Tufts nutrition experts list their top 10 healthy but overlooked vegetables
Here, in no particular order, are some vegetables that deserve a second glance for their nutritional benefits, according to Jeffrey Blumberg, a Friedman School professor and scientist in the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, and Helen Rasmussen, a Friedman School instructor and senior research dietitian at the center.
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 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 is associated with healthy blood pressure and reduced risk of some forms of cancer.
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.
The parsnip is a root vegetable with a culinary history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who cultivated it. The parsnip can be eaten raw, but is usually cooked—it becomes sweeter that way. In either case, parsnips are a good source of fiber and vitamin C and contain more potassium than many other vegetables.
Collards are a cruciferous vegetable, from the same family as broccoli and cabbage. These slightly bitter leaves are a staple in Southern cooking, along with kale, mustard greens and turnip greens. They are an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as dietary fiber. Collards also contain sulforaphane, which may help prevent some forms of cancer, and very large amounts of the carotenoid lutein, which concentrates in the brain and retina. It’s helpful to cut collards into small pieces so they cook more quickly, helping avoid the unpleasant sulfur smell associated with overcooking them.
This root vegetable tastes similar to a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter. It can be consumed raw in salads and slaws or cooked. Kohlrabi is often found in German dishes as well as Kashmiri cuisine. It is an extraordinarily rich source of vitamin C, with one serving providing the full recommended daily value.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine.