Vegetables: A Diverse Grouping of Plant-Foods Essential for a Healthful Diet
Vegetables have been cultivated by humans for many thousands of years in different parts of the world, and foraged for by hunter-gatherer humans before that.
The wild plants that were found by early homo sapiens to be non-toxic(the vast majority of plants are indeed toxic for human consumption), nutritious and tasty, have been selectively bred over many generations. They form the fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds and whole grains, that cultures around the world consume today as part of healthful and traditional diets.
The technical definition of what constitutes a vegetable is difficult to pin-down, but the clearest way to generally categorize a vegetable botanically is all the edible parts of a plant that are not the fruit. This includes the leaves, stems, roots, flowers and sometimes the seeds, though the seeds can often be classified as legumes or nuts, and the other parts when in dried form, as spices.
In cooking, vegetables are typically categorized as being any kind of savory plant food, which accounts for the reason that many botanical fruits, such as avocados, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes are often referred to as vegetables culinary. Mushrooms, which are an entirely different organism, also are often referred to as vegetables.
The main categories of culinary vegetables include:
- Leaves – Lettuce, Cabbage, Spinach, etc…
- Roots – Carrot, Radish, Beetroot, etc…
- Bulbs – Onion, Garlic, Spring Onion, etc…
- Flowers (many also categorized as “Cruciferous”) – Broccoli, Cauliflower, Artichoke, etc…
- Fungi (Mushrooms) – Button, Portobello, Shiitake, Truffle, etc…
- Fruits – Cucumber, Pumpkin, Tomato, etc…
- Seeds (Legumes) – Green bean, pea, etc…
- Stems – Asparagus, Celery, etc…
Health Benefits and Nutritional Value of Vegetables
All vegetables offer high nutritional value, especially when eaten raw or lightly steamed. Certain vegetables are especially powerful “superfoods,” having incredibly dense amounts of valuable vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and fiber. These include many dark leafy greens, such as arugula and romaine lettuce, as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage, and members of the Amaranthaceae botanical family, which includes spinach and quinoa. Vitamins A, C and K, minerals like iron, magnesium and zinc, and many antioxidant phytonutrients, can be found in abundance in these and many other wonderful vegetables, as can macronutrients like vegetable protein and dietary fiber. Most vegetables also have low glycemic indices, which is an important parameter for blood glucose management and the prevention of weight gain.
Research has shown that diets based around plant-foods, especially those high in green-leafy vegetables and fruits, are effective in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and are critical in maintaining balance within the gut, bone strength, eyesight and overall health.
Learn More about Specific Vegetables and Their Role in Diabetes Prevention and Management
Resources and Further Reading
How plant-based diets help to prevent type 2 diabetes:
Fruits and vegetables in diabetes risk management: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/99/2/328/4571480
Another study showing green leafy vegetables and fruit to help lower diabetes risk: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453647/
Classifications of culinary vegetables:
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