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Vegetables are all the parts of plants that are consumed as food. A diet rich in vegetables of many varieties can assure good health, because vegetables are great sources of nutrients and eating them in adequate amounts daily can keep many diseases at bay. The World Health Organisation recommends that adults should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day (excluding starchy vegetables like potatoes). 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), vegetables are annual plants which are cultivated as field crops and garden crops. Some are cultivated in open fields, while others are grown under the protection of glasses. Some vegetables, like green maize and green peas, are often classified as cereals and legumes. When chillies are harvested as vegetables, they are not classified as spices.

China is the world’s leading producer of vegetables, followed closely by India. These two countries are followed by the USA, Turkey, Russia, Nigeria and Vietnam. India is the largest producer of ginger and okra, and ranks second in the production of potatoes, onions, cauliflower, brinjal, cabbage, etc. Here’s everything you need to know about vegetables, and why you should include them in your diet.

  1. Types of vegetables
  2. Nutritional value of vegetables
  3. Benefits of eating vegetables
  4. Side effects of eating vegetables
  5. How to use vegetables
  6. Takeaways

Types of vegetables

There are a number of ways in which vegetables can be classified, based on their family groups and seasonal growth periods. But the best way to classify vegetables is through the parts of the plants they come from.

Nutritional value of vegetables

Vegetables are generally considered to be healthy because they have a very high concentration of a number of nutrients, apart from storing a lot of water. Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, and do not contribute to cholesterol unless packaged with preservatives or added sugars. All vegetables are rich sources of dietary fibre, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, and minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium. Most vegetables are especially rich in phytochemicals like phenolic acid, carotenoids, flavonoids, etc. Though low in protein, sodium and sugar, most vegetables also have these nutrients in some amount - which is why vegetarians need more sources of protein, like legumes, dairy products, etc.

Benefits of eating vegetables

Every doctor and nutritionist recommends the inclusion of a variety of vegetables in your diet because these foods, whether eaten raw or cooked, have immense health benefits to impart. To reap these benefits, you should include seasonal vegetables of different colours and types into your daily food intake. The following are some of the benefits you can reap from eating adequate amounts of vegetables daily.

  1. Vegetables aid weight loss
  2. Vegetables keep the heart healthy
  3. Vegetables help control blood pressure
  4. Vegetables improve digestion
  5. Vegetables keep infections at bay
  6. Vegetables reduce risk of anemia
  7. Vegetables improve skin quality
  8. Vegetables reduce cancer risks
  9. Vegetables may improve psychological well-being

Vegetables aid weight loss

All vegetables have very low calorie content and almost negligible carbohydrates (except starchy vegetables like potatoes). The high concentration of dietary fibre in all vegetables means that you will feel fuller for longer, without adding to your waistline. Packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, vegetables also provide all the necessary nutrients for a healthy weight loss regime, hence the reason why you won’t find a single diet out there which excludes vegetables.

Vegetables keep the heart healthy

According to the World Health Report of 2002, low fruit and vegetable intake is estimated to cause 31% of heart disease and 11% of strokes reported worldwide. Including vegetables in your diet reduces this risk exponentially. This is because all the nutrients which are packed into vegetables - dietary fibre, magnesium, potassium, phytochemicals - are traditionally linked to good heart health. These reduce the risks of high cholesterol, avoid the clogging of arteries and improve blood circulation - all of which contribute greatly to a healthy heart.

Vegetables help control blood pressure

Most vegetables are rich in potassium and nitrates. The kidney maintains blood pressure levels in the body by balancing sodium and potassium levels. If eating too much salt wrecks this balance, then adding potassium via vegetables helps maintain it better. As a research published in Nutrition Research Reviews in 2013 mentions, the inclusion of dietary nitrate through the consumption of vegetables reduces high blood pressure levels, especially the systolic level.

Vegetables improve digestion

Also known as roughage, dietary fibre passes through the body intact, without breaking down due to stomach acids. Fiber regulates bowel movements, and is effective against both diarrhea and constipation. What’s more, enough roughage in your diet can help reduce gas and bloating too. What are the best sources of dietary fibre? Vegetables, of course. So, eating adequate amounts of vegetables will give your digestive system a boost.

Vegetables keep infections at bay

Most vegetables - especially green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, lettuce, etc - are full of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. All of these have immunity boosting qualities, and can help your body fight viral infections, bacterial infections and fungal infections too.

