Health Benefits of Root Vegetables
Contributor: Andrea de la Chapelle
Photographer: Sarah Shreves
In the 18th century, many root vegetables were used in diets across the globe, including America. But as American diets and preferences shifted around the time of the Civil War, the diversity of the vegetables we consumed decreased. Luckily, American palates have regained interest in these tasty varieties, allowing them to once again become kitchen staples for Fall, Winter and early Spring cooking.
Today, there is evidence to support that the vital nutrients in root vegetables can help combat common chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer. So, whether you frequent the local farmers market or just peruse the grocery store produce section, keep an eye out for these seasonal options to ensure they’re at their most nutrient-dense and flavorful.
4 Seasonal Root Vegetables
Among the healthiest foods in the world, beets have a sweet, earthy flavor that tastes best raw, roasted or steamed. These deep red to golden vegetables are also full of beta-carotene and betalains that provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detoxifying benefits. Beet juice may help lower blood pressure thanks to naturally occurring nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide to relax blood vessels. Beets are also high in vitamin C, making them a perfect addition to fall and winter meals.
Many of us grew up hearing that sweet, crisp carrots help preserve eyesight. At the time, that may have sounded pretty far-fetched, but the vitamin A and beta-carotene content help ward off night blindness and macular degeneration, particularly as we age. Carrots also keep skin, hair and nails healthy, while preventing premature signs of aging. Eating raw carrots can promote a healthy mouth by removing plaque and combating tooth damage. Like beets, carrots are an excellent immune-booster thanks to vitamin C and a number of antibacterial properties.
These versatile root vegetables have a subtle flavor that allows them to blend well with other, stronger-tasting veggies. Turnips, like many root veggies, are high in vitamin C, fiber and essential minerals. Turnip’s vitamin C content may make these vegetables particularly good for fighting inflammation and free radicals. Not only are the turnip bulbs health-promoting powerhouses, so are their leafy greens.
Perhaps the most-used and popular root vegetable of them all, sweet potatoes are a great substitute for traditional mashed potatoes and French fries, or additions to muffins, soups and side dishes. For most, Fall and Winter tend to be busy with family events—holidays and, often, weddings—that can increase stress levels. Increased stress can hamper immune function, leading to higher incidence of illness.
Sweet potatoes (and yams) are yet another supporter of healthy immune function, as they are excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin D, iron and magnesium. Iron and magnesium can build our resistance to stress, boost the immune system and keep us relaxed so we can truly enjoy these happy, annual get-togethers.
Experiment with different flavor combinations this fall, winter, and early Spring using root veggies. Your body—and taste buds—will thank you.