Just as your mom told you whenever you asked her why you had to finish them, vegetables are good for you. But, have you ever wondered just WHY they are good for you? And does Mom’s claim cover all vegetables, or just the ones she insisted you finish before allowing you dessert?
By helping you to understand not only why eating your veggies is healthy, but the benefits of different vegetables based on color, content, and type, you can get a better understanding of just what your mom was talking about—and, why she was right as always.
5 Reasons to Eat Your Veggies
So, the only reason we need to eat our vegetables is for vitamin and mineral uptake, correct?
Well no, not exactly. While yes, it is true that most vegetables offer a host of nutritional value which can include many essential vitamins and minerals, their health benefits go far beyond just that. In fact, in addition to packing a walloping nutritional punch, raw vegetables can also reduce your inflammation, improve your digestion, help to improve your outlook, help guard against chronic disease, and even keep you better hydrated.
Let’s go over some of the many reasons why raw vegetables are good for you:
1. They can be nutritional powerhouses—While not every veggie can be considered a “superfood,” there are many which can be. For instance, kale is not only chock-full of vitamins A, C and K, but is also an excellent source of such minerals as magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese. Together, these vitamins and minerals help you to have healthy skin, strong bones, and a healthy heart. (1,2)
However, it doesn’t stop there, since in addition to providing a source of key vitamins and minerals, most vegetables contain many phytonutrients, including lutein, plant sterols, and other carotenoids, all of which can vary based on the color of the vegetable. This is in addition to the typical fiber content of vegetables, as well as other healthy components, such as the chlorophyll found in green leafy vegetables. These naturally occurring components help vegetables to be “nature’s multivitamins,” only better.
Vegetables are a good source of fiber. Fiber not only helps by keeping your digestive tract clean and healthy, it is known of as a “prebiotic,” which is what the good bacteria in your gut feed on. These beneficial bacteria are necessary for good digestion and nutritional uptake, and without them you would suffer from malnutrition, a weakened immune system, and increased risk of illness and disease. (3)
2. They can reduce your inflammation— According to Brookline, Massachusetts dietitian Dana Greene, MS, RD, LDN, “Deeply colored fruits and vegetables are part of an anti-inflammatory diet,” which also adds fruits such as grapes, pomegranate, and watermelon, as well as herbs and spices such as turmeric, basil, and cinnamon.
And, reducing or eliminating chronic inflammation helps to improve heart health, improve symptoms of arthritis, and ward off many chronic diseases. In fact, most vegetables are rich sources of free radical fighting antioxidants which are crucial in protecting against cellular damage and reducing inflammation throughout the body, and it is best to consume a wide array of colors for full antioxidant benefit, such as dark leafy greens, orange carrots, and deep purple beets. (4)
3. They can help guard against cancer—While nothing can completely eliminate your risk of cancer, a diet high in foods that are rich in antioxidants such as multi-colored vegetables can help keep your risk to a minimum. Plus, there are various other components in vegetables which may help guard against specific types of cancer, such as lycopene in tomatoes guarding against prostate cancer, or the carotenoids of some yellow and orange vegetables like carrots or squash possibly helping to guard against esophageal and stomach cancer.
Antioxidants also help by keeping your cells safe from free radical damage, as well as boosting your immune system—both of which also help in the prevention of cancer. (5)
Finally, most vegetables are a rich source of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are essential in healthy digestion. Not only does fiber create a “scrubbing” effect in the digestive tract which keeps carcinogens from remaining in contact with intestinal walls for too long and increasing the risk of cancer, it is also essential in maintaining a healthy supply of beneficial gut bacteria. This is because fiber is what your gut bacteria feed on, and as the fiber is broken down by bacteria, it produces a substance know of as butyrate, which may inhibit the growth of digestive tract tumors. (6)
4. They can help you relax—Cruciferous vegetables such as chard, cabbage, and brussels sprouts are excellent sources of sulfur compounds and B-complex vitamins, and members of the allium family such as onions, leeks, and garlic also contain many antioxidants and sulfur compounds.
Not only are B-vitamins essential in maintaining healthy nerves and brain health, sulfur compounds help to boost glutathione levels, which promotes an optimal dopamine release. And, for those unfamiliar, dopamine is a neurotransmitter which allow us to feel enjoyment, a sense of reward, and a sense of well-being. (7)
Green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach are also good sources of minerals such as magnesium and calcium, both of which work in unison to promote relaxation.
Magnesium, for instance, is known of as “nature’s muscle relaxer,” which helps to neutralize stress by binding to the body’s GABA receptors. Since GABA is a neurotransmitter which slows down overstimulation of the brain, increasing your body’s GABA uptake helps to ease your mind, so that you are less inclined to do things like lay awake at night with thoughts racing through your head. (8)
Calcium works in unison with magnesium as sort of a yin to magnesium’s yang, in that while magnesium works to calm nerves and help muscles relax, calcium helps to excite nerves and provide muscle contraction. Together, they provide a strong and healthy heartbeat and respiratory muscles, although an imbalance of too much calcium will cause muscles to become tense and perform the opposite of the desired effect of relaxing you.
However, by getting adequate amounts of both—such as through a diet containing plenty of green vegetables—you can be more assured of strong muscles and cardiovascular system, as well as a relaxed nervous system. (9)
5. They help keep you hydrated—Not only is the water content of many vegetables over 90%, they also contain naturally occurring sugars, minerals and salts. This adds up to vegetables being one of the best ways there are to rehydrate, especially after a workout.
In fact, a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Aberdeen Medical School in Scotland found that vegetables such as cucumbers can hydrate us up to twice as well as water or sports drinks. (10)
For instance, along with its 95% water content, a half cup of cucumber with peel contains 76.4mg of potassium, 6.8mg magnesium, 1mg sodium, and only 0.9g sugar. This is in comparison to a sports drink, many of which not only contain as much as 45.6g of sugar per 600ml but have other highly questionable ingredients in them (Red 40 food coloring, anyone?). (11)
True, a product such as Gatorade may have good amounts of sodium and potassium, although when you can get the equivalent from eating your veggies (along with better uptake), why consume all the extra sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients of a sports drink? (12)
Organic vs. Non-Organic Vegetables
We recommend eating organic vegetables over non-organic vegetables whenever possible. Why? Organic foods are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. (13) Need we say more? By eating organic, you are protecting your body from dangerous chemicals and processes.
Raw vs. Cooked Vegetables
You may wonder if you can get the same benefits from cooked vegetables as you do from raw vegetables. Cooking vegetables can decrease the amount of nutrients they contain. You tend to lose more nutrients the higher the heat and the longer you cook them. However one exception, for instance, is the tomato. Lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes that helps protect against disease, increases when you cook them.
Yes, as usual, your mom was right – vegetables ARE good for you. In fact, consumption of around 3 cups of raw vegetables per day (more if you exercise) can help you have a better sense of well-being, stronger bones, healthier skin, better digestion, better heart health, better hydration, and better protection against cancer and other chronic diseases.
And, the list of vegetables you choose to consume should include a rainbow of colors, since different colored veggies have different nutritional makeups, which helps you get the full nutritional values you need to stay healthy.
Plus, there is nothing as refreshing (or hydrating) as a big salad on a warm day—and no more need for Mom to make you eat it, since veggies are also quite tasty!
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