USDA Vegetable Guidelines

Benefits of Vegetables

Store Vegetables With Care
Unlike vitamins, the minerals in your vegetables are not destroyed by heat, air, and light. But you can lose them if you're not careful. If you cook vegetables in water, some of the minerals leach into the water and go down the drain when you throw out the cooking water. Instead, lightly steam vegetables, or cook in the microwave to retain the most minerals. If you boil veggies in water, save the water for your next batch of soup. Keep leftover cooking water in the refrigerator and use within several days.

Vegetables are nutrient powerhouses that are low in calories and full of fiber, which expands in your digestive tract and sends the "I'm satisfied and full" signal to your brain. As a result, you get full on fewer calories, and the calorie-balance scale will tip toward weight loss. Dark green vegetables are the lowest in calories and among the highest in nutrients. They're brimming with vitamins C, E, and K; vitamin A as beta-carotene; several B vitamins including folate, which helps prevent certain birth defects; and magnesium. Some offer bone-building calcium as well.

Wondering which lettuce gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck? Romaine contains the most nutrients. Dark-leaf varieties have more nutrients than those with lighter leaves. The ever-popular iceberg lettuce, for instance, offers little but water and a tiny bit of fiber. Orange vegetables are great sources of vitamin A as beta-carotene, a powerful cell-protecting antioxidant. The body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays a role in healthy eyes, skin, and bones. Legumes are fiber-rich and a good protein source. But when you eat legumes, count them only as vegetable or protein, not both. Double-counting will alter your total calorie intake, and if you double-count frequently, you could shortchange yourself on nutrients.

Legumes are packed with fiber, particularly soluble fiber -- the kind that helps your body get rid of artery-clogging cholesterol. But it also contains insoluble fiber, the kind that swells and keeps you feeling fuller, longer. Legumes provide iron and magnesium, too -- minerals that are often in short supply. Starchy vegetables are just that -- good sources of starch, or carbohydrate, that your body needs to make energy. They tend to be a little higher in calories than most other veggies but still have relatively few calories compared to other foods. They contain good amounts of potassium and fiber, too. All the other vegetables, which don't fit into one of the above subgroups, add a great variety of tastes, textures, and colors to our eating routine. Eat a wide variety of them to get an abundance of different nutrients as well as potassium and fiber, which are found in all vegetables.

In the next section we will offer a look at better and different ways to ensure you're including a good number of vegetables in your diet.