Versatile and nutrient dense, vegetables should form an important part of our daily meals. Most vegetables are naturally low in calories but are loaded with vitamins and minerals which make them so essential to be included in our diet. Vegetables provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of our body. Eating a variety of vegetables helps in maintaining your weight as well as your blood pressure. They provide various disease fighting vitamins and minerals that protect against the development of certain types of cancer.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, a low-calorie food is any food that is 40 calories (kcals) or less per serving. Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are cholesterol free. Non-starchy vegetables provide the least number of calories per serving. Most of these non-starchy vegetables are high in water content with a low calorie count.
The American Heart Association recommends eating eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, of which more should be of vegetables.
GOURD VEGETABLES: most gourd vegetables provide between 12-19kcals per 100grams of serving. These gourd vegetables include ash gourd, bitter gourd (karela), bottle gourd (lauki/dudhi), ridge (turai) and snake gourd (padwal), of which bottle gourd and snake gourd provide the least amount of calories i.e.12kcals per 100 grams of serving. Although these gourd vegetables are very low in calories, they do come with a lot of health benefits. These vegetables help in boosting immunity and aid digestion.
GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES: such as amaranth leaves, spinach, radish leaves, cabbage, methi/fenugreek leaves, iceberg, kale, etc. provide approximately 25kcals per 100 grams of serving. Cabbage and lettuce give 21kcals per 100grams whereas, spinach and radish leaves provide 26kcals and 24kcals per 100 grams respectively. Pak choi/bok choy leaves provide a minimum of 16kcals per 100 grams of serving.
These vegetables are good sources of dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and folic acid. Fibre is essential for proper bowel function, helps reduce cholesterol levels and even manages blood glucose levels. These fibre containing vegetables provide a feeling of fullness with very few calories. Hence, they form an important part of a fat loss diet or anyone who is on a calorie-restricted diet. The high fibre content in these green vegetables controls blood sugar spikes by causing a gradual increase in blood glucose levels, thereby playing a crucial role in people suffering from diabetes. It is also beneficial for people suffering from cardiac conditions, obesity, pre-diabetes, PCOD and other lifestyle disorders.
Significant levels of potassium in vegetables like spinach help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Green leafy vegetables are also a good source of folic acid and should be consumed especially by women who plan to conceive. It helps the body produce red blood cells, reduces the risk of neural tube defects and therefore, plays an important role in foetal development. Hence, folate from these vegetables is particularly important for women of reproductive or child-bearing age.
BEANS AND OTHER VEGETABLES: Other vegetables like cucumber, french beans, zucchini, capsicum and other bell peppers also provide approximately 20kcals per 100 grams of serving. Celery stalk contains up to 16kcals per 100 grams. Other vegetables like tomato, pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli, field beans, ladies finger, etc. all provide between 20-30kcals per 100 grams. Other beans like cluster beans, broad beans and field beans provide 30-40kcals/100grams of serving.
Vegetables such as cabbage, onions, garlic, cauliflower and broccoli contain compounds called phytochemicals that inhibit the growth of cancer cells and development of tumours. These orange – yellow coloured vegetables also contain antioxidants which play a role in preventing certain types of cancer. Bell peppers are a good source of vitamin C which help in wound healing and also aid in iron absorption in the body. Vitamin C also plays the role of an antioxidant in the body, improves immunity and helps fight common cold. According to the American Dietetic Association, tomatoes known for their lycopene content serves as an antioxidant which may help prevent colorectal cancer. Mushrooms which provide about 25-30kcals/100 grams depending on the type of mushroom consumed are a significant source of vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin and selenium.
Root vegetables like beetroot and carrot provide up to 35kcals per 100grams of vegetable. These root vegetables are higher in calories as compared to the other vegetables but yet not the ones with the highest calorie content. These still fall under the category of low calorie food and they do come with a whole lot of health benefits as well.
HIGH CALORIE VEGETABLES: Those vegetables that provide slightly higher calories i.e. between 70-100 kcals per 100grams are the starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato and yam.
Thus, knowing the various benefits of vegetables, we should all make an effort to increase our vegetable intake on a daily basis. Start including them as salads, soups (unstrained), stews, as a separate dish for lunch and dinner or even as a base for various dips. Choose seasonal vegetables and try incorporating a variety of them of different colours in your diet to gain maximum benefit from each one of them!