Health benefits of root vegetables
By Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD
I often advise people to “eat with the seasons” to get the most health benefits
and flavor from their food. Now with fall here, that means enjoying root vegetables.
And there’s a huge variety of nutrient-rich roots out there for you to explore.
Let’s “go underground” and find out more about the health benefits of root vegetables
— and how to enjoy them.
What’s different about root vegetables
The nutritional benefits of root vegetables are underrated. One reason is that this
whole category of plant foods sometimes gets whittled down to just potatoes, onions
and carrots. But there are so many root vegetables with much to offer:
- Tubers, corms, and rhizomes, strange words for a class of root
veggies that includes potatoes and yams, water chestnut, turmeric and ginger
- Bulbs, which include onions, garlic, fennel, Jerusalem artichokes
- “True” roots, such as carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, jicama,
turnips and sweet potato
Another reason is that people often consider roots just another vegetable. But they
aren’t! Root vegetables evolved to store nutrients for the plants themselves, so
they offer us a true powerhouse of energy, minerals, vitamins and more.
3 healthy reasons to eat more root vegetables
1. Dietary fiber. Root veggies tend to be rich in
complex carbohydrates. This includes dietary fiber, which promotes better blood
glucose stability and improved digestive health. Dietary fiber is something most
of us could definitely use more of!
2. Resistant starch. Many of root veggies also have
significant amounts of what’s called resistant starch. This is a type of complex
carbohydrate that doesn’t easily break down in the gut. It arrives intact in the
colon and ferments there, feeding gut bacteria and producing beneficial short-chain
3. Vitamins and minerals. Because of their close
contact with the soil, root veggies are particularly rich in minerals like potassium,
zinc, copper, phosphorus and magnesium. However, mineral content is dependent on
the health of the soil they’re grown in — another reason why organic is better.
Remember also that it is the high mineral content of root crops that make them such
Measuring your pH can help you see just how well you are maintaining optimum
alkaline pH balance.
As for vitamins, many roots are loaded with vitamins A, C and B6. Roots that come
with edible greens, such as beets and radishes, are also good sources of vitamin
In other cases, root crops can be important sources of nutrients that are hard to
get in other places. Take the carrot, for example. You’ve probably heard that eating
carrots is good for your eyesight because they are rich in beta-carotene, a vitamin
A precursor. But did you know carrots are also a good source of a rather rare trace
mineral, molybdenum? This mineral aids in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, as well
as magnesium (important for bone health and many other processes).
But what about the carbs?
Limiting your carb intake because of concerns about weight gain or
insulin resistance? You may be trying to avoid “starchy” root vegetables
like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips.
But “low carb” doesn’t mean no carb. If you’re “not eating carbs” it is better to
focus on cutting out simple sugars like sucrose and fructose. Both are readily absorbed
in the gut, unlike the resistant starch present in many of the root veggies we’re
Get all the health benefits of root crops
Many root veggies also have antioxidant properties. Some, like onions, ginger, beets
and turmeric, have known anti-inflammatory capabilities.
A few, like garlic, contain natural antibacterial qualities that can help limit
bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Radishes have long been known to have a mild hypoglycemic
effect in diabetes. Ginger and turmeric both have widely been researched for their
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