Vegetables are naturally rich in nutrients with all that good stuff our bodies love. A diet full of healthful nutrients helps protect us from disease, supports the digestive system, and sets the foundation for a healthy heart.
In this guide, we dive into the benefits of nutrient dense vegetables. We will share our favorite veggies to add to your shopping list so that you can get the most out of your food in the easiest way possible.
Before you run to the supermarket to stock up on seasonal produce, we need to talk about nutrient density.
Let’s start with the basics: what is nutritious food?
When we think about healthy eating, many of us jump to calorie content. While calories are important, the main focus should be nutrients. Our bodies need nutrients to not only survive but to work at an optimal level. We need protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, and minerals for a ton of different functions. If we focus solely on calories, we tend to neglect the other important stuff.
“Nutrient density” refers to the nutrient content in relation to the number of calories. All foods have calories, but not everything you eat is nutrient dense.
We live in a world where it’s common in the Western diet to be nutrient-deficient in several vitamins and minerals. Yet, most of us are getting plenty of calories. For instance, a box of mac and cheese is typically high in calories. But, if you delve deep into the nutritional information, you will see that it lacks vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber.
The same goes for foods labeled “diet-friendly” or “low-calorie.” These foods focus on being low in calories, but they tend to lack nutrients too.
Another example is eggs. The egg whites are much lower in calories and fats than the whole egg. But, the egg white provides 1% or less than our Daily Value (DV) for crucial vitamins like iron, phosphorus, zinc, vitamins, and B12. In comparison, the whole egg packs a pretty powerful punch of between 5-21% of the DV for those nutrients. Egg yolks are not only high-fat but a nutrient dense food.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally nutrient dense foods that are low in calories. Foods like nuts, full-fat yogurt, egg yolks, and avocado are also nutrient dense but higher in calories. Both of these types of foods are perfectly okay to eat.
Just because a food is high or low in calories doesn’t automatically make it good or bad for you. The truth lies in the nutritional information. If we make our food choices by only looking at calorie content, we potentially miss out on all those nutrients and minerals that support a healthy lifestyle.
A general rule for healthy eating is to focus on foods rich in nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Typically that means eating fruits, veggies, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and beans.
We all remember being told to eat our greens or hit our five-a-day growing up. Adding more nutrient dense foods like vegetables to your diet can improve your overall health. Vegetables contain nutrients that your body needs to function at a basic level. Eating more vegetables is a great place to start if you’re looking to boost your immune system, smooth your digestion, and protect against disease.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. At the same time, it can help to prevent some types of cancers and lower the risk of developing eye problems.
Another way nutrient dense vegetables benefit your health is by supporting your digestive system. Veggies are full of fiber which your gut needs to function well. Fiber bulks up stools, promotes regular bowel movements, and keeps everything working as it should.
The minerals and vitamins in vegetables can help bolster your immune system. Antioxidants like vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene are super important for boosting the immune system and fighting infection.
When it comes to a healthy diet, variety is key. Although we could go on and on talking about our favorite nutrient rich foods, we’re going to keep it simple. Here are some of the best high nutrient foods to add to your grocery list.
Spinach is small yet mighty. Our favorite leafy veg, which you can find in our greens, steals the number one spot for the most nutrient dense vegetable.
A cup (30grams) of spinach contains:
16% DV for vitamin A
120% DV for vitamin K
It’s also high in antioxidants like beta carotene and lutein, which are associated with a lower chance of developing cancer.
If you need another reason to eat more spinach, research shows that people who eat a diet rich in vitamin K have a 34% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Carrots are full of vitamin A with 119% of your DV in one cup (128 grams). The orange color comes from its beta carotene content. The antioxidant may even help prevent cancer. Research shows that a higher beta carotene content in the blood is associated with a low incidence of cancer and other diseases.
Interestingly, 50% of beta-carotene intake in most European countries and North America comes from carrots. It’s widely accepted that carrots can play a role as a protecting vegetable against several diseases.
The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, an essential vitamin for vision, growth, and reproduction. Carrots, which you can find in our blushes smoothie, also contain other crucial nutrients like potassium and vitamins C and K.
Broccoli is full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One cup (91 grams) of broccoli contains:
77% of the DV for vitamin K
90% of the DV for vitamin C
The green vegetable is a rich source of glucosinolate and sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound found in cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower) and its byproduct.
There is growing evidence that sulforaphane could effectively prevent and treat various cancers like breast, prostate, colon, and skin cancer.
One study found that eating broccoli sprouts results in lower levels of several inflammation markers linked to chronic conditions, including heart disease.
Broccoli is one of the key ingredients in our ultra greens alongside other green goodies for a low-carb, high-fiber hit.
Part of the leafy green family, kale is another showstopper. Kale, which you can find in our greens, is known for its nutrient density and rich antioxidant content.
One cup (21 grams) of raw kale contains:
Vitamins A, B, C, and K
Beets are a major player in our beets reds, and for a good reason. The vibrant and versatile root veg is full of nutrients, including:
Another important nutrient in beets is nitrates. Your body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a compound that helps your blood vessels to function properly. The nitrates in beet juice may help lower blood pressure, which is a key component of a healthy heart.
Research shows that beets may improve endurance and athletic performance because of the nitrate content. Nitrates are a natural chemical that supports the body during high-intensity exercise and may benefit endurance and performance.
Beets may also improve blood sugar levels thanks to their phytochemical content. Overall, beets and their juice are nutrient dense, perfect for adding extra flavor to any dish.
Sweet potatoes are known for their vibrant orange skin and sweet taste but also have an impressive nutritional profile.
One medium sweet potato contains:
4 grams of fiber
2 grams of protein
Vitamins B6 and C
132% of the DV for beta-carotene
Like carrots, sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene. Eating beta-carotene is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, including lung cancer. Sweet potatoes may also be particularly effective in regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Sweet potatoes are surprisingly versatile. You can roast, mash, puree, boil, and steam them. Or, you can drink them in our peaches smoothie for the ultimate fuss-free recipe.
You can add so many nutrient dense vegetables to your weekly dishes. We could keep talking about our favorite veggies, but the list would be far too long. These vegetables are the perfect place to start and offer a variety of nutrients to improve your overall health.
If you're looking for a simple way to improve your health and tick off all the nutrients your body needs, add these vegetables to your shopping list. Alternatively, you can effortlessly sneak nutrient dense vegetables into your diet with a daily smoothie. Kickstart your day with fruit and veggies in seconds.