What are the healthiest vegetables? The No. 1 pick, according to a dietitian

What are the healthiest vegetables? The No. 1 pick, according to a dietitian

Most people are familiar with the phrase “eat your vegetables” —and it’s good advice for many reasons. Yet, fewer than 10% of people get the 2 ½ to 3 ½ cups of vegetables needed daily to optimize their health. That’s a big miss because, of all the foods we eat, vegetables should take the prime place on our plates.

If you’re deciding which vegetables to add to your weekly lineup, check out our list of healthiest vegetables, along with some of their research-backed benefits.

What is the healthiest vegetable?

Spinach takes the top prize as the healthiest vegetable because of its range of nutrients and benefits.

Spinach contains numerous types of antioxidants that guard against cancer, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. One antioxidant abundant in spinach supports eye health and may protect against age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. Spinach is also loaded with other essential vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin A, K, and C.

One study found that compared to eating hardly any leafy greens like spinach, those eating just over a cup a day had the equivalent cognitive abilities of people 11 years younger.

Baby Spinach with Chiles and Garlic by Ed Brown

Top 15 healthiest vegetables

There is no doubt that spinach has a lot going for it, but including a range of vegetables in your diet is the most beneficial. This strategy helps you get the plant diversity you need to optimize your gut health while also helping you meet the recommended amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and get the broadest range of nutrients.

Take note that there are two types of vegetables: starchy and non-starchy. While both types include beneficial nutrients, starchy vegetables count as the carbohydrate portion of your plate. It’s a good rule of thumb to eat twice the amount of non-starchy vegetables compared to starchy foods, including starchy veggies.

Here are some of the healthiest vegetables to incorporate into your menu.

Collard greens

Like other leafy greens, collard greens have antioxidants that reduce cell-damaging oxidative stress — a phenomenon that contributes to a range of chronic issues. They’re also packed with other nutrients, including 25% of your daily requirement for calcium.

Collard Wraps by Robynne Chutkan


Kale belongs to the same vegetable family as broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous veggies. Research suggests that consuming higher amounts of these veggies may help prevent atherosclerosis, —hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup — which raises your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Joy Bauer’s Kale Chips by Joy Bauer


This cruciferous veggie is loaded with cancer-fighting compounds. In particular, the sulforaphane in broccoli has been shown to help prevent prostate, breast, colon, skin, bladder and oral cancers.

Among its many other nutrients, broccoli is high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that plays a role in skin health, iron absorption and immune functioning.

Roasted Broccoli with Lemon by Peyton Janicke

Sweet potatoes

The orange color of sweet potatoes tells you they’re rich in beta-carotene, a nutrient with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Beta-carotene has been shown to protect against sun damage and other environmental skin stressors, so it could potentially lower your risk of skin cancer and keep your skin looking younger.

You’ll also get 4 grams of fiber and several other nutrients, including vitamin A and small amounts of magnesium, vitamin C, folate and calcium from a small sweet potato.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries by Al Roker


In addition to supporting skin and eye health, carrots may help you manage your weight better than other veggies, according to a study that found lower rates of obesity among people with high carrot intake compared to those eating lots of spinach, broccoli, other green veggies and cabbage.

Researchers speculate that carrots’ high beta-carotene content, which has also been associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers and insulin resistance, may contribute to this benefit.

Carrot and Ginger Soup with Carrot-Top Pesto by Matt Abdoo


While tomatoes are technically a fruit, we eat them as vegetables, so we included them on our list of healthiest vegetables. Here’s why: Loading up on tomatoes, which are rich in the substance lycopene, may protect against cancer and reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Another study found that an antioxidant mixture including tomato carotenoids led to a reversal of wrinkles and improved skin tone while protecting skin from the sun’s harmful UVB rays. (However, sunscreen is still necessary.)

Choose a mix of raw and cooked tomatoes (such as tomato sauce and paste) to maximize the benefits.

Valerie Bertinelli’s Fresh Tomato Sauce by Valerie Bertinelli

Red Bell Peppers

Red bell peppers have the highest amount of vitamin C of all the peppers — more than 1 ½ times the daily value for this nutrient. One study found that vitamin C deficiency was associated with higher rates of depression and cognitive impairment. Another study revealed that those with adequate vitamin C status performed better on numerous cognitive tasks, including those involved in focus, working memory and decision speed.

Vitamin C also supports skin health and immune functioning and is protective against cancer, heart disease and other conditions via its role in fighting free radicals.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip by Samah Dada


What makes beets unique is the amount of nitrates they contain. This compound helps widen blood vessels, allowing blood to flow better, improving blood pressure and lowering the risk of heart disease. Plus, when blood flows better, you get better oxygenation to the brain, so the compounds in beets support brain health and cognitive function as you age.

On top of that, nitrates have been shown to lower the amount of oxygen consumed during exercise, so you may be able to exercise longer without the expected level of fatigue.

