By Siobhan Adcock
Eating nutrient-dense foods is an efficient way to fill up on your daily As and Cs, but some vegetables pack more vitamins and minerals into every bite than others. Spinach is delicious, of course, but you have to mow down 2 cups of it to get the same amount of vitamin A as you’d get from a mere quarter cup of cubed sweet potato. And it takes 6 cups of that same spinach to get the amount of C you’d find in a half cup of broccoli.
Then you’ve got super-efficient veggies like the ones below, the plant world’s greatest multi-taskers. If you’re looking to punch up the nutritional power of your meals and snacks without having to go Peter Rabbit on someone’s vegetable garden, start with this list of veggies offering the best nutritional bang for your bite.
You’ve heard of going full HAM? Time to go full yam. Eating one sweet potato is an efficient and delicious way to get lots of fiber and, of course, vitamin A, plus essential minerals magnesium and potassium, and a boost of B6 and C. Sweet potato even helps you meet your daily calcium requirement, with more calcium per bite than you’d find in an egg. Try sweet potato baked with cinnamon, sliced thin and quickly pan roasted with a bit of salt and olive oil, or as a main course in this Sushi Bowl with Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Daikon and Avocado.
The orange beauties are hard to top for nutrients per crunch. Just one large raw baby carrot contains over 40 percent of your daily skin-saving Vitamin A, and a serving of baby carrots (about 9) will get you to 10 percent of your daily fiber and vitamin K, 6 percent of your daily folate requirement, and 4 percent of your daily iron and C. That’s a lot of essentials, and no one’s even brought out the hummus tub yet. Cooked carrots retain much of their nutritional profile while acquiring that inimitable sweetness—try them in Thyme Carrot Chips with Potato-Yogurt Dip.
Packed into just one crunchy leaf of bok choy is 10 percent of your daily vitamin C and 13 percent of your daily vitamin A. But who can stop at just one leaf? A one-ounce serving of bok choy is a very good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese. The very best way to eat it: Stir-fried with a bit of garlic until the stem is crisp-tender and the leaves are bright green and silky.
Even one tender floret of cauliflower is filled with folate and vitamins K and C. Cauliflower is also a cancer fighter, an inflammation buster, and a brain builder, with key amounts of the cancer-blocking compound sulforaphane, the anti-inflammatory indole-3-carbinol or I3C, and choline, a B vitamin linked to brain development. And it’s hard not to love the very idea of a juicy, crunchy, flavorful cauliflower steak.
Like its cruciferous buddy cauliflower, broccoli bears an impressive nutritional profile, and packs a ridiculous amount of antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients into each floret: Just for starters, you’ll get 30 to 40 percent of your C and K from each 1-ounce crunch. Broccoli stars deliciously in this superfood super-recipe that might be the healthiest leftover lunch that ever brought your co-workers crowding around your desk: Black Rice, Tempeh, Broccoli, and Kale.
Whether you eat the greens or the roots (or both), every bite of beet gets you closer to good health. The tasty beet greens, which are actually the healthier part of the vegetable, contain more iron per bite than spinach, more antioxidants per bite than an apple, and more minerals per bite than probably anything short of a handful of alluvial soil. Beet roots are particularly rich in energy-boosting nitrates, as well as the anti-inflammatory betaine, and are among the better sources of folate. Try them in this outstanding beet soup with miso recipe.
Dark leafy greens are among the healthiest foods you can eat, and tasty, colorful, crunchy chard tops the list of leafy nutrition powerhouses. Chard’s vibrant leaves and stalks show off this veggie’s unbeatable phytonutrient content—you know anything this colorful has antioxidants for days, and like beets, chard is a good source of anti-flammatory betalaines. And bite for bite, like any green leafy, it’s a good source of fiber. If you’re mostly accustomed to seeing chard relegated to the interior of a quiche, this Swiss Chard and Rosemary Pesto Pasta recipe may come as a pleasant surprise.
While one leaf of baby spinach may not convey Popeye’s superhuman strength, spinach still earns its spot on this list of veggies packing maximum nutrition into every bite. With its powerful mix of antioxidants, iron, essential minerals, calcium, and more than a dozen different anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds, spinach is uniquely dense in nutrients. The delicate green leaves shine in this recipe for Spinach and Green Pea Empanadas.
Oh, kale. When will people stop making fun of how overexposed you became, and remember to see you as the tasty, versatile, nutritional triple-threat that you are? If, in a moment of weakness back in 2010, you went online and ordered one of those Yale-style KALE sweatshirts Beyonce made famous, wear it with pride. And chow down on this amazing Kale-Carrot Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs knowing that with every bite, you’re getting more iron than from beef, more calcium than from milk, and more vitamin A and C than even from spinach or chard. Boom.
Pop one tasty, crunchy, gorgeously green sprout into your mouth (preferably after having sauteed it in a hot pan with a bit of sea salt) and congratulate yourself: You’re well on your way to meeting your daily recommended allowance of over 20 vitamins and minerals, from blood-boosting K to brain-boosting folate. Bite for bite, brussels sprouts are mightier than they look. Try them shaved and sauteed with shallots, lemon, dill, and almonds for a bright and filling side dish.
Also published on Medium.