What makes a vegetable a ‘superfood’?

First of all, there’s really no such thing as a bad vegetable. All vegetables — including the much maligned potato — offer benefits, both nutritionally and flavour-wise. However, there are some vegetables that really do punch above their weight.

What’s important is to consume a good variety of vegetables — remember the rainbow — as well as getting at least five serves a day. We explore the benefits (and potential caveats) of five top superfood contenders.

Asparagus
The elegant asparagus is not only delicious, but good for you. Instead of serving it with the traditional melted butter or hollandaise, try grilling it on the BBQ with a little olive oil until it’s tender but still crunchy.

What’s so good about it?
Asparagus is high in folate, selenium, Vitamin K, thiamin, and riboflavin.

But…
Asparagus is high in purines, which the body breaks down into uric acid. As uric acid is associated with gout, it is widely recommended not to eat high-purine foods if you suffer from the inflammatory condition. It is worth noting, however, that more recent research has shown high-purine vegetables do not contribute to or cause gout.

Garlic
Garlic has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years, and studies have shown that there really may be significant health benefits. It has an important role in many cuisines, both as a star ingredient (think aioli) or a more subtle supporting player.

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Despite its famously strong taste, garlic can be used in a more subtle way in a variety of recipes

What’s so good about it?
Although more research is needed for claims to be proven, garlic may help lower blood triglyceride and blood sugar levels, and may also be a cancer preventative.

But…
If you don’t love garlic, other members of the allium family, such as onions and leeks, also provided health benefits.

Kale
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that kale has been having a moment since about 2012. It’s featured in green smoothies, massaged kale salads, and (the somewhat more tempting) kale chips, not to mention Instagram.

What’s so good about it?
Kale is high in Vitamins A, C, and K, and also provides a stack of antioxidants and fibre.

But…
Fashionable vegetables tend to cost more. Kale can be very bitter and hard to digest raw. Eat a range of cruciferous vegetables — cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) — for the same benefits.

Sweet potatoes
It seems counterintuitive, since they do taste sweet, but sweet potatoes are lower in carbohydrates than white potatoes. In recent years, they’ve been touted as a healthier option than the humble spud.

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Sweet potato wedges or fries are a fantastic, healthy snack option (just go easy on the salt!)

What’s so good about them?
They provide Vitamins A and C, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fibre, and have fewer carbs and kilojoules than regular potatoes.

But…
White potatoes may be starchier and slightly more nutritionally dense, but they also have higher levels of a number of nutrients — including folate, magnesium, potassium, and iron — than sweet potatoes.

[Deadly] nightshades — tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant
Strictly speaking, these are all fruit, but we tend to cook and eat them as vegetables. They are part of the Solanaceae or deadly nightshade family (which also includes chilies and potatoes).

What’s so good about them?
The best thing about tomatoes (apart from how delicious they are) is that they contain lycopene, a free radical fighting antioxidant. Capsicums are a good source of Vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (folate/folic acid), C, E, and K, as well as manganese and potassium. And the glossy purple skin of the eggplant is full of nutrients.

But…
Tomatoes need to be cooked for you to benefit from the lycopene — that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them raw, just be sure to have them in cooked dishes too.

What's your vegetable of choice to keep those nutritional levels up?

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