Often the term vegetable is confused with the more generic "vegetable foods". In reality, vegetables cover only orchard vegetables and wild vegetables, not all plant foods (grains and legumes, for example, are plants, but they are not vegetables). Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked, and exist on the market fresh or canned, frozen, dehydrated, in oil, pickled, or as juices or extracts.
All international guidelines for a healthy diet encourage the consumption of vegetables, which is usually lacking omnivorous diets.
There are dozens of different kinds of vegetables, which can be divided into 4 main groups:
Vegetables are an indispensable food for our body, a source of nutrients and protective substances for health: fiber, folic acid, riboflavin, vitamin A (as beta carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium, and phytochemicals. Dark green vegetables are rich in all these nutrients, while the yellow-orange vegetables are a special source of beta carotene, a vitamin with high antioxidant power.
By their nature, most vegetables are poor in fats, low in calories and zero in cholesterol content. The best way to ensure the many nutritional benefits that vegetables have to offer, is to consume several kinds of fresh vegetables raw or slightly cooked, avoiding heavy dressings and sauces, that would increase the level of fat and calories.
Vegetables, too, are a source of vegetable protein: as a percentage of total calories, the value does not differ from that of meat. In a normal varied diet, including therefore also grains and legumes, vegetables helps to provide complete proteins.
Vegetables are rich in folic acid, beta-carotene (vitamin A, which is found mainly in yellow-orange vegetables), and have a high content of potassium.
They contain vitamins E, C, and K, and some vegetables are good sources of calcium. Some vegetables are good sources of iron, and all are rich in phytochemicals.
The presence of all these important nutrients, which offer large nutritional advantages, makes of vegetables a group of foods that should be eaten in abundance in every type of diet, especially by omnivores, in order to counteract, at least in part, the damaging effect of animal foods.
A varied and plentiful vegetable consumption reduces the risk of chronic diseases, thanks to the addition of essential nutrients and protective substances to our bodies.
Vegetables are tasty, low in salt and calories, high in fiber and water, and completely free of cholesterol; but it should be consumed fresh, not in oil or brine, and accompanying sauces rich in fats and other substances of uncertain origin are to be avoided.
In the context of a varied diet, vegetable consumption may decrease the risk of vascular disease (stroke and cardiovascular disease), diabetes mellitus type 2, and provide protection against certain cancers, particularly those of the digestive tract (mouth, stomach and colorectal).
Eating vegetables supplies a high amount of fiber and phytochemicals.
The high content of potassium may decrease the risk of urinary tract stones and help reduce bone loss, and seems to be a major help in getting proper blood pressure.
Some vegetables contain a good amount of calcium, which, as already explained, is advantageous to obtain from plant foods, to avoid the intake of protein and animal fats and for the contemporary intake of both potassium and vitamin K, beneficial to bone health.
Vegetables must be eaten fresh, because with time their nutrients are denatured.
Choose seasonal vegetables: they are more flavorful, economical and allow you to naturally vary the types of vegetables consumed.
Choose different colored vegetables, to get different nutrients and greater variety in the kitchen.
Use regularly vegetables rich in calcium: green leafy vegetables (lettuce, arugula, endive, radicchio) and that of the cabbage family (broccoli and cabbage of various types). Each season offers its different vegetables.
Consume vegetables cooked (not too much, must remain still crunchy) and raw, because some of the nutrients and protective substances are present in the raw vegetables and others in cooked vegetables.
Use little water during cooking to prevent the loss of too many minerals, or steam the food, or reuse the cooking water for other dishes.
It may be useful to cook a greater quantity of vegetables at once and then store it in the freezer, or clean the raw vegetables and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Do not give up the vegetables even when you’re in a hurry: occasionally, you can use ready to eat salad in the sealed envelope from the refrigerated sector of the store, enriching it with tomato wedges and chopped dried fruit and/or olives. In an emergency, you can opt for frozen vegetables, but avoid making habitual use of that in oil or brine.
Do not burden the vegetables dressing it with a lot of oil, salt or sauces, that only adds fat, sodium and calories. Rather, use spices and only 1-2 teaspoons of olive or flaxseed oil.
Avoid canned vegetables and if it is decided to eat them just the same, give preference to products with "no added salt” on the label.
Eat a nice plate of vegetables at every meal. If you need to restrict calories, in one of two meals consume only vegetables as the main course.
Use vegetables as a generous seasoning of first courses (pasta, rice) and as a main ingredient in second courses (combined with legumes or tofu), as well as in soups.
Use the raw vegetables as a snack: carrots, celery, bell peppers, fennel, are a snack low in calories, light and crispy.
Wash and brush well vegetable, to remove any microorganisms of the soil or crop residues, and dry it before using. Give preference to organic produce.
If using vegetable juices or extracts, remember that they contain no fiber, so they are not an alternative to consumption of vegetables, but just an addition.
Also encourage children to eat raw vegetables of different colors, chewing very well. Cooked vegetables can also be prepared as a purée. Before the age of 2 years, the consumption of fiber should be very limited, so whole vegetables should be avoided, preferring vegetable broth, vegetable juices and extracts.