Vegetable Nutrition Facts and Benefits

vegetable nutrition factsYou’re probably well aware you should eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

But if you’re like most people, you still have questions:

1. What are the benefits of eating vegetables?

2. How much do I actually need to eat for optimal health?

3. What types of vegetables are the best for me?

4. Where can I find the nutrition facts information for the vegetables I’m eating?

Well you’re in luck, my friend, because I’m about to answer all these questions for you. Away we go …

Benefits of Eating Vegetables

There’s compelling evidence that people who eat a plant-based diet generally consume fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have lower cholesterol levels.[1] Here are some other benefits of eating vegetables:

  • The Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study, which consisted of over 10,000 people, found that those who ate eight or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day were 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke.[2]
  • The OmniHeart Trial found that a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet lowered blood pressure (even more so when some of the highly processed carbohydrates were replaced with healthy unsaturated fat or protein).[3]
  • The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research have stated that certain types of vegetables, including leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, garlic, and onions, may help protect you against several types of cancers (mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, and stomach).[4]
  • According to a 2008 report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, if you don’t eat meat one day a week for a year it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to not driving 1,160 miles.

How Much to Eat

The USDA says that most people should eat at least nine servings (4.5 cups) of vegetables and fruits a day (the average American only eats three servings a day). 3 of these 4.5 cups should come from vegetables.

One of the best tips the USDA provides is this: make at least half your plate fruits and vegetables with every meal. By doing this, you’ll drastically increase your consumption of fruits and veggies. For more information on what counts as a cup of vegetables, check out this chart from the USDA’s website.

I hear a lot of people concerned about the cost of produce. Vegetables are not expensive, contrary to popular belief. The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) conducted a study that found Americans on a 2,000-calorie diet could purchase the quantity and variety of both fruit and vegetables recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for between $2.00 and $2.50 per day.[5] You spend a lot more on meat and dairy products.

What Kinds of Vegetables to Eat

Choose a variety of types and colors of vegetables to give your body a diverse mix of nutrients. Different colored veggies have different nutritional benefits.

Red vegetable nutrition facts: red veggies contain natural plant pigments called “lycopene” and “anthocyanins.” Lycopene is found in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit, and may help reduce your risk of several types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

Red Vegetables to Eat: Beets, Red peppers, Radishes, Radicchio, Red onions, Red potatoes, Rhubarb, Tomatoes

Orange/yellow vegetable nutrition facts: orange and yellow veggies contain natural plant pigments called “carotenoids.” These compounds are converted to vitamin A in your body, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Carotenoid-rich foods can also help reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease, and can boost your immune system.

Vegetables to Eat: Yellow beets, Butternut squash, Carrots, Yellow peppers, Yellow potatoes, Pumpkin, Rutabagas, Yellow summer squash, Sweet corn, Sweet potatoes, Yellow tomatoes, Yellow winter squash

Green vegetable nutrition facts: green veggies are colored by the natural plant pigment chlorophyll (more like boro-phyll!). Certain green vegetables, such as spinach, green peppers, peas, cucumbers, and celery, also contain lutein, which helps keep your eyes healthy. Together, these chemicals may help reduce your risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness if untreated. Green vegetables, including lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, have been proven to be particularly helpful at reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke.[6] And, they’re high in potassium, which can help regulate your blood pressure.

Green Vegetables to Eat: Artichokes, Arugula, Asparagus, Broccoli, Broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, Green beans, Green cabbage, Celery, Chayote squash, Cucumbers, Endive, Leafy greens, Leeks, Lettuce, Green onions, Okra, Peas, Green peppers, Snow peas, Sugar snap peas, Spinach, Watercress, Zucchini

Blue/purple vegetable nutrition facts: blue and purple vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called anthocyanins, which act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. They may help reduce your risk of certain types of cancers, stroke, and heart disease.

Blue/Purple Vegetables to Eat: Purple asparagus, Purple cabbage, Eggplant, Purple Belgian endive, Purple peppers, Purple-fleshed potatoes

Vegetable Nutrition Facts Chart

Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Vegetable/serving size Calories Fat Carbs Fiber Potassium Vitamin A (% DV) Vitamin C(% DV)
Asparagus (5 spears) 20 0 4 2 230 10 15
Bell Pepper (1 medium) 25 0 6 2 220 4 190
Broccoli (1 medium stalk) 45 0.5 8 3 460 6 220
Carrot (1 carrot, 7″ long) 30 0 7 2 250 110 10
Cauliflower (1/6 medium head) 25 0 5 2 270 0 100
Celery (2 medium stalks) 15 0 4 2 260 10 15
Cucumber (1/3 medium) 10 0 2 1 140 4 10
Green Beans (3/4 cup) 20 0 5 3 200 4 10
Iceberg Lettuce (1/6 medium head) 10 0 2 1 125 6 6
Leaf Lettuce (1 1/2 cups shredded) 15 0 2 1 170 130 6
Onion (1 medium) 45 0 11 3 190 0 20
Potato (1 medium) 110 0 26 2 620 0 45
Radish (7 radishes) 10 0 3 1 190 0 30
Summer Squash (1/2 medium) 20 0 4 2 260 6 30
Sweet Corn (1 medium ear) 90 2.5 18 2 250 2 10
Sweet Potato (1 medium) 100 0 23 4 440 120 30
Tomato (1 medium) 25 0 5 1 340 20 40

 

Want More?

This article is #9 in my 10-part Healthy Eating 201 tutorial.

To go to the next article #10 and learn about the best and worst types of alcohol to drink on a diet click here.

To go back and read article #8 about the healthiest foods for kids click here.

 


[1] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/flexitarian/my00750

[2] Hung HC, Joshipura KJ, Jiang R, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004; 96:1577–84.

[3] Appel LJ, Sacks FM, Carey VJ, et al. Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the OmniHeart randomized trial. JAMA. 2005; 294:2455–64.

[4] World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.

[5] How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost? by Hayden Stewart, Jeffrey Hyman, Jean Buzby, Elizabeth Frazão, and Andrea Carlson, EIB-71, USDA, Economic Research Service, February 2011.

[6] He FJ, Nowson CA, Lucas M, MacGregor GA. Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is related to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Hum Hypertens. 2007; 21:717–28.