contain harmful compounds. Plant-based proteins like lectins are harmful to humans. Effects of lectins include stomach pains and gassing.
Some vegetables also contain saponins, tannins, phenols, non-amino organic acids, glucosinolates, trypsin inhibitors and glycoalkaloids. All these compounds are harmful to human health. Some of the compounds can cause neurological disorders, gastric disorders, hypertension and kidney stones. Some of the toxic compounds cannot withstand high temperatures. As a result, they are no longer a health hazard.
Antinutrients like phytates and tannins interfere with iron absorption. Iron found in plants is in its less absorbable form. As a result, you may need to supplement for iron. This will prevent iron deficiency.
Oxalic acid is an antinutrient naturally available in leafy vegetables. This anti-nutrient is present in kale, spinach and roots like ginger. In humans, it reacts with mineral ions like magnesium and calcium to form hard oxalate salts. These salts can cause kidney stones affecting kidney functions. Increased dietary concentrations of oxalic reduces calcium levels in the diet. Soaking them in water before cooking leaches the oxalic acid out of the vegetables. This will cost the food in terms of vitamin C as it will leach into a solution!
As I specified in my introductory article for this blog, a healthy diet is the best medicine. There is no single medicine that can give all the benefits of a healthy diet. A healthy diet on the other hand, can makesure you won’t need medicine at all.
Besides the likely harm that may come from eating them, vegetables are awesome. This is because their benefits far outweigh the negative effects. Some compounds pose a danger because of excessive intake or improper cooking. Therefore, food should be adequately prepared before eating.
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