The following article ranks 191 of the healthiest vegetables by overall nutrient density, as well as by mineral density, vitamin density, fiber density, sodium content, and protein density using USDA nutrient database information.
When it comes to good dietary health, it’s hard to overdo it on vegetables. Adding veggies to your diet is one of the few things nearly all nutritionists will agree on.
Why are vegetables so good for us?
Many studies have shown that eating more vegetables and fruits (see our ranking of the healthiest fruits, too!) is correlated with lower risk of several diseases and longer, healthier lives.
According to Harvard Health, adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet is good for cardiovascular health, lowering your blood pressure, lowering your risk of several cancers, lowering your risk of diabetes, improving your gastrointestinal health, and improving your vision. An abbreviated list of highlighted studies:
“Compared with those in the lowest category of fruit and vegetable intake (less than 1.5 servings a day), those who averaged 8 or more servings a day were 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke.”
“In 2014 a meta-analysis of clinical trials and observational studies found that consumption of a vegetarian diet was associated with lower blood pressure.”
“A report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that non-starchy vegetables—such as lettuce and other leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, as well as garlic, onions, and the like—and fruits “probably” protect against several types of cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, and stomach; fruit probably also protects against lung cancer.”
And in the Blue Zones, where the local populations have a disproportionately high rate of active, healthy centenarians, their diets possess a plant slant. Meaning, whether they live in Japan, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, or America, they all eat meat rarely and focus mostly on plants.
The most nutritious vegetables have a wide variety (and high density) of nutrients important for a balanced diet.
Things like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals are found in vegetables, often in high amounts. This is important, because deficiencies in these micronutrients can lead to poor health.
The healthiest vegetables have a wide variety of these nutrients.
The healthiest vegetables have a high density of these nutrients. What does this mean?
It’s important to look at the nutrient density of foods, because ideally we all should be consuming a moderate amount of calories.
If you consume more calories than you expend throughout the day, you’ll gain weight. So, eating a reasonable amount of calories is an important first step in a healthy diet.
But within the calories you eat, you want to make sure these other essential nutrients are coming along for the ride!
This is also important for nutrients you might want to eat less of.
For example, sugar.
100 grams of blackberries have around 4.9 grams of sugar, whereas 100 grams of mung beans have around 6.6 grams of sugar.
But the _density _of sugar in blackberries vs. mung beans is very different.
100 grams of blackberries comes in at around 43 calories. That means, 4.9 grams of sugar represents roughly 45% of the calories in blackberries. Meanwhile, 100 grams of mung beans is around 347 calories - that’s around 7.6% of the calories from mung beans.
So even though mung beans look like they have more sugar on a _per-weight _basis, you’d need around 807 grams of blackberries to give you the same amount of calories. Suddenly, on an equal _per-calorie _basis, blackberries would have nearly 40 grams of sugar.
We do still recommend blackberries! They are one of these healthiest fruits out there. See for yourself on our ranking of the healthiest fruits!
The World Health Organization recommends that fewer than 10% of your calories come from sugar (ideally, less than 5%).
On a calorie-based comparison, mung beans are _much less sugar-dense _than blackberries.
Micronutrients are important for a well-balanced diet. But it’s also good to keep your macronutrients in check, too.
Your intake of dietary fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are important to keep within recommended balanced ratios.
Also important is the composition of these macronutrients.
For example, the American Heart Association suggests that less than 10% of your calories come from saturated fats.
The most nutritious vegetables in our ranking are very low in saturated fats. But fat is a critical and necessary component of your diet. Some fat is important.
And unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats in particular, show heart healthy properties.
All vegetables are low in fats, generally. But some vegetables with the best fat quality score were soybeans, radish seeds, and grape leaves. Nevertheless, you’ll likely need to round out your diet with some fats in addition to these healthy vegetables.
Vegetables can also be surprisingly excellent sources of protein. As you’ll see later, beans all contain high concentrations of protein. And other vegetables are also quite high in protein. Our protein ranking will show you which ones top our list of high protein vegetables.
Fiber is a very important dietary component that we often don’t get enough of in our diets.
Learn more about fiber intake, and see how much we eat on average!
Fiber is important for everything from heath health and gut health to weight-loss and insulin regulation. The healthiest vegetables are fiber-dense.
Whole foods are advocated among nutritionists in large part due to their vast array of various nutrients packaged together in piece. The synergies from this often add up to a number greater than the sum of their parts.
For example, the high sugar content of fruits is much less of a health issue because their high fiber content helps regulate the insulin response.
And fat-soluble vitamins are better absorbed when consumed with some amount of dietary fat.
Another benefit along these lines are phytochemicals - a term that embodies the molecules present in plant-based foods that often serve a nutrition and biochemical purpose but are not as well characterized by nutrition science.
For example, many vegetables are high in isoflavones and other polyphenols that exhibit antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties. And tomatoes, for example, are high in lycopene and thought to have anti-cancer properties.
To rank high our list of the healthiest vegetables, it takes more than just a high density of one or two nutrients.
And not only does a wide variety of nutrients rank beans higher on the list, but having high concentrations on a _per-calories _basis that go towards meeting your dietary reference intake (DRI) values for the day improve their ranking.
