It’s no secret that eating vegetables is good for your health. Even though the specific nutrients found in vegetables vary between types, all varieties offer health benefits. Eating the recommended five servings of produce a day and including a variety of sources helps you get in the vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants your body needs to thrive.
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Mushrooms with Brown Butter & Parmesan
“There are some vegetables that have more nutrients than others. What one vegetable is low in (vitamin C, for example), another may be a good source. That’s why variety is important,” says Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, a media dietitian and founder of Alena Menko Nutrition and Wellness.
Here we’re sharing 10 of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you should be adding to your plate weekly, plus the benefits of doing so.
This leafy green is nutritious, refreshing and packed with flavor. Also known as rocket, arugula has a spicy flavor which is unique among leafy green vegetables. It’s high in vitamin C and is a source of potassium, calcium, magnesium and folate.
Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, a food and nutrition communications consultant, says, “Arugula is a key source of folate, which helps support the production of DNA and is especially important during pregnancy or planning to become pregnant.”
Arugula also contains glucosinolates, compounds most often associated with cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Research shows that glucosinolates may have health-promoting properties like lowering the risk of certain kinds of cancers. And alongside several orange vegetables, arugula is a good source of carotenoids, which are important compounds that are associated with cardiovascular and eye health.
2. Butternut squash
Butternut squash is a large vegetable with a thick skin and dense, orange center. The flesh of this winter squash is packed with nutrients, with 1 cup containing close to 50% of the Daily Value for vitamin C and over 10% each of potassium, fiber and magnesium. Butternut squash is also a source of beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A which is essential for eye health and vision.
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
“Cube and roast butternut squash in the oven or puree it into a soup,” says Stark. This versatile vegetable can also be used in mixed dishes like casseroles or mashed for use in baked products like pancakes or muffins.
Carrots are a type of root vegetable, a group that also includes potatoes, beets, turnips and parsnips. This nutrient-dense vegetable is rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, fiber and potassium.
Carrots also contain compounds that some research has found might reduce risk for certain cancers. One study, published in the journal Nutrients in 2020, found that higher self-reported intake of carrots was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. While there are multiple limitations to this study, carrots are packed with important nutrients that make them worth adding to your diet on a regular basis to support better overall health.
Look for carrots in a variety of colors including orange, yellow and purple. Add them to baked products, oatmeal, soups, salads and sandwiches or simply eat them on their own as a snack with your favorite vegetable dip.
Onions may not be the first things that come to mind when considering vegetables to add to your diet, but this member of the allium family, a group of vegetables that also includes garlic and leeks, is packed with nutrients and anti-carcinogenic compounds.
Onions are a naturally low-calorie and low-fat food and are a source of essential micronutrients including vitamin C and potassium. Interestingly, the outer layers of onions have been shown to have the highest concentration of antioxidant compounds, so try to peel them as minimally as you can before using them in cooking to reap the greatest benefits.
“Onions supply a plant compound called quercetin that may lower blood pressure and promote an overall healthy heart,” says Stark. However, many studies on quercetin’s effect on blood pressure have been done using extracts from onion, and the research is mixed.
Regardless of this, onions add an earthy, savory flavor when cooking and offer a source of many important nutrients which solidly earn them a spot on this list. Stark recommends slicing and roasting onions for a tasty sandwich or burger topping.
5. Brussels sprouts
Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. “Mini, cabbage-like Brussels sprouts are rich in vitamin K [which is] particularly important for blood clotting and bone health,” says Stark. In addition, 1 cup of Brussels sprouts contains over 100% of the Daily Value for vitamin C and over 10% of the Daily Value for fiber.
Pictured Recipe: Crispy Smashed Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts, along with other cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage and broccoli, contain glucosinolates. These plant compounds are associated with reductions in inflammation, which may have health benefits.
“Use a box grate to ‘shave’ Brussels sprouts into fine strands as the base for a salad or to add to stir-fry,” says Stark. They’re also delicious quartered, tossed with oil, salt and pepper, and roasted until browned and mostly crispy.
