9 health benefits of eating vegetables

Vegetables range from the humble carrot to the butternut squash, to broccoli and kale. They can be roasted, baked, mashed or simply eaten raw, and in any capacity pack a variety of important benefits for your health and well-being. Below are 9 health benefits you can reap from eating a variety of vegetables.

1. Reduce the risk of cancer

This can be arguably the greatest possible health benefit of eating vegetables, and with cancer causing, in 2014, 1 in 4 of all deaths in the United Kingdom, it seems that more people are becoming struck by the illness.

But how do vegetables possess a possible healing or prevention for the symptoms of or diagnosis of cancer? It seems that many scientists have found that Vitamin C could play a crucial role as a block to the disease.

And how does Vitamin C relate to vegetables? Well, when looking into the foods containing Vitamin C, it is clear that, from the green chilli pepper containing 244 mg per 100g to the aubergine at 2mg per 100 grams, that vegetables along with fruit dominate the list of foods rich in Vitamin C.

Dr Linus Pauling and Ewan Cameron devised, in a 1971 study of 1,100 cancer patients, a demonstration of the power of the vitamin. 100 of the cancer patients received 10 grams of Vitamin C a day until the conclusion in 1978, while the other 1000 received no extra Vitamin C supplementation in that time.

By the end of the study, 13 of the 100 had survived while none of the 1000 remained. Furthermore, 12 of the 13 showed no further signs of cancer.

We could consider these results to be due to another crucial effect Vitamin C has on the body, which is to build the immune system.

The vitamin is found in high levels in immune cells, which fight infection in the body, so eating vegetables which are rich in Vitamin C decreases the chance of illness.

Vegetables high in Vitamin C include:

  • Red bell pepper (190mg per 100 grams)
  • Parsley (130mg per 100 grams)
  • Broccoli (90mg per 100 grams)
  • Brussels sprouts (80mg per 100 grams)

2. Help your skin become more radiant

Although initially this may not seem like an obvious benefit of eating vegetables, a study by Dr Ian Stephen at the University of Nottingham (2010) suggests that for those looking to gain a greater glow, there can be no longer lasting remedy than that of the vegetable.

The study found that when consuming vegetables high in carotenoids – Vitamin A and beta carolene, (both powerful antioxidants), such as carrots, tomatoes and bell peppers, the participant had a healthier skin colour than could be obtained by simply sun tanning.

Carotenoids are compounds which give vegetables their bright colour. Other vegetables with high concentrations of carotenoids include:

  • Sweet potato (Baked) per 100g – 384% of DV (Daily Value)
  • Kale (Cooked) per 100g – 272% of DV
  • Cos/Romaine Lettuce per 100g – 174% of DV

3. Help with weight loss

This may come as no surprise, as most vegetables contain near to no levels of fat, saturated fat or sugar.

However, it is not the simply the low-fat content which can aid weight loss, but also the percentage of fibre and energy density (ED) found in some vegetables.

ED can be seen simply as the amount of calories in food; the greater the energy density, the higher the calories. Fibre has been commonly thought to leave you feeling fuller for longer when eaten.

Yeo and Roberts et al (2001) found in a study (lasting longer than six months), that they could see a link between eating low fat, high fibre foods and weight loss, versus the gaining of weight in high fat, low fibre foods.

Vegetables which fall into the category of ‘high-fibre low-fat’ include:

  • Aubergine (3g of fibre per 100g, 12% of daily allowance, 0.2g of fat per 82g, 0% of daily allowance)
  • Carrot (2.8g of fibre per 100g, 11% of daily allowance, 0.2g of fat per 100g, 0% of daily allowance)
  • Sweet potato (3g of fibre per 100g, 12% of daily allowance, 0g of fat per 100g, 0% of daily allowance)

4. Improve mental health and memory

It is commonly thought that the high Omega-3 content found in fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, and in milk, improve the way the brain functions, however, it is also important to consider the importance of vegetables in memory recall and mental health.

Similarly to the reasoning in vegetables being important to weight loss, their low fat content has been proved to aid with the retention of memory, as shown in a study by Olivia Okereke MD et al (2012).

In this study, the researchers found that over the period of 4 years of testing the mental capacity of their subjects, those with a higher saturated fat content in their diet, performed worse in mental tests. Further research suggests that this could be due to a build up of fatty, plaque-like deposits in the beta-amyloid section of the brain, something seen in Alzheimer sufferers.

However, one particular vegetable could possibly contribute to mental health on its own; the tomato.

The pigment which provides the tomato with its bright red colour is lycopene, and this has been shown to have mental health benefits in a Finnish study by Karppi et al (2012)

The study set out to consider the effects of Vitamin’s A and B on strokes, however, the findings found that, of the 1,031 men tested, those with the highest lycopene concentrations were 59% and 55% less likely to suffer a stroke. Other vegetables high in lycopene include:

  • Red bell peppers (cooked) per 100g – 484 micrograms
  • Asparagus (cooked) per 100g – 30 micrograms
  • Red cabbage per 100g – 20 micrograms

5. Improve eyesight

Carrots have always been presented to us as being good for eyesight, with some people suggesting that you can even receive a level of ‘night vision’ from them.

So, how much of this true? And do any other vegetables improve eyesight?

In a study from Perlman et al (1983), they found that the claims surrounding Vitamin A and increased sight were valid. They tested various patients with poor eyesight, measuring the levels of Vitamin A in their system, before they had an operation on their eye. They found that the Vitamin A levels in their body were severely reduced.

