It’s a directive you’ve likely heard your whole life, since Mom served a side of broccoli with your meatloaf or mac-and-cheese. Now, it’s the medical experts who encourage you to add more veggies to your diet, with the American Cancer Society advising at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day for good health. The Harvard School of Public Health goes even further, recommending nine servings of vegetables and fruits each day. It’s enough to make you wonder exactly why vegetables are so important to human health.
Vitamins and Antioxidants
One of the main health benefits of vegetables is their high nutrient content. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals that contribute to growth and the maintenance of good health. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that many vegetables are high in potassium, which is important for healthy blood pressure. Various vitamins, such as C and A, help keep eyes, skin, teeth and gums healthy, fight infection and promote wound healing. Perhaps most importantly, vegetables are rich in a particular group of nutrients called antioxidants, which fight cellular damage and help prevent heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart attack and Alzheimer’s disease, says the Linus Pauling Institute.
Another substantial benefit of vegetables is dietary fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient found only in plant foods. As part of a healthy diet, fiber helps scour bad cholesterol out of your arteries, thus lowering your risk of heart disease, says the USDA. Fiber also keeps your digestive system running smoothly, helps control your blood sugar levels and may help prevent cancer.
Vegetables are also a boon to dieters. Because they are generally low in fat and calories, you can eat a lot of them without gaining weight. If you substitute vegetables for other, higher-calorie foods in your diet, you’ll slash your calorie and fat intake, making weight management easier. The fiber in vegetables also helps you manage your weight. Fiber makes you feel fuller for a longer period, helping you eat less overall and aiding with weight loss or maintenance.
Some vegetables are healthier than others. The Harvard School of Public Health states that potatoes — which many people consider a vegetable — actually do not count toward your daily recommended servings of vegetables. Instead, potatoes, and often corn as well, are starchy foods more akin to a grain serving than a vegetable serving. When choosing vegetables, keep in mind that, in general, brightly colored vegetables are higher in nutrients than less vivid choices. For example, spinach contains many more vitamins and antioxidants than iceberg lettuce. If you have questions or concerns regarding your diet or vegetables for good health, consult your physician or a registered dietitian for more recommendations.