If you pay much attention to nutrition, you’re probably well aware that kale, spinach, and broccoli were given “superfood” status some time ago. But as good as this holy trinity is for your body, these aren’t the only vegetables that pack a heavyweight nutritional punch. To upgrade your lunches, dinners, and smoothies, try adding these four options to your veggie rotation.
Don’t mistake purple cauliflower (or broccoli and carrots that have the same dark hue) for GMO-created Frankenfoods — it’s actually just a natural hybrid. While regular cauliflower is a great source of immunity-boosting vitamin C, cell health-preserving folate (aka vitamin B9), and bone density-promoting vitamin K, the purple variety offers the added benefits of anthocyanin. This phytonutrient is the same one that gives dark berries their distinctive color, and it offers a whole host of health benefits.
According to a review released via Food & Nutrition Research, “anthocyanins possess antioxidative and antimicrobial activities, improve visual and neurological health, and protect against various non-communicable diseases.” Whether you steam it, roast it with avocado oil, or mash it up into cauliflower rice to accompany curry, consider putting purple cauliflower in your cart next time you go grocery shopping.
Broccoli sprouts are the form of the vegetable that grows before it turns into familiar, fully-grown broccoli. While the latter has more vitamin A and vitamin C, sprouts have a few nutritional advantages. First, they’re higher in calcium, which helps prevent skeletal degeneration. Broccoli sprouts also contain more iron, which can be low among endurance athletes.
But arguably the biggest benefit that broccoli sprouts offer is that they’re one of the richest sources of sulforaphane. In a summary of Rhonda Patrick’s research into the plant chemical’s functions in the human body, John Alexander wrote that “sulforaphane activates what’s called the NRF2 pathway, which increases expression of a battery of cell protective genes.” These perform such vital tasks as detoxifying from heavy metals, suppressing tumor growth, and regulating energy metabolism. You should be able to find broccoli sprouts and similar options like watercress at Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, and other stores with diverse produce sections.
Few vegetables have gotten as much hype among the endurance community as beets. But while the deep red part of the plant gets all the press, the green leaves usually get discarded. Rather than throwing them away, you might want to start cooking this underrated part of the plan because they’re chock-full of nutrients.
Beet greens are a plentiful source of minerals like manganese, iron, copper, potassium, and calcium. They also contain vitamins C and a cupful has a whopping 774% of the vitamin K RDA, more than any other vegetable or fruit. Like collard, mustard, and turnip greens, beet greens also contain the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene, which protect against macular degeneration and contribute to cellular health. While we need to be careful in extrapolating the results of animal studies to humans, a paper published in Nutrients concluded that the flavonoids in beet greens protected the livers of mice from damage.
As with other veggies on this list, many of the vitamins that beet greens contain are fat-soluble, so try stir-frying them in olive or coconut oil and eating them with a fat-rich meal to maximize their nutritional benefits. Or, combine them with the red part of the plant to get an extra antioxidant boost, thanks to the potent betalains that create the vibrant shade of red. Research released via the Natural Medicine Journal suggested that it’s this plant chemical that might enhance athletic performance, rather than the common conception that nitrates offer such an advantage.
If I suggested cooking up some Brussels sprouts to my 11-year-old son, he’d probably make a face and say, “I’m not eating those.” The reason he objects to this mini cabbage-like vegetable is the bitter taste. But while this distinctive flavor can be unpalatable, it’s actually connected to the unique nutritional profile of the plant. Thiocyanates are a class of powerful antioxidants that make kids everywhere turn up their noses at the smell, but they also help the body detoxify itself and prevent free radical damage.
A study of fruit and vegetable intake in France concluded that Brussels sprouts are the richest dietary source of other flavonoid antioxidants caffeic and ferulic acid, quercetin, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol are also found in Brussels sprouts, as are antioxidants. Brussels sprouts also contain more than 100% of the RDAs for vitamin C and K and are a solid source of thiamine (aka vitamin B1), choline, and copper.
When it comes to upgrading your diet, adding a more diverse range of vegetables into your regular rotation is one of the easiest wins. Going outside of your usual produce aisle staples will increase your fiber intake, help ensure you’re getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals without needing supplements, and allow you to tap into the broad range of health benefits provided by phytochemicals.
Alexander, J. (2021, June 21). Rhonda Patrick – Broccoli Sprouts, Sulforaphane & Moringa. Retrieved from https://fastlifehacks.com/rhonda-patrick-sulforaphane/
Brat, P. et al. (2006, September). Daily polyphenol intake in France from fruit and vegetables. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16920856/
Khoo, H.E. et al. (2017, August 13). Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/
Lorizola, I.M. et al. (2018, July 5). Beet Stalks and Leaves (Beta vulgaris L.) Protect Against High-Fat Diet-Induced Oxidative Damage in the Liver in Mice. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073334/
Schor, J. (2017, August). Betalain-rich Concentrate Improves Exercise Performance. Retrieved from https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2017-08/betalain-rich-concentrate-improves-exercise-performance