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Role of Vegetables in a healthy diet

Why is it important for us to include vegetables in our diet?

Vegetables contain many nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and dietary fibre, which are important for our health. The consumption of vegetables can protect against non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease, and also improve risk factors that are associated with these diseases.

Here is a breakdown of the different nutrients found in vegetables and how they are beneficial to our body.

Vitamins:

  • Vegetables contain multiple different vitamins. Vitamins are important for our body as they are required for normal cell function and development. Vitamins are essential as they are involved in many of the body’s operations such as metabolism.
  • Research has identified that the consumption of different vitamins can help lower the risk for some noncommunicable diseases.
    • Some evidence suggests that in current and former smokers consuming fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of lung cancer.
    • Foods high in retinol (animal products), beta-carotene (carrots, kumara, pumpkin, dark leafy greens e.g. spinach), and carotenoids (squash, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, dark leafy greens), may be able to reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Dietary Fibre:

  • There are two different types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, plantbased foods such as vegetables often contain both forms.
  • Dietary fibre is not digested in the small intestine, and therefore it reaches the large intestine. Properties of dietary fibre include bulking up stools, creating soft stools that are easy to pass, and allowing waste to move through the digestive tract promptly. All these properties help keep our digestive tract healthy.
  • It is important to include fibre in our diet as research has found that it can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. Fibre intake has also been associated with lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and diastolic blood pressure which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Phytochemicals:

  • Phytochemicals are chemical compounds found in plants. They are not an essential nutrient, unlike vitamins and minerals, but they have been linked with helping us stay healthy.
  • Research surrounding the effects of phytochemicals is relatively new, and currently evidence is not strong enough to link phytochemical intake with a decrease in disease risk.  
  • However, it is now known that if health benefits from phytochemicals are to be seen, they must come from food sources. Phytochemical supplements have been found to have no effect.

Energy density:

  • Vegetables are low in calories and therefore they can help us to achieve and sustain a healthy weight. Vegetables are also nutrient dense opposed to energy dense, and therefore provide our body with the micronutrients required for optimal growth and development.

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