Your mother may have admonished you to “eat your vegetables” when you were a kid.
“Why?” you probably asked, especially if you didn’t like them!
Tastes change as we age, and you may now find that you enjoy most vegetables. Still, it can be hard to eat as many servings as the experts recommend (five or more per day). If you’re struggling, you may wonder: Is it really that important? The answer is a resounding yes.
1. Vegetables Pack a Nutritious Punch
Like fruits, vegetables are packed with the nutrients your body needs to function as it should. They contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals known for maintaining and boosting the health of your cells and organs, as well as helping keep your brain sharp. They also are a great source of dietary fiber, which is critical for healthy digestion as well as for reducing the risk of disease.
2. Vegetables Can Help You Avoid Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of humans around the world. Studies show that eating more vegetables can help you reduce your risk of this deadly disease.
A meta-analysis of nearly 470,000 participants, for instance, found that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, with an average reduction in risk of 4 percent for each additional serving per day.
Another interesting fact: although all fruits and vegetables help fight cardiovascular disease, green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens have been most strongly associated with reduced risk.
3. Vegetables Can Be Cancer Fighters
After cardiovascular disease, cancer was the second leading cause of death in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Research shows us that some vegetables can protect us against certain types of cancer.
In a study of over 182,000 women, for example, researchers found that those who ate more than 5.5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables had an 11 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate 2.5 or fewer servings. Some studies have also suggested that a higher intake of tomato-based products (particularly cooked ones) may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.
4. Vegetables Protect Your Vision
The CDC states that about 4.2 million people 40 years and older suffer from uncorrectable vision impairment in the United States, including one million who are blind. That number is expected to climb to about 2.01 million people who are blind by 2050, with 8.96 million suffering from uncorrectable vision impairment.
Eating more vegetables can help keep your eyes healthy and your vision strong. Vegetables contain nutrients your eyes need—like lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamins A and C—to help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
5. Vegetables Help Tame Inflammation
Chronic inflammation—internal inflammation that exists for several months to several years—is implicated in many of our most serious diseases today, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
Vegetables can help tame inflammation, as they contain nutrients that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. In a 2014 study, researchers found that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower helped reduce internal levels of inflammation. In a later meta-analysis, researchers found similar results, with a higher intake of fruits and vegetables leading to a reduction in inflammation and an enhanced immune system.
6. Vegetables Help Maintain Gut Health
Scientists have learned a lot about gut health over the past few decades. They now know that the gut is home to a community of bacteria that plays a huge role in health, including metabolism, energy, immune health, heart health, and even mental health.
A healthy gut includes a good balance of friendly bacteria. Foods high in fiber—like vegetables—play a major role in keeping gut bacteria in balance. In a 2018 study, researchers found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables improved gut diversity within two weeks. An earlier study linked a higher intake of fruits and vegetables with a healthier gut microbiome, as well as improved body mass index (BMI).
7. Vegetables Improve Brain Health
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds. In 2020, there were over 50 million people worldwide living with dementia.
Eating more vegetables may help you reduce your risk of falling victim to this devastating disease. In 2006, scientists found that eating vegetables helped protect brain function in aging adults. Those eating more than 2.8 servings of vegetables per day had significantly lower rates of mental decline than those who ate fewer servings.
Again in 2017, scientists reported that consumption of just one serving per day of green leafy vegetables helped slow cognitive decline associated with aging. That same year, another study showed that middle-aged men who ate lots of fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of cognitive problems later in life.
Vegetables are a dietary staple for a healthy, balanced diet, but if you’re trying to eat healthier, adding more veggies to your diet is a must. With an incredible variety of vegetables to choose from and many ways to prepare and cook them, you can enjoy many different dishes and flavors while getting all the vital nutrients that vegetables have to offer.