Mushrooms are technically a fungus but are categorized as a vegetable when it comes to your eating pattern. They’re naturally low in calories, fat and sodium; however, they’re rich sources of many other nutrients and compounds that have been associated with positive health benefits.
Mushrooms contain fiber, potassium and multiple B vitamins including niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). “When exposed to UV light during the growing process, mushrooms are also an abundant source of vitamin D, which contributes to strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium,” says Stark. Additionally, mushrooms are a source of ergothioneine, an amino acid that acts as an antioxidant and is associated with multiple health-promoting benefits including lower risk of cancer.
Try finely chopping and adding mushrooms to ground meats for a blended, plant-forward dish. Stark also recommends sautéing mushrooms over high heat to promote browning and help contribute a hearty, umami-rich flavor to any dish.
Potatoes often get a bad reputation, but these nutrient-dense vegetables offer an excellent source of essential nutrients such as potassium, fiber and vitamin C.
“As an abundant source of potassium, potatoes may help to naturally lower blood pressure by combating the effects of too much sodium in your diet,” says Stark.
They’re also rich in carbohydrates, making them a popular choice for active people and athletes. One study found that eating potatoes during endurance exercise is as effective for performance as eating carbohydrate gels. This could make potatoes particularly appealing to athletes looking for whole-food sources of carbs during exercise.
When preparing potatoes, choose methods that limit the added saturated fat and sodium from ingredients like oil, butter and salt. Some research has found that eating fried potatoes on a regular basis may be associated with increased mortality risk.
8. Bell peppers
“A lesser-known source of vitamin C, bell peppers, especially brightly colored ones like red, yellow and orange, are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant involved in iron absorption, skin and tissue repair and immune function,” says Stark. One medium bell pepper (approximately 3.5 ounces) contains over 100% of the Daily Value for vitamin C.
Bell peppers are also a source of carotenoids, health-promoting compounds associated with a reduced risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“Hollow out and stuff mini bell peppers with spreadable cheese and a sprinkling of pistachios for snacking,” recommends Stark.
9. Green Peas
Peas are a type of vegetable, a category of vegetables that includes lentils and beans.
“Green peas are one of the highest protein-containing veggies that are also loaded with fiber,” says Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN. One cup contains over 25% of one’s daily fiber needs alongside 8 grams of plant-based protein. A single cup also contains close to 100% of the Daily Value for vitamin C and approximately 10% of the Daily Value for iron, vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium. Not only are peas super nutritious, but they’re also affordable. Opt for frozen or canned to help extend their shelf life; just keep an eye on added flavorings and sodium.
“Use canned and drained or frozen peas to boost the protein of casseroles, soups, pasta dishes and more,” says Stark.
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos Prop Stylist: Lindsey Lower Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey
These colorful root vegetables are packed with health-promoting nutrients, making them one of the best vegetables to add to your regular rotation. One cup of beets contains 4 grams of fiber and over 10% of the Daily Value of potassium. Beets are also a source of folate, magnesium and phosphorus.
Pictured Recipe: Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
Beets contain compounds known as betalains which have antioxidant activity and are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Betalains may also play a role in blood pressure management. Beets and beet juice are commonly used by athletes as an ergogenic aid due to their high nitrate content. These nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body, which can help increase blood flow.
Beets can be messy to prepare because their color easily bleeds onto cutting boards and other surfaces, including hands and clothes, so be mindful when you’re preparing them. “Use drained, canned beets for a less messy way to add beets to grain bowls and vegetable salads,” Stark recommends.
The Bottom Line
Vegetables come in so many different shapes, sizes, forms and flavors, all with their own unique nutritional profiles and health benefits. To reap the greatest benefits, try adding in several different types to your typical week. Opting for canned or frozen options can make it more affordable and easy to do so. Variety is the spice of life, after all—and it might just be a boon for better health!