Beet-Citrus Blast Smoothie by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN


Besides being an easy stand-in for rice, potatoes and pizza crust, cauliflower boasts numerous potential health perks.

Cruciferous veggies, such as cauliflower, have been associated with a lower risk of cancer and a lower chance of dying early from any cause. Plus, the sulforaphane in cauliflower has been shown to slow the aging process, protect your brain against diseases, and potentially preserve cognitive abilities among people with certain disorders.

Sheet-Pan Korean Barbecue Cauliflower by Casey Barber


Mushrooms are so much more than a salad or burger topping! They’re rich in essential vitamins and minerals and can be a meaningful source of vitamin D, which is in few foods. Plus, certain compounds in mushrooms — notably, beta-glucan —have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-diabetes and immune-stimulating effects.

Valerie Bertinelli’s Stuffed Mushrooms by Valerie Bertinelli


Onions do more than add flavor to food; they’re extra-rich in a type of fiber called inulin, which has prebiotic activity. Prebiotics are the fuel source for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. As such, they contribute to a healthy gut and all the benefits, such as managing cholesterol, inflammation, and mood regulation, that are controlled by your gut microbiome.

Furthermore, an analysis examining the impact of onions on blood lipids found improvements in HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol.

Avocado & Red Onion Salad by Alejandra Ramos

Brussels sprouts

Like their cruciferous cousins, Brussels sprouts are loaded with anti-cancer compounds, including vitamin C, fiber, carotenoids, and sulforaphane. Cruciferous veggies, including Brussels sprouts, may protect against heart attacks and strokes. Compared to older women who ate few of these veggies, those who consumed higher amounts had less calcium build up in their arteries, a marker predictive of heart disease outcomes.

Bobby Flay’s Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Pistachios by Bobby Flay


While popcorn, whole corn tortillas and other such products are considered whole grains, corn on the cob and its kernels are starchy veggies.

The main carotenoids in corn, lutein and zeaxanthin, are the only carotenoids found in the macula of the eye that we get from our diet. Research has found these compounds protect your eyes and delay the progression of certain vision problems, including cataracts.

Charred Corn and Halloumi Salad by Edouard Massih


Thanks to canned pumpkin, it’s easy to eat this veggie — a relative of winter squash —any time you like. A cup of the canned, unsweetened stuff has seven of the 25 to 38 grams of fiber you need daily. It also contains more than 10% of the daily value of potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin A. Plus, the carotenoids in pumpkin boost your body’s natural sun protection (though you still need to lotion up with SPF).

Most of the fiber in pumpkin is the soluble variety. This type of fiber helps slow digestion so you feel fuller for longer. It’s associated with lower cholesterol levels, a reduced risk of heart disease and better blood sugar control.

Turkey and Pumpkin Chili by JJ Smith

Best vegetables to eat daily

Veggies are indisputably healthy, with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and other protective substances. However, since they differ in the amount of these beneficial nutrients they supply, it’s a good idea to vary your intake.

The USDA groups vegetables into different categories, including dark green, red and orange and starchy vegetables. Including all of these categories will maximize your nutrient intake and optimize your health. That said, the MIND diet, a well-studied eating pattern linked to improvements in cognitive abilities, suggests eating leafy greens six or more times each week.

Best vegetables for weight loss

Most vegetables contain fiber and water (along with other nutrients), which promote fullness and may assist with weight loss. They’re also low in calories and can help replace other higher-calorie, less filling foods, including snack foods and refined grains you may be eating. If this puts you in a calorie deficit, it can help you lose weight.

While research supports the link between non-starchy veggies and weight loss, there’s been mixed evidence around starchy vegetables. That said, a study investigating the role of potatoes on weight found no difference in weight loss among people following various diet styles who were consuming five to seven servings of potatoes each week. All groups lost weight.

However, portion size is relevant when it comes to starchy vegetables. A healthy, balanced eating plan consists of a half-plate of non-starchy veggies, with the rest of the plate divided between protein and carbohydrate sources. Starchy veggies are grouped with the carbohydrate sources, so they should take up a quarter of your plate.

Are some vegetables unhealthy?

All veggies have health-supporting nutrients and they all deserve a place on your plate. While some may have more significant amounts of these compounds than others, even those historically considered less healthy contain impressive amounts of certain nutrients.

For example, a cup of iceberg lettuce contains small amounts of potassium, folate, and higher levels of vitamin A, carotenoids, and vitamin K, a nutrient involved in bone metabolism. Cucumbers contain lots of vitamin K as well as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial substances, and evidence suggests they may promote heart health.

While we’ve listed some of the healthiest vegetables here, you can —and should — eat outside of this list. There are plenty of vegetables to choose from!

Curious about the healthiest fruits? A dietitian shares the top 15 to reach for.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com