Top 10 Healthy Vegetables You May Be Missing Out On
Tufts experts serve up fresh ideas for veggie variety.
Bored with broccoli? Had it up to here with green beans and asparagus? Seen enough carrots and peas to last a lifetime? Maybe you need to branch out a little in the produce aisle.
"Some often-overlooked vegetables deserve a second glance for their nutritional benefits," says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, Tufts professor and senior scientist at the HNRCA Antioxidants Research Laboratory. He and Helen M. Rasmussen, PhD, RD, a Friedman School instructor and senior research dietitian at the HNRCA, have put together a list of 10 nutritious veggies too often omitted from grocery carts.
"These may not be as familiar and may take some practice to learn how to prepare," says Rasmussen, "but they are packed with nutrients and can bring vegetable variety to your meals."
In no particular order, Blumberg and Rasmussen suggest giving a fresh look to these lesser-known vegetables:
The artichoke packs a nutritional punch, though identifying the edible part is somewhat tricky for the uninformed. The tender artichoke heart is at the bottom of the vegetable. Once steamed, the cactus-like leaves can be eaten by biting down on them and scraping the tender flesh into your mouth. The edible parts of the artichoke contain fiber, folate, lutein, zeaxanthin, potassium, and vitamins K and C. It is very low in calories (64 in one medium artichoke).
These tubers, which have purple skins as well as flesh, are popular in South America. You’ll most often find the younger, golf-ball-sized ones in supermarkets, even though the mature root can grow to the size and shape of a white potato. The nutritional profile of purple potatoes is similar to that of russet potatoes, with both being good sources of potassium and fiber. (Keep the skins on!) Purple potatoes also contain the flavonoid anthocyanins, which are associated with healthy blood pressure and reduced risk of some forms of cancer.
Fennel is a flowering plant related to the carrot family. One half of a bulb is a mere 36 calories, and hits the jackpot in vitamins A, C and K, carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin) and potassium. It is also a good source of fiber. While fennel is commonly used in Italian and French cooking, it is often misunderstood and neglected in the US. Is it a vegetable, an herb or a spice? The hollow stalks of fennel are considered an herb, having an appearance similar to dill. They're usually chopped and sautéed, and then added to salads (can also be used raw), soups or vegetables with butter or olive oil. But the part of fennel most commonly used in cooking is the cultivated bulb, called the "Florence fennel." Its inflated leaf base has a mild anise flavor with a sweeter taste. Sliced Florence fennel can be grilled, roasted or baked.
To the uninformed cook, the first reaction to celeriac, also known as celery root, may be, "Is this a joke?" The appearance of the uncontrolled, massive ball of roots and flesh can make one wonder how it ever became part of any edible table fare. This delicious, earthy, celery-flavored vegetable can be used raw in salads or cooked and mashed along with potatoes. A half-cup serving yields only 21 calories and has plenty of vitamin K and potassium.
Contrary to its name, the roots of this root vegetable started in North America, where explorer Samuel de Champlain came across it and described its flavor as similar to that of an artichoke. The "Jerusalem" part of its moniker may have come from girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, as this plant is the tuber of a sunflower. Also known as sunchoke, this low-calorie food (55 calories for a half-cup) has piqued the interest of health professionals, because it contains inulin. A starchy compound, inulin is classified as a prebiotic, because it supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the bowel. Sunchokes are slightly sweet and are often served in stir-fried dishes or chopped raw in salads.