Load up your shopping basket with carrots, beets, potatoes and squash, and you will see that the colors of root vegetables are as vibrant and varied as the leaves of autumn. But the beauty of root vegetables isn’t just skin-deep: these veggies are loaded with a multitude of vitamins, minerals and good chemicals that benefit overall health.
Wendy Caamano, M.S., R.D., C.D., a nutrition and fitness specialist and the Bellevue Club’s registered dietitian, enumerates the health benefits of root vegetables: “Root vegetables are awesome and have a lot of great properties for your health. They are definitely considered a whole food because they come straight from the ground and they are packed with fiber, which is good for your health and for satiety.”
It’s no coincidence these foods come in a rainbow of colors. “The different colors all offer different beneficial proprieties,” Caamano says. The varied hues are caused by naturally occurring phytochemicals, which give plants their color. While the specific benefits of these good chemicals have yet to be fully explored, experts know phytochemicals to work in synergy with vitamins, minerals and fiber to boost overall health and prevent disease. “The more variety of root vegetables you eat, the more variety of color you will consume, which leads to a diet high in a variety of different antioxidants, all working together to help keep you healthy,” Caamano says.
Beets and their saturated red-purple color are full of health benefits. “Beets, like other root vegetables, are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber,” Caamano says. They also contain flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Lycopene, found in red veggies such as beets, is an antioxidant linked to reducing the risk of some cancers and protecting against heart attacks. These brightly hued vegetables can be roasted for a side dish or eaten raw as a sweet-and-sour snack.
Carrots, sweet potato, squash, rutabaga and potatoes are excellent sources of alpha- and beta-carotenes. These carotenes are antioxidants and can also be converted by the body into vitamin A, which boosts immune function, aids in bone and skin health, and protects our eyes from cataracts. These veggies are also high in vitamin C, which boosts immunity. Chomp on some carrot sticks on the go, bake sweet potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes as a side, or substitute butternut squash for noodles in a pasta dish. The low glycemic index and high fiber content of these vegetables will help you stay full longer.
Though perhaps not the most radiant color, white vegetables also provide health benefits as they are packed with colorless phytochemicals and antioxidant flavonoids. “Garlic is packed with phytochemicals and when chopped, crushed and chewed, those properties become even more beneficial, helping to boost immunity and even act as an antibacterial agent,” Caamano says. Parsnips are packed with fiber, potassium and folic acid, which have wide health benefits from aiding digestion to preventing cancer. Their subtle, nutty flavor complements soups and stews, or parsnips can be pureed and added to mashed potatoes.
When your dinner plate is a work of art, your health will be too.