The truth about vegetables: What are they really?
A vegetable in the broadest terms is any kind of plants life or indeed plant product (vegetable matter). Commonly in its most narrow usage the term vegetable is used to describe the fresh and edible portions of several varieties of herbaceous plants. These parts of the plants that are eaten are usually the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit or the seeds. The parts of the vegetable selected to be eaten can be prepared in several ways and can be eaten cooked or uncooked usually as part of a savoury dish, either a salad or side dish to accompany a main meal.
History and Cultivation of Vegetables
Most of the vegetable varieties were first cultivated by the ancient civilizations that lived in either the Old or the New World. These vegetables were selected because of their availability and for their importance nutritionally. Generally, fresh vegetables are low in calories and contain water content in excess of seventy percent. They generally contain just 3.5 percent protein and lower than one percent of fat. However, vegetables do contain high percentages of minerals, particularly calcium, iron and essential vitamins, principally vitamins A and C. Other high levels found in vegetables include dietary fibre and antioxidants.
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Types or Classifications of Vegetables
You will find that vegetables are classified by the part of the plant that is used for food. Vegetables are divided into usually one of the following groups:
Included as root vegetables are varieties such as beetroot, carrots, radish, sweet potatoes, swede and turnips.
Stem vegetables include asparagus and kohlrabi.
Edible tubers are also known as underground stems and the most famous vegetable of this variety in the potato.
Leaf or leafstalk vegetables
Leaf or leafstalk vegetables include varieties such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, lettuce, rhubarb and spinach.
The most popularly used bulb vegetables are garlic, leeks and onions.
Head or flower vegetables
Head or flower vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes.
Fruits, (that are commonly referred to as being vegetables due to their use)
Vegetables in this category include cucumbers, eggplant, okra, corn, squash, peppers (capsicums) and tomatoes.
The seed vegetables are the legumes such as peas and beans.
The Healthiest Vegetables
Some vegetables are proven to have benefits to our health including the ability to help our bodies fight inflammation or to reduce the risk of disease.
The leafy green vegetable is rated as one of the healthiest vegetables and just 30g of raw spinach will provide you with 56% of your daily requirement of vitamin A and your entire need for that day of vitamin K. Spinach can also help reduce the risk of chronic disease, decrease the risk of cancer and has benefits for your heart including lowering your blood pressure.
Carrots are absolutely packed full of vitamin A, with a 128g portion providing 428% of your daily requirement. Carrots also have high quantities of vitamins C, K as well as having high levels of potassium. Beta-carotene that gives the vegetable its orange colour helps in cancer prevention and one serving of carrots per week reduces the risk of prostate cancer by 5%.
Broccoli is rich in glucosinolate, a sulfur rich compound and sulforaphene, a glucosinolate by-product. Eating broccoli can offer protection against cancer and some forms of chronic disease. Broccoli is also full of nutrients. 91g of broccoli provides you with 116% of your daily requirement of vitamin K, 135% of your vitamin C needs and also provides you with folate, manganese and potassium.
Garlic has long been used as a medicinal plant with its earliest uses in ancient China and Egypt. Allicin found in garlic is responsible for several health benefits. Garlic helps to regulate blood sugar and a healthy heart. Garlic also offers benefits in the fight against cancer, particularly cancers found in the human liver although further studies are required to fully understand the effects of garlic in the fight against cancer.
This vegetable is similar to broccoli and contains the same health benefits. Brussels sprouts also contain kaempferol, an antioxidant effective in preventing cell damage. Eating Brussels sprouts can lead to a 15-30% increase in the enzymes that control detoxification which helps to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. This vegetable is also very rich in nutrients, including vitamins A, C and K, in addition to several healthy minerals.
Kale, like other leafy green vegetables is high in healthy qualities including its nutrient density and level of antioxidants. Just 67g will give you plenty of vitamin B, potassium, calcium and copper. It will also provide your entire daily need of vitamins A, C and K as well as being beneficial to your heart. Drinking kale juice reduces cholesterol and reduces blood pressure.