Health Column: Different vegetables, different benefits

What is the big deal about vegetables?

When ranking vegetables based on the essential nutrients they provide, vitamin K is an important consideration. Based on studies, researchers suggest that vitamin K is protective against osteoporosis. Many Americans do not consume enough vitamin K, and the body does not store it for long. (Note: People on anti-clotting medications may need to avoid vegetables rich in vitamin K and should consult their physician).

Although all vegetables are nutritious, some are richer in certain vitamins and minerals than others. The Center for Science in the Public Interest ranked vegetables based on the percent of a day's worth of eight nutrients - carotenoids or beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, iron, potassium, calcium, fiber, vitamin K - supplied by a serving.

Vegetables that scored the best are greens that come from the cabbage family. They include kale, Swiss chard, collard greens and spinach, which is not from the cabbage family. Nutrients that contributed to their high score include vitamin K, carotenoids, calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin C.

A couple of these vegetables actually come in a variety of colors. Kale comes in deep green, red or purple. Chard can come in red or white.

The cabbage family of greens also offers cancer-fighting compounds.

Many people miss out on these greens because they do not know how to prepare them. However, the techniques are simple and these greens make tasty dishes with little added ingredients. All you have to do is steam the leaves in a small amount of liquid. Or, you can chop up the greens and sauté them in oil with a little garlic and herbs. They cook quickly; just let them sit a few minutes prior to serving.

You can also season these veggies with lemon or lime juice, or a little margarine. Fast, quick and simple to prepare.

Other top scorers include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, baked potato with the skin on, pumpkin, carrots, red peppers, butternut squash, asparagus, endive, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, green pepper, parsnips and peas.

Keep in mind that these results are not showing that certain vegetables are "better" than others. The vegetables not listed are still considered nutritious.

These results reflect a comparison of eight specific nutrients they provide. Some vegetables are rich in important nutrients not reflected in this particular ranking.

When going green, so to speak, deep colored fruits and vegetables tend to have the most vitamins and minerals. The plant pigments that give them their colors may help protect against chronic diseases such as cancer. This is due to their high antioxidant potential.

Light-colored fruits and vegetables, such as cauliflower and potatoes, are still nutritious foods that can be included in your diet. However, it's beneficial to try to consume deep-colored fruits and vegetables (such as cherries, peppers, blueberries, carrots and beets) on a daily basis.

Consuming a wide variety of vegetables and fruits is best - people who consume a variety of vegetables are less likely to be overweight!

Please note that vegetables like sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash and peas, although very nutritious, are higher in calories - about 80 calories per serving versus about 20 calories per serving of the other listed vegetables. That does not mean that they should not be consumed; we just need to be aware of appropriate serving sizes.