Vegetables reduce risk of anemia

Anemia occurs due to a deficiency of iron in the body, and is a problem that especially ails women. Eating foods rich in iron can help fight the risk of contracting anemia. Vegetables, especially green leafy ones like spinach, have an exceptionally high level of iron, and including them in your diet is the best way to keep anemia at bay.

Vegetables improve skin quality

Most vegetables are rich in vitamins A and C, and are packed with antioxidant properties from all the phytochemicals. Beta-carotene found in carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin, and lutein found in kale, spinach and papaya, are especially potent. All of these can help you get glowing and clear skin.

Vegetables reduce cancer risks

Vegetables are chock full of nutrients that can reduce the risk of different types of cancers. Eating vegetables rich in carotenoids can reduce the risk of lung cancer and oral cancer. A diet rich in non-starchy vegetables can lower the chances of getting stomach cancer and esophageal cancer. Vegetables rich in vitamin C can reduce the risks of esophageal cancer, and those rich in lycopene (such as tomatoes) can lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Vegetables may improve psychological well-being

A study published in PLOS One in 2017 revealed that a diet rich in vegetables can boost the psychological well-being of young adults. Instead of reminding young adults between the ages of 18-25 years to buy and eat vegetables, researchers straight out provided them with vegetables to eat over a 14-day trial. They observed an improvement in the vitality and motivation levels of the subjects within this short duration and concluded that longer exposure could aid psychological well-being much better.

Side effects of eating vegetables

Including a substantial amount of vegetables in your diet is very important, but in some cases it can have serious side effects. This is especially true for those who have a serious health condition that requires them to reduce or completely cut off certain vegetables. People who have to go through a gastrointestinal surgery are also recommended to cut off vegetable intake prior to and right after the surgery. Here are a few instances when having vegetables can be bad for your health.

  1. Overeating vegetables can cause indigestion
  2. Vegetables can make irritable bowel worse
  3. Vegetables can cause kidney stones
  4. Overeating vegetables can cause renal failure
  5. Excess vegetables can turn you orange

Overeating vegetables can cause indigestion

Too much fiber intake can also have a bad effect on your digestive system, since dietary fibre passes through the body without breaking down. This can cause gas, bloating, indigestion and constipation.

Vegetables can make irritable bowel worse

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome then having vegetables can cause diarrhea or even bleeding in the stomach. People who have gastrointestinal diseases or digestive disorders should have a low-fiber diet and avoid eating too many vegetables.

Vegetables can cause kidney stones

Some vegetables, like spinach and tomato, have a high oxalic acid content. When combined with calcium-rich foods, it can form calcium oxalate crystals, which in turn are the most common causes of kidney stones.

Overeating vegetables can cause renal failure

People who suffer from chronic kidney disease should avoid eating too many vegetables, because they are rich in potassium and phosphorus. If the body is not able to process these nutrients, which is likely if you have kidney disease, it can cause renal failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Excess vegetables can turn you orange

This might sound strange and more like a myth, but an excess of beta-carotenes in the body can trigger a rare condition called hypercarotenemia. This can be harmless, but in some cases it can also prevent the body from absorbing other vital nutrients like vitamins A and C.

How to use vegetables

You can include vegetables in your diet by having them raw, cooking them, pickling them or turning them into healthy smoothies and soups. Here are a few things you must keep in mind if you want to reap the benefits of vegetables:

  • Buy fresh vegetables that are in season at the moment to guarantee both flavour and maximum benefits.
  • Include different types and colours of vegetables in your diet to ensure a variety of flavours and to gain maximum benefits from every type.
  • Avoid buying canned or processed vegetables, because these products can be high in sugar, sodium and other preservatives.
  • Always wash vegetables with clean, running water and rub the surface thoroughly to get rid of dirt and traces of pesticides or microorganisms.
  • Store vegetables away from raw meat, fish and poultry to avoid cross-contamination.

Takeaways

Vegetables are packed with nutrients that your body needs, from dietary fibre to vitamins and phytochemicals. Vegetables come in a lot of varieties throughout the year and when in season, most are readily and cheaply available. They are also very easy to use, since they can be consumed raw or cooked, and so you should include them in your diet to maintain your health and avoid the risks of hypertension, cancer and to improve your digestion. But if you have gastrointestinal issues, it’s best to consult a doctor about your vegetable intake. Remember to buy and use vegetables while they are fresh, and always wash them thoroughly before use.

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