Root vegetables have long been enjoyed as a delicious part of a healthy diet. Root veggies, however, sometimes get a bad rap due to their structure. Starchy vegetables are often feared as being the cause of weight gain or high blood sugar. I’ll argue that root vegetables are healthy and can be enjoyed by most people without harm. Often the decrease in healthfullness is caused by what we do to the veggies when cooking or serving (fried, doused in oil or butter, etc.).
Root vegetables get their name because they grow underground (they’re roots!). Potatoes, carrots and onions are a few common examples that most are familiar with. There are so many more! Here are some of the healthiest root vegetables available to most of us at local farm markets and in grocery stores.
Onions are popular root vegetables, serving as a staple ingredient in many cuisines. They’re high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. As you likely know, antioxidants protect our cells against oxidative damage and help prevent disease.
There’s plenty of research to back up this claim. One study found that eating 3.5 ounces of raw onions per day significantly reduced blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. That’s a lot of onion, especially for those who aren’t big fans of raw onions. We can ‘learn’ to like them, though. Do a 30-day experiment. Add just a few chopped raw onion to your salad and increase the volume every couple days. Before long, you may just start to enjoy them!
Other research observed that onions may possess powerful anticancer properties, with observational studies linking a higher intake of this root vegetable to a lower risk of common types of cancer. Onions make the ‘O’ in Dr. Joel Furhman’s GBOMBS…that’s how awesome they are!
Sweet potatoes are vibrant and delicious root vegetables that are highly nutritious and jam-packed with health benefits. They’re rich in fiber, vitamin C, manganese and vitamin A and a good source of several antioxidants — including beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid and anthocyanins. You may have heard me say previously that the most colorful foods typically have the highest nutrient value…sweet potatoes are no exception.
Sweet potatoes are the cornerstone of the Okinawan diet…one of the Blue Zones in the world. They can be baked, boiled, steamed, roasted or sautéed and enjoyed as a delicious side dish or added to everything from sandwiches to salads to breakfast bowls. They can even be the main dish. A loaded sweet potato with hummus, salsa, blueberries or other plant foods is a delicious meal that will keep you satisfied and full.
Turnips are not as common but are a delicious root vegetable and have been cultivated for centuries. They have an impressive nutrient profile, being a great source of vitamin C, fiber, manganese and potassium.
Adding vitamin C to your diet can help boost your immunity. One study noting that getting enough of this vitamin could help reduce symptoms and shorten the severity of respiratory infections, such as the common cold and possibly other viruses. The best way to get vitamin C is in whole foods.
Turnips can be swapped into nearly any recipe in place of potatoes. Half and half is a great way to add variety to your meals. Try making turnip fries, coleslaw, stir-fry or salads.
Ginger is a flowering plant that is closely related to other root vegetables like turmeric. Ginger is loaded with antioxidants and associated with decreased pain and inflammation. It can help with nausea, as well. The flavor can be strong so if you’re not a big fan, try adding small amounts to stir-fries or soups where the flavor won’t overpower the dish.
Ginger tea is another way to get the health benefits and it’s really great when combined with lemon.
Beets are one of the most nutritious root vegetables available, packing a good amount of fiber, folate and manganese into each serving. Beets are a good source of nitrates and may improve exercise performance, increase blood flow and decrease the growth of cancer cells — according to human and animal studies. They, too, may not appeal to all of us but if you love them…you really love them (like me and my granddaughter, Annabelle!).
Garlic is a root vegetable that belongs to the Allium genus and is closely related to onions, leeks, chives and shallots. Garlic has potent medicinal properties due to the compound allicin. It may help improve your immunity, reduce blood pressure and decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Best of all, garlic is highly versatile and can be used to amplify the flavor of your favorite savory soups, sauces, side dishes and main courses. Also, it can ward off evil spirits like vampires (lol).
Radishes contain a good amount of fiber and vitamin C. They may also have antifungal properties and could protect against stomach ulcers, according to animal and test-tube studies. Radishes are great for bringing a bit of crunch to your meals or snacks. Try adding slices to slaws, sandwiches, salads or tacos to give your dish a nutritious and tasty upgrade. Radishes are also super yum when roasted. The taste completely changes with roasting. Give it a try.
Known for its licorice-like flavor, fennel is a flowering plant species closely related to carrots. In addition to supplying very few calories per serving, fennel packs fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Fennel contains the compound anethole, which has been shown to reduce blood sugar and block the growth of bacteria in test-tube and animal studies.
Fennel can be enjoyed fresh, roasted or sautéed, as well as mixed into salads, soups, sauces and pasta dishes.
As one of the most well-known root vegetables, carrots also top the charts as one of the most nutritious. They’re packed with vitamins A and K, as well as the important antioxidant beta-carotene. Eating carrots has been linked to improved antioxidant status and lower cholesterol levels in both humans and animals.
Other research shows that a higher intake of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, may be associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate and stomach cancer. We know that eating carotenoids may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss. And if you eat a lot of carrots and other colorful root vegetables, your skin color will improve and people may think you’ve been to the tanner…ha!
Carrots make a great snack when eaten raw or dipped in hummus, but they can also be cooked and used in stir-fries, stews or side dishes. I love roasted carrots…peel them (if you choose), spray with some veggie broth or water and sprinkle with spices. Roast until tender…delicious!
Turmeric is a type of root vegetable that belongs to the same plant family as ginger and cardamom. You’ve likely heard about the benefits of turmeric and the best way to get it into your body is to eat it (vs taking as a supplement).
The rhizomes, or root, of the plant are often ground into a spice, which is used to add a splash of color, flavor and health benefits to many dishes.
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has been shown to prevent blood clot formation, lower cholesterol levels and reduce markers of inflammation in both test-tube and animal studies. This is especially true with combined with ground black pepper.
Research in humans also suggests that curcumin may alleviate joint pain, stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease symptoms of depression.
Potatoes are incredibly versatile and widely available, with up to 2,000 different varieties currently cultivated in 160 countries worldwide. Potatoes are a mainstay in healthy diets around the world. They’re also very nutritious, packing a good chunk of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese.
Potatoes that have been cooked and cooled are also high in resistant starch, a type of starch that passes undigested through your digestive tract and helps feed your beneficial gut bacteria. So roast a bunch of potatoes together and cool in the fridge until ready to eat. You'll get the bonus of the resistant starch!
Potatoes fill us up and keep us satisfied longer and may promote weight loss (even though so many people continue to hold on to the belief that they are not good when trying to lose weight).
This is not necessarily true of fried potatoes or processed potato products, which are often high in fat, salt and calories yet lacking in nutrition. Instead, select baked, boiled or steamed potatoes to get the most nutrients. Load them up with the healthiest choices and skip the butter and sour cream.
Plenty of nutritious and delicious root vegetables exist — each with a unique set of health benefits. Ready to start reducing the oxidative stress life can bring you? Adding root veggies to your daily routine is an easy way to ‘health up’.