Infusing variety into your diet is essential not only for reducing boredom within your meals but also because each vegetable offers a unique array of nutrients that are paramount for supporting whole-body health but also for specifically improving gut health. “When we’re looking at the gut microbiome, it’s thought that having a diversity of plant foods in our diet is helpful because if we’re eating the same things all the time, while we may be checking off the boxes in terms of fiber, etc., we may be missing out on other essential nutrients,” explains Cording.
Ferira further explains that vegetable variety delivers a phytochemical advantage because, “each plant boasts a unique signature of phytonutrients,” she says. “Think of it like a fingerprint. A carrot will deliver a unique fingerprint of nutritional compounds, properties, and health benefits, while beets, broccoli, kale, seaweed (a sea veggie), and my personal favorite—okra—will provide you with a totally different set of nutritional power,” Ferira shares, caveating that, “okra is technically a fruit because of its seeds, but we leverage it like a veggie in the culinary world.” OK, we’ll let it slide (but no to okra slime).
Eating a range of veggies with varying preparation methods will also affect the nutritional value of your meal. “I always tell people to vary the way you prepare foods not only for their nutritional impact but also from a taste standpoint,” explains Amy Kimberlain, RDN, CDCES, Academy media spokesperson. For example, tomatoes contain more lycopene when cooked in comparison to raw. Lycopene is a carotenoid, one of those powerful phytonutrients Ferira was referring to before.
“Try to keep the cooking time, temperature, and amount of liquid to a minimum. Steaming is one of the best ways to cook most vegetables versus boiling—boiling causes water-soluble vitamins (like vitamin C, thiamin, and folate) to leach into the water,” adds Kimberlain.
All vegetables ultimately offer some benefit to your body, but at the top of the list are leafy greens, which provide a significant impact on longevity. In fact, one study revealed that consuming one serving of leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collards each day has been shown to support cognitive function, and our brain health is critical for longevity.
(For a nutrition Ph.D.’s philosophy and approach to longevity nutrition and how to eat for health span, check this out.)