However, consuming many of these nutrients in excess of quantities that should provide enough nutrition to thwart both clinical and sub-clinical deficiencies won’t provide much added benefit.
Therefore, the healthiest beans in our ranking have a high density of nutrients, but also a breadth of nutrients. They provide a more complete and well-balanced source of more nutrition than the others.
Taking all of this into consideration, the collards rank #1 on our list of the healthiest vegetables!
Collards are dense with many essential nutrients. In fact, they meet your DRI for all of the minerals on our list! They also are high in all of the water-soluble vitamins except for vitamin B12 (which is only present in animal-derived products), as well as vitamin E. They also contain important phytochemicals, they are low calorie and dense with fiber, and they have a heart healthy fat profile.
Without further adieu, here is a snapshot of our ranking of the healthiest vegetables from best to worst. Or, check out the interactive chart, here!
Many people don’t think of protein when they think of vegetables. That may be because most vegetables (with the exception of just a few) are considered incomplete proteins.
Incomplete proteins don’t contain all of your essential amino acids in large quantities.
The simple solution is to eat more than just one kind of vegetable. It doesn’t take many to round out your amino acid needs.
And in addition to variety, it might surprise you that most vegetables actually contain a decent amount of protein in them.
The USDA Guidelines recommend that 10-35% of your daily calories should come from protein. So how many calories in our list of the healthiest vegetables come from protein?
It turns out, only 23 vegetables don’t meet the 10% threshold. That means, 87% of vegetables contain a good amount of protein. In fact, 54 of them (28%) are _more than _35% protein!
Many beans rank high on the list of healthiest vegetables, both in terms of nutrition as well as protein content. In fact, beans are listed by the USDA in both the vegetable category and the protein category.
On a calorie-by-calorie comparison, watercress **is the most protein dense vegetable**. In 100 grams of watercress, there are 2.3 grams of protein. That might not sound like much, but 100 grams of watercress only comes in at 11 calories. At 4 calories per grams of protein, watercress tops out at nearly 84% protein!
At 13.09 grams of protein for every 100 grams, mature, sprouted soybeans have the highest protein content of any vegetable on a per-weight basis. Though not as protein-dense as watercress, soybeans are still roughly 43% protein (and also a complete protein).
See a snapshot of the healthiest vegetables ranked by protein density, below. Or compare the protein in vegetables with our interactive chart, here!
Vegetables are highly nutritious in large part due to their high fiber content. Fiber is important for health for many reasons. High fiber diets can improve heart health, improve gut health, improve immunity, help stabilize cardiometabolic abnormalities, and help you lose weight (see more below).
Unfortunately, roughly 85% of us don’t eat enough fiber daily according to NHANES survey data.
Studies show that adding fiber to your diet is beneficial in a dose-dependent manner. As long as it doesn’t upset your stomach, more fiber is better!
High in fiber density on a per-calorie basis are waxgourd and chicory. High fiber vegetables on a per weight basis include grape leaves and fireweed leaves.
See a snapshot of the ranking of the healthiest vegetables by fiber content below. Or see the interactive chart, here.
Fiber can help with weight loss primarily because it leads to increased satiety. In other words, fiber helps reduce your appetite by making you feel fuller, for longer.
The best vegetables for weight loss, therefore, have two things in common:
This combo will help you keep calories down, while also helping to keep you fuller, longer.
According to this ranking, the best vegetables for weight loss is the waxgourd! Other good vegetables for weight loss are chicory and nopales.
See a snapshot of the analysis, below. Or see the interactive chart, here!
It’s best to stick raw vegetables when aiming for health. Buying canned veggies may also come with a large amount of sodium used to preserve them. It’s best to inspect the nutrition label in these cases so as not to overdo it too frequently.
And while some sodium in diet is certainly okay (even necessary), too much sodium has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension - an affliction possessed by nearly half of all Americans. High blood pressure can increase your risk for stroke and heart attack, so it’s best to follow the advice of the American Heart Association and the USDA and keep sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day.
With that in mind, vegetables are again a fantastic choice. They are all generally low in sodium, and studies show they lead to lower blood pressure when they become a larger portion of your diet.
But if you are looking for vegetables with the lowest sodium content, look no further than tomatillos. They are as close to zero sodium as you’ll get!
Vegetables with the highest sodium content on both a per-weight basis and a per-calorie basis were pickles and seaweed.
But it isn’t just sodium that can affect blood pressure.
Although sodium tends to exhibit _hypertensive _properties, potassium tends to exhibit hypotensive properties.
In other words, potassium has the opposite effect on blood pressure compared to sodium
Therefore, the potassium-to-sodium ratio is arguably a better measure for assessing a foods overall impact on blood pressure.
In this case, pumpkins have the highest potassium-to-sodium ratio! See a snapshot of our analysis below, or check out the interactive chart, here!
Collards top our list of the healthiest vegetables! But also high on the list are asparagus, romaine lettuce, okra, and Brussels sprouts.
And many of the most nutritious vegetables rank high on our other rankings:
So there you have it!
Remember that all vegetables are excellent, nutritious additions to any well-balanced diet. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Plus, they’re delicious! Each has a unique flavor worth enjoying. Not to mention, they are versatile and can add amazing complexity to your dishes.
Where does your favorite land on the list!
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