When it comes to your health, it’s hard to go wrong with any vegetable but if you’re eating the same ones night after night – and most people are – you’re missing out. There are so many delicious veggies out there, each with a unique combination of vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant compounds called phytochemicals. That’s why eating a variety of vegetables, and getting that full array of compounds, is important for great health. Oh, and it’s also a lot tastier.
Here are five lesser-known vegetables that will liven your plate and give you plenty of health benefits.
1. Purple carrots:
Back a few thousand years, carrots with purple hues were the norm. These carrots owe their color to the natural plant pigment called anthocyanins. Scientists are studying anthocyanins for their possible health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and helping with our immune system. Most purple carrots are orange inside, which means they also contain the great health benefits of a regular carrot, the orange-colored phytochemicals beta- and alpha carotenoids that our body converts to vitamin A.
Purple carrots can taste similar to their orange counterpart, depending upon the type, some more bitter others sweeter. Plus, they are really pretty. Find these at farmers markets or stores with large vegetable selections.
To find out how to grow purple carrots along with a treasure-trove of carrot fun facts – eg, where carrots are mentioned in Shakespeare and Lost in Space – take a trip here: The World Carrot Museum.
This eye-catching vegetable is part of the same family as cauliflower and cabbage, which makes it one of the cruciferous vegetables. Like many of its family members, romanesco has plenty of folate, along with vitamin C and K. It also contains glucosinolates, which are believed to be very beneficial in the body’s resistance to certain forms of cancer.
But wait, there’s more! Romanesco is a mathematical delight. Each cone-shaped head showcases the spiral beauty of the Fibonacci pattern, a sequence of growth made by adding the two previous numbers together (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and so on). You can see more pictures of Fibonacci in nature here.
Oh, and how does it taste? Delicious! This veggie has a light broccoli-flavor but with a lot of crunch.
Ok, you’ve more than likely enjoyed this veggie in pie, but there’s a lot of reasons to try this hearty stalk in its less familiar non-dessert form.
Rhubarb contains vitamins A and C, as well as the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin. These two compounds fall into the carotenoid family and are studied for their role in eye health, among other benefits. A cup of rhubarb will also give you close to 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber.
You’ll probably need to add some form of sweetness to this tart veggie, whatever you make. You can try adding rhubarb stalks to smoothies or try it in a salsa. Here’s a recipe that sweetens the veggie with a little honey before tossing it in with some greens. Thanks, Martha Stewart.
Note: If you get wild rhubarb in stalk form make sure you don’t eat any of its leaves! They contain high amounts of a compound called oxalic acid, which can cause kidney damage and worse. (Grocery stores almost always sell rhubarb stalks without the leaves. Smart.)
4. Butter lettuce:
Who knew there were so many different types of lettuces? Like a lot of lettuces, it’s mostly water, making it less than ten calories a cup. So it fills you up while keeping you slim! It’s also packed with vitamins A, C and K.
Butter lettuce has loose leaves that are soft and smooth, just like its namesake. You might also see it go by the names Boston and Bibb, which are types of Butter lettuce. It has a natural sweetness so give it a try plain before you layer on the dressing. Then, if you want to try it beyond salads or sandwiches, here are some great ideas.
This root vegetable is fun to say (pronounced hic-a-ma) and eat. Also known as a Mexican turnip, you’ll probably find this in the grocery store near other root veggies like turnips and beets. It looks somewhat like a cross between a turnip and a potato. A cup of raw jicama is a great way to get vitamin C and dietary fiber. Jicama contains a fiber called inulin, which is a prebiotic (not a probiotic) and stimulates the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the colon.
This veggie also contains iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium.
Jicamas have a mild, often-sweet flavor and crunchy texture. You can eat it raw, like an apple, or cook it up and add to whatever dish needs a veggie or crunch boost. (Either way, you’ll need to peel its thick skin.)
Conclusion? Mix it up! Go find one of these veggies if you’ve never had them before. Or if you had one too many sides of green peas, grab a bag of sugar snap peas where you can eat the whole pod. Tired of the same old potatoes? Try a yellow or blue potato – yes, there are blue potatoes – each with its own flavor and nutrient profile.
Have fun, discover, and stay healthy!
Here are a few of our favorite recipe sites for inspiration:
And of course, if we missed your favorite exotic vegetable or a recipe that we absolutely must try, let us know!