The term “vegetables” usually refers to all types of plants with edible parts (excluding sweet fruits and seeds). This label is often used arbitrarily, rather than scientifically. For example, mushrooms are often called vegetables, even though they aren’t biologically vegetables, but fungi.
As classification is generally within a cultural or culinary context, the term vegetable may be applied to the edible leaf, steam, tuber or root of a plant. Some vegetables must be cooked to be edible, while there are many vegetables which may also be consumed raw, depending on the consumer’s preferences.
What exactly are vegetables?
Vegetables are basically plants that are edible – either whole or in part. In everyday life, a food is referred to as either a “fruit” or “vegetables,” – the terms are not used interchangeably – particularly in a culinary context. However, from a scientific point of view, some vegetables such as eggplants, tomatoes and bell peppers are technically fruits, whereas cereals and grains are both fruit and vegetable. So, what are vegetables exactly?
Culturally speaking, some people associate the term “vegetables” with the leafy plants. The green color of leafy vegetables is due to the presence of chlorophyll, a green pigment that changes its color depending on it its pH conditions. Yellow and orange veggies such as carrots and potatoes contain carotenoids, which absorb light energy for use in photosynthesis and protect chlorophyll from photo damage. Vegetables contain a wide array of different vitamins. Thanks to their many nutrients, vegetables are highly regarded as healthy foods.
High in fiber and healthy benefits
- Weight Management: Most vegetables are not only rich in fiber and nutrients but are also low in calories. When fiber is ingested, it expands in the digestive tract sending a signal to the brain that the body is already “full.” As a result, the body gets a healthy magnitude of nutrients without tipping-off the calorie-balance scale. Dark green vegetables are high in fiber as well as Vitamins C, E, and K, with a significantly low calorie content.
- Healthy Circulatory System: Vegetables with fiber help the body get rid of artery-clogging cholesterol. A high level of cholesterol in the bloodstream may lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where plaques build up inside a person’s arteries, which in turn increases one’s risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Immunity Against Diseases: Researchers from the University of Cambridge found out that the breakdown of green, leafy vegetables in the body produces a compound which triggers aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) on cell wall surfaces. This process activates the immune system and fights diseases ranging from the common cold and influenza to more serious conditions such as cancer.
- Healthy Eyesight, Skin, and Bones: Orange and yellow vegetables are enormous sources of beta-carotene, a very powerful antioxidant. During ingestion, the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy eyes, skin and bones.
- Source of Protein: Vegetables such as legumes are not only fiber-rich, but are also good sources of protein, essential for the growth and maintenance of tissues and muscles.
Good for everyone
A healthy vegetable meal can come in many forms: roasted, fried, baked, mashed, microwaved or raw. Often people eat vegetables on salads, pizzas, stews and bread. Thanks to this versatility, vegetables appeal to a wide variety of consumers.
Folate, found on Vitamin-B carrying vegetables, is an essential nutrient that helps prevent certain birth defects. Therefore, they are recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
Vegetables such as turnips, broccoli, and garlic are very rich in calcium, which is healthy for bones, teeth and muscles. A calcium deficiency can lead to numbness in fingers and toes as well as loss of appetite. People with osteoporosis and similar bone problems definitely need calcium-rich vegetables to improve their condition.
Children should eat lots of vegetables as part a balanced diet, filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals, essential for growth and brain development. In fact, it is crucial for everyone, including adults, to eat vegetables often.
Types of vegetables
Vegetables can be divided into two main groups: below the ground vegetables and above the ground vegetables.
“Below the ground vegetables” include
- Roots and tubers of plants such as carrots, turnips, potatoes, garlic, taro, onions and radishes.
“Above the ground vegetables” include the following:
- Leaves such as cabbage, lettuce, kale and spinach;
- Flowers such as cauliflower and broccoli;
- Vine fruits such as chili and tomato;
- Stalks such as celery and asparagus;
- Pods such as peas, bean, and sweet corn; and
- Fungi such as mushrooms.
According to the National Gardening Association’s 2009 survey, here are five of the most popular vegetables:
- Tomatoes – contain carotene and lycopene, a very powerful anti-oxidant that is good for the heart.
- Cucumbers – originally from India but now widely grown, these are a very good source of potassium and vitamin K.
- Peppers – a popular cooking ingredient which can be green, red, orange, and yellow.
- Beans – one of the longest cultivated vegetables in the world, they are rich in protein, carbohydrates, fiber, folate and iron.
- Carrots – one of the most popular sources of beta carotene and can treat intestinal parasites, tonsillitis, or constipation.
Handle and store properly
Just like any food, vegetables need proper handling and preparation. Never buy damaged or bruised vegetables, and rinse thoroughly to help remove pesticides used during farming. Always remember to refrigerate vegetables, particularly pre-cut pieces, to avoid premature spoilage. When refrigerating, make sure that raw foods such as meat, seafood, poultry and milk are kept on a separate tray or container to avoid unwanted chemical reactions. Throw away vegetables that have had extended contact with raw proteins to avoid unhealthy bacteria.
As for storage, many root and non-root vegetables last longer than the average leafy vegetable. During storage, leafy vegetables lose a lot of moisture, which leads to rapid degradation, so these should be use as soon as possible after purchase.
To prevent molding, greening and sprouting, store vegetables inside cool, dark and dry places. Thoroughly wash utensils such as cutting boards, knives, basins and spatulas before using to prevent the spread of bacteria between vegetables.
Vegetables are crucial for good health and prevention of diseases. They are a diet essential, providing valuable nutrients which build up, maintain and repair the body. Remember to store them properly and to consume them when fresh. Most vegetables are best eaten in their raw form (like in salads) whereas other vegetables, such as yams and other tubers, need to be cooked to be edible. Proper sanitation and a keen eye for fresh vegetables are the keys to enjoying a delicious, safe and healthy vegetable meal.