If you want to eat more veggies and indulge in a "comfort food" that's warming and satisfying, look no further than root vegetables. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and other disease-fighting phytonutrients, these vegetables add powerful nutrition to your diet and delicious flavor to virtually any savory dish.
The most popular root vegetable in the US is the white potato, but I urge you to move beyond this starchy mainstay to some of the other more nutritious options. Below I've detailed some of the very best options, including why they're so phenomenal for your health.
Did You Know?
- Root vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other disease-fighting phytonutrients
- The healthiest root vegetables include rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, onions, ginger, sweet potato, carrots, and beets
- Eat carrots and beets in moderation since they are relatively high in sugar
What Are the Healthiest Root Vegetables?
Rutabaga, a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, is rich in fiber and vitamin C (one cup contains 53% of the daily recommended value). Rutabagas are also members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer phytonutrients.
Rutabagas are also an excellent source of potassium, manganese, B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus. Rutabagas are also a good source of zinc, which is essential for immune support and may help protect your body from the effects of stress.
As a mild-tasting root vegetable, rutabagas work well roasted or baked, and can serve as a nutrient-rich substitute for potatoes. They can also be eaten raw along with a dip, such as hummus.
Turnips are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which are nutrient-dense and antioxidant-rich. Turnips contain a type of phytonutrient known as indoles, which may help fight cancer. One type in particular, brassinin, has been shown to kill human colon cancer cells.1 Turnips are also rich in fiber.
Just 100 calories' worth of turnips can give you 25-40 percent of your daily fiber requirement. Glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds found in turnip sprouts, appear to have anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and antibacterial benefits.
These root vegetables resemble carrots but are whitish in color and have a sweet, nutty flavor. Parsnips are rich in nutrients like fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. Eating foods rich in potassium is important because this nutrient helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium.
An imbalance in your sodium-potassium ratio can lead to high blood pressure and may also contribute to a number of other diseases, including heart disease and stroke.
Onions are a very good source of vitamins C and B6, iron, folate, and potassium. But it's their phytochemicals – including the flavonoid quercetin and allyl disulphide – that are most exciting to researchers. To date, onions have shown a wealth of beneficial properties; they're anti-allergic, anti-histaminic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant,2 all rolled into one.
In particular, onions are especially rich in polyphenol flavonoids called quercetin. Quercetin is an antioxidant that many believe prevent histamine release—making quercetin-rich foods "natural antihistamines."
Onions also contain numerous anti-cancer compounds, including quercetin, which has been shown to decrease cancer tumor initiation as well as inhibit the proliferation of cultured ovarian, breast, and colon cancer cells.3
In addition, the sulfur compounds in onions are thought to have anti-clotting properties as well as lower cholesterol and triglycerides. The allium and allyl disulphide in onions have also been found to decrease blood vessel stiffness by releasing nitric oxide.
This may reduce blood pressure, inhibit platelet clot formation, and help decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular diseases, and stroke. The quercetin in onions is also beneficial, offering both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may boost heart health.
Ginger is one spice that I recommend keeping on hand in your kitchen at all times. Not only is it a wonderful addition to your cooking (especially paired with garlic) but it also has enough medicinal properties to fill several books.
Ginger has broad-spectrum antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-parasitic properties, to name just several of its more than 40 pharmacological actions. It is also anti-inflammatory, making it valuable for pain relief for joint pain, menstrual pain, headaches, and more.
Ginger shows promise for fighting cancer, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, asthma, bacterial and fungal infections, and is one of the best natural remedies if you struggle with motion sickness or nausea (from pregnancy or chemotherapy, for example).
Orange-colored sweet potatoes owe their appearance to the carotenoid beta-carotene. As an antioxidant, beta-carotene can help ward off free radicals that damage cells through oxidation, which can speed up aging and make you vulnerable against chronic diseases.
This antioxidant can help support your immune system, as well as lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. Research shows that sweet potatoes can help regulate blood sugar because of their ability to raise blood levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone created by your fat cells, to help regulate how your body metabolizes insulin.
Sweet potato extract is said to help reduce inflammation in brain and nerve tissue throughout your body. The phytonutrients within sweet potatoes also influence fibrinogen, an important glycoprotein required for blood clotting. Together with thrombin and fibrin, balanced amounts of fibrinogen are important for wound healing and blood loss prevention.
The nutrients in carrots may provide protection against heart disease and cancer while helping to build strong bones and a healthy nervous system. Carrots contain falcarinol, a compound that may stimulate cancer-fighting mechanisms, and the consumption of carrots has also been associated with a lower risk of heart attacks in women.
Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and also contain vitamin K, vitamin C, and calcium. Carrots are healthy when eaten raw, but cooking carrots may help to boost their antioxidant levels and overall nutritional value even more. I generally recommend eating carrots in moderation because they contain more sugar than any other vegetable aside from beets.
Beet roots have always been included in my most recommended vegetables list, although, like carrots, they are in the "use sparingly" category because of their high sugar levels. Beet roots contain valuable nutrients that may help lower your blood pressure, a benefit that likely comes from the naturally occurring nitrates in beets, which are converted into nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide, in turn, helps to relax and dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure.
Nutrients in beets may also help fight cancer and inflammation, boost your stamina, and support detoxification. Specifically, the betalin pigments in beets support your body's Phase 2 detoxification process, which is when broken down toxins are bound to other molecules so they can be excreted from your body. Traditionally, beets are valued for their support in detoxification and helping to purify your blood and your liver.
Try This: Oven-Roasted Root Vegetables
Most root vegetables can be eaten raw, as part of a salad or slaw for instance, but their flavor really comes out when they're cooked. The next time you're looking for a healthy satisfying side dish, swap out your mashed potatoes for these nutrient-rich roasted root vegetables. The simple recipe below is from the Food Network;4 choose organic ingredients as much as possible.
Oven-Roasted Root Vegetables5
Preparation Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 1 hour
- 1 large butternut squash, (1 ½ to 2 pounds) halved, seeded and peeled
- 3 large Yukon gold potatoes (1 ½ pounds), scrubbed
- 1 bunch medium beets, (about 1 ½ pounds), scrubbed and tops trimmed
- 1 medium red onion
- 2 large parsnips (about 8 ounces)
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, and peeled (about 16)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place 2 baking sheets in the oven and preheat to 425°F.
- Cut all the vegetables into 1 ½-inch pieces. Cut the onions through the base core to keep some of the layers in chunky pieces. Toss all the vegetables with garlic, olive oil and salt in large bowl. Season generously with pepper.
- Carefully remove the heated baking sheets from the oven, brush or drizzle with olive oil. Divide the vegetables evenly between the 2 pans, spreading them out to assure they don't steam while roasting. Roast the vegetables until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Note: While the recipe above uses olive oil, I recommend coconut oil instead. Olive oil is susceptible to oxidation when heated and should only be used cold, whereas coconut oil is stable enough to resist heat-induced damage.
Sources and References