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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 benefitsand 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.

There are many health benefits to eating root vegetables

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 thiswhole category of plant foods sometimes gets whittled down to just potatoes, onionsand 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 and shallots
  • “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 theyaren’t! Root vegetables evolved to store nutrients for the plants themselves, sothey 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 incomplex carbohydrates. This includes dietary fiber, which promotes better bloodglucose stability and improved digestive health. Dietary fiber is something mostof us could definitely use more of!

2. Resistant starch. Many of root veggies also havesignificant amounts of what’s called resistant starch. This is a type of complexcarbohydrate that doesn’t easily break down in the gut. It arrives intact in thecolon and ferments there, feeding gut bacteria and producing beneficial short-chainfatty acids.

3. Vitamins and minerals. Because of their closecontact with the soil, root veggies are particularly rich in minerals like potassium,zinc, copper, phosphorus and magnesium. However, mineral content is dependent onthe 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 suchalkalizing foods. Measuring your pH can help you see just how well you are maintaining optimumalkaline pH balance.

As for vitamins, many roots are loaded with vitamins A, C and B6. Roots that comewith edible greens, such as beets and radishes, are also good sources of vitaminK.

carrots-in-the-garden-ready-to-be-harvested

In other cases, root crops can be important sources of nutrients that are hard toget in other places. Take the carrot, for example. You’ve probably heard that eatingcarrots is good for your eyesight because they are rich in beta-carotene, a vitaminA precursor. But did you know carrots are also a good source of a rather rare tracemineral, molybdenum? This mineral aids in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, as wellas 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 vegetableslike potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips.

But “low carb” doesn’t mean no carb. If you’re “not eating carbs” it is better tofocus on cutting out simple sugars like sucrose and fructose. Both are readily absorbedin the gut, unlike the resistant starch present in many of the root veggies we’retalking about.

Get all the health benefits of root crops

Many root veggies also have antioxidant properties. Some, like onions, ginger, beetsand turmeric, have known anti-inflammatory capabilities.

A few, like garlic, contain natural antibacterial qualities that can help limitbacterial overgrowth in the gut. Radishes have long been known to have a mild hypoglycemiceffect in diabetes. Ginger and turmeric both have widely been researched for theiranti-inflammatory properties.

Find out 10 ways to alkalize your body from Dr. Brown.

References

Allen J.C., Corbitt A.D., Maloney K.P., Butt M.S., Truong V.-D. Glycemic index ofsweet potato as affected by cooking methods. The Open Nutrition Journal 2012;6:1-11.

Annigan J. Sweet potato vs yam nutrition. Livestrong.com, Oct. 3, 2017.

Banihani S.A. Radish (Raphanus sativus) and diabetes. Nutrients 2017, 9(9), 1014;doi:10.3390/nu9091014

Chandrasekara A., Kumar T.J. Roots and tuber crops as functional foods: a reviewon phytochemical constituents and their potential health benefits. InternationalJournal of Food Science 2016:Article ID 3631647. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/3631647

Da Silva Dias J.C. Nutritional and health benefits of carrots and their seed extracts.Food and Nutrition Sciences 2014;5:2147–2156.

Han C., Ji Y., Li M., Li X., Jin P., Zheng Y. Influence of wounding intensity andstorage temperature on quality and antioxidant activity of fresh-cut Welsh onions.Scientia Horticulturae 2016;212:203-209

Trinidad T.P., Mallillin A.C., Loyola A.C., Encabo R.R., Sagum R.S., et al. Nutritionaland health benefits of root crops. In: R.R. Watson and V.R. Preedy, Eds., BioactiveFoods in Promoting Health. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

Published: October 19, 2018 - Last Updated: March 28, 2021

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