Vegetables packed with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber are essential to a healthy diet.
But some vegetables, often called “nutrient-dense,” offer even more nutritional value per serving. Eating more nutrient-dense vegetables — or those loaded with high amounts of vitamins and minerals per bite — can help keep your body performing and your mind sharp.
These foods are usually less dense in calories, too, especially when compared to processed foods. They’re also versatile ingredients in just about any soup, salad, or entree.
“The vast majority of healthy eating plans include making vegetables the cornerstone of each meal,” says Cara Stewart, registered dietitian at UPMC.
Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare. Pick up bags of prewashed salad greens and add baby carrots or grape tomatoes for a salad in minutes.
Plan some meals around a vegetable main dish, such as a stir-fry or soup. Add veggies to dishes you already prepare, such as casseroles or lasagna.
Increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, can help you maintain a healthy weight while promoting heart health and reducing your risk of diabetes and cancer.
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A powerful leafy green loaded with antioxidants, Watercress is a valuable addition to any soup, salad, or sandwich.
Eating more watercress, which is notably high in vitamin K, vitamin C, and other nutrients, can lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It also contains minerals necessary for bone health, such as calcium and potassium.
Vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting and regulating blood calcium levels, and vitamin C boosts your immune system. For peak health benefits, you should eat watercress raw or steamed.
Adding spinach to your diet is one of the best things you can do for your body (if you haven’t already).
Spinach can improve your eye, skin, bone, and immune health, help prevent cancer, reduce blood pressure, ease digestion, and foster healthy tissue growth. The vegetable is high in insoluble fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, iron, and calcium.
Consider swapping out traditional iceberg lettuce for spinach in your next salad, or add a serving to your next sandwich.
This superfood has made a serious comeback on dinner tables in recent years, and for good reason.
Kale is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, potassium, calcium, and zinc.
Adding a serving of kale to your plate can improve your eye and bone health, boost your immune system, protect brain development, lower cholesterol, and even help prevent cancer.
Like most nutrient-dense vegetables, kale can help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping you full for longer with fewer calories.
4. Brussels Sprouts
These round, nutrient-dense buds are high in fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Eating plenty of Brussels sprouts promotes iron absorption, tissue repair, immune function, and gut and bone health. It may even help protect against chronic inflammation, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Even better, there are countless ways to add Brussels sprouts to your diet, including roasting them with garlic as a savory side dish or baking them in a zesty lemon sauce.
5. Turnip Greens
Like kale, turnip greens are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, and folate.
Not only can the vegetable help boost your immune system, protect your eyes and bones, and help stave off cancer, but it can also help keep your skin and hair looking great.
Vitamin A fosters the growth of bodily tissues, including skin and hair — keeping both healthy and moisturized. Turnip greens also contain choline, which helps with sleep, learning, and memory.
You can add raw turnip greens to salads, sandwiches, wraps, and soups or cook them in casseroles, or sautéed in a sauce of your choice.
Broccoli is chock-full of antioxidants that reduce inflammation, improve blood sugar levels, boost immunity, and keep your heart healthy.
Brimming with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and potassium, Broccoli also has high levels of a potent antioxidant that may lower cholesterol, oxidative stress, and chronic disease development. Uncontrolled oxidative stress can speed up the aging process and may contribute to a number of chronic conditions.
Nutritionists say broccoli is best eaten raw or lightly steamed to maximize its health benefits. Add a dash of fresh garlic — another nutrient-dense veggie — for taste.
Asparagus is full of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, iron, potassium, calcium, and protein.
It supports gut health, lowers blood pressure, eases inflammation, and helps prevent chronic disease.
It can also help prevent urinary tract infections by working as a natural diuretic, flushing excess fluid, bacteria, and salt from your body.
You can roast, steam, boil, grill, or even eat the long, thin vegetable raw. Try roasted asparagus seasoned with garlic, lemon, and Parmesan cheese, or toss it into a salad or pasta dish.
Carrots are rich in dietary carotenoids, which maintain the body’s immune system and promote healthy skin and aging. Much of this becomes vitamin A in the intestines, which is essential for growth and eye health.
Adding carrots to your diet may also support cholesterol balance, heart health, and gut health.
You can enjoy them raw as a snack, dipped in dressing, tossed in salads, cooked in soups, or included in a host of warm, cozy recipes.
Studies have linked diets that are rich in garlic to a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, blood pressure, and diabetes thanks to the plant’s antioxidant-dense, anti-inflammatory properties.
Fresh garlic contains a chemical called alliin, which offers a range of health benefits when converted inside the body, including antibiotic properties that help fight infection.
You can convert the alliin in raw garlic to allicin (which is the form of alliin that can provide these benefits) by chewing, crushing, or slicing it. You can also add it to any number of dishes, especially sprinkled on top or mixed into spicy, flavorful Italian dishes.
10. Green Peas
Although these starchy vegetables are higher in calories and carbs than others on this list, they’re bursting with fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.
This means they can strengthen your immune system, keep your energy levels high, support digestive health, and reduce your risk of chronic illness.
For diet and nutrition services at UPMC, visit upmc.com/services/nutrition.
About UPMC Nutrition Services
Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.