Some patients then received a high Vitamin A dosage after the operation, while others did not. The findings showed a complete change and retention of eyesight after 7 months in the group supplied with Vitamin A, compared to those who did not have the injection.

This, along with the fact that they had poor vision when Vitamin A levels were low, brings greater reliability to the claims of vegetables enhancing eye vision.

Although we can receive a high concentration of Vitamin A from carrots (cooked – 341% of the Daily Value per 100g), other vegetables contain similar levels, including Spinach (cooked – 272% DV per 100g) and Collard greens (100% DV per 100g).

Leafy greens such as Spinach, Collards, Kale, Beet greens and Pak Choi have also been suggested to possess the same qualities in enhancing eyesight, through a duo of compounds called lutein and zeaxanthin.

In a study from Leung et al (2004) the researchers used a species of monkey known as Rhesus, a close relative of the chimpanzee and human, believed to have 93% similar DNA to a human, and tested how the retinal development and solidity of sight was affected.

One set of monkeys was to be fed a purified diet almost free of lutein and zeaxanthin n-3 fatty acids, while the other monkeys were to be supplied with a supplement of pure lutein and zeaxanthin every 6 to 24 months. They found that the retinal structures and sight were being compromised in the diet free of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Although the Rhesus monkey is not an exact match for a human, it is clear that having a diet rich in leafy greens and carrots benefits eyesight for the regular person.

6. Make you happy

It may sound a little strange to hear that eating vegetables regularly can give you an increased sense of happiness, however there is scientific evidence behind the claim.

In a recent study by TS Conner et al (2015), 405 people were asked to eat vegetables, fruit, sweets and chips, and asked to fill an internet diary with feelings on how happy they were, and how strong their sense of well-being was. The conclusion found that those who ate fruit and vegetables achieved a greater sense of happiness versus those who ate sweets and chips.

One possible reason for this is due to the lack of fat in vegetables, showcased in a study by Brunner et al (2009), which suggests that those who eat food with a higher fat content are more likely to become depressed.

This is further reinforced in an Australian study by Mujcic et al (2014), in which 13969 individuals were asked how happy they were after eating vegetables. The researchers concluded that vegetables have an important role to play in not only the physical, but mental health of people in society.

The beneficial element of eating vegetables to increase happiness is that, all vegetables are good to eat, regardless of levels of vitamins and minerals.

7. Keep you hydrated

If you want to stay hydrated, the chances of you reaching for a slice of radish might be low, however, it is important to understand that vegetables can keep you feeling fresh.

On the top of the list of vegetables with the a high water content are cucumbers, celery and lettuce, all made up of a staggering 95% water.

They are closely followed by tomatoes (94% water), while green cabbage is compromised of 93% water. Cauliflower, eggplant, red cabbage, peppers and spinach all contain 92%.

Other vegetables with high amounts of water include broccoli (91%), carrots (87%) and green peas (79%).

Although they are not completely water based, it is clear that vegetables can play an important role in helping you stay hydrated.

8. Lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and strokes account for a vast amount of recorded deaths in the UK, with almost identical mortality rates to cancer, at around 160,000 people as of 2011.

However, science has proven that these wide-reaching diseases can be reduced through higher vegetable consumption.

Wang et al (2014) found that, in a sample of 833,234 people with cardiovascular and cancerous conditions, that up to 5 vegetables a day decreased the chance of, in particular, cardiovascular diseases.

Similarly, Bazzano et al (2002) found that, over a sample of a little over 9,000 people aged 25-74, vegetables could decrease the chance of mortality in a variety of cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and ischemic heart disease.

One way of interpreting these results, is by understanding how to reverse or treat your cardiovascular disease in diet.

The Harvard Public Health Institute suggest that ‘bad fats’ such as red meats and full-fat diary products (which create a higher level of cholesterol in the body), if eaten over a long period of time, can be fatal.

Therefore, avoiding foods high in saturated fat can improve the way the heart functions, which is why vegetables are an incredible addition to any persons diet.

‘Good fats’ can be crucial for maintaining a healthy heart, and are found in fatty fish – salmon and tuna, and also olive oil.

Vegetables which possess good fats when eaten include:

  • Avocados – per 100g contain 15g of fat
  • Black Olives – per 100g contain 11g of fat

9. They are cheap!

Most healthy meals consist of proteins, carbohydrates and fat. A majority of protein is mainly obtained from meat products, but how does this compare in price to vegetables high in protein?

The economical benefits from certain vegetables against meat is vast. When comparing £1 to the amount of grams bought, we see that 500g of lentils can be purchased for £1 and 500g of chick peas (both packaged) for £1.15. However, only a little over 120 grams of chicken breast (packaged) can be purchased for same amount of money.

These three foods are all rich protein sources. When comparing them per £1 of the product bought however, we find that chicken only delivers 30g of protein, lentils 45g and chick peas 95g of protein.

Similarly, the high-fibre content is apparent in lentils (40g – 160% of the daily allowance) and chick peas (85g – 350% of the daily allowance) with 0 grams in chicken, meaning that not only do these vegetables provide great monetary value, but also great nutritional value. The high levels of protein and fibre leave you feeling more satisfied for a prolonged period of time.

Conclusion

There are many different vegetables which can be eaten, and they provide lots of important health benefits. The fact that vegetables can not only be roasted, baked, mashed or consumed raw but also be boiled, sautéed, steamed, grilled or fried, makes them one of the most versatile foods in the world.

I hope this article has enticed you into working more vegetables into your diet. Happy eating!