The Importance of Vegetables

January 7, 2012 in Categories: , , by

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You already know that eating a large amount of plant matter, be it vegetable, fruit, or nuts, is critically important for your acid-base balance.  But, maybe we should back-up slightly and just talk about all the essential vitamins and minerals contained in vegetables.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the key vitamins and minerals that you get from eating vegetables (and fruits too).  As you can see, some vegetables are little powerhouses of nutrition (like kale), but in order to make sure you get adequate amounts of all the necessary vitamins and minerals, I suggest eating as big a variety of vegetables as you have access to.  Also keep in mind that often vitamins are linked to the color of a vegetable, so “eating from the rainbow” is a good way to make sure that you are getting everything you need. (See all my posts about vegetables here)

Carotenoids (including Vitamin A, lycopene and Beta-Carotene):  These are potent anti-oxidants and important for immune system function.  Vegetables rich in carotenoids include:  anything red, orange or yellow (like carrots, beets, squash, sweet potato and bell peppers) and also dark green (like kale, spinach, collard greens and broccoli).  Tomatoes are particularly rich in lycopene (yeah, yeah, I know they’re a fruit).

Vitamin B (including Vitamin B6 and Folate):  These vitamins are important in cell metabolism (including cell growth and division), immune system function, and nervous system function.  Vegetables rich in B Vitamins include: orange and red vegetables (like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets), many green vegetables (like artichoke, asparagus, okra, broccoli, and green pepper), green leafy vegetables, and mushrooms and cauliflower.  Avocado (yeah, yeah, technically a fruit) is also very high in several B vitamins.

Vitamin C:  Vitamin C is a potent anti-oxidant, is necessary for immune system function, and is also necessary for several enzymes to function in the body (like some enzymes that help make collagen, which is why Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy).  Vegetables rich in Vitamin C include: artichoke, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, green pepper, kale, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spinach, squash, and sweet potato.  

Vitamin K:  Vitamin K is critical for making some important proteins in your body that are involved in blood clotting and metabolism.  Vitamin K is found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens etc.) and also dark green leafy vegetables.

Calcium:  In addition to forming bone, calcium is essential to many processes within the cell, as well as neurotransmitter release and muscle contraction (including your heart beating!).  Vegetables rich in calcium include dark green vegetables, parsnips, turnips and butternut squash.

Chromium:  Chromium is important for sugar and fat metabolism.  Vegetables sources of chromium include: onions, garlic, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, parsnips and green leafy vegetables. 

Copper:  Copper is involved in the absorption, storage and metabolism of iron and the formation of red blood cells. Vegetables containing copper include: artichokes, parsnips, pumpkin, winter squash, and green leafy vegetables.

Iron:  Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the protein in your blood that binds to oxygen and transports it throughout your body.  Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in iron. 

Magnesium:  Magnesium is necessary for cells to live.  Over 300 different enzymes within your cells need magnesium to work, including every enzyme that uses or synthesizes ATP (the basic energy molecule in a cell) and including enzymes that synthesize DNA and RNA.  Vegetables rich in magnesium include all green vegetables, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and especially dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. 

Manganese:  Manganese is necessary for enzymes that work to protect the body from and repair damage caused by free radicals.  Vegetables high in manganese include sweet potatoes, leeks, eggplant, beets, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens etc.), and dark green leafy vegetables.

Potassium:  Potassium is critical for the function of every cell; it is necessary for nerve function, cardiac function and muscle contraction.  Vegetables rich in potassium include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens etc.), many orange vegetables (carrots, squash, sweet potato), eggplant, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Sulfur:  Sulfur is widely used in biochemical processes, including being a component of all proteins and being important for the function of many enzymes and anti-oxidant molecules.  Cruciferous vegetables and vegetables in the onion family are the best sources of sulfur.

Zinc:  Zinc is important in nearly every function of the cell, from protein and carbohydrate metabolism to the immune system.  Most green vegetables are a good source of zinc.  


Love your blog! I have just completed my first 30 days on the Paleo eating regimen. I feel great. However, as a heart patient on a Coumadin regimen, my protime results were concerning to my doctor. I dropped from a 3.0 average to 1.7. Dr. Says cut back on vegetables but I requested a slight bump in Coumadin. What do you think?

The most important thing is to keep your veggie intake (especially leafy greens which are the highest in vitamin K) consistent day to day… then you should be able to tailor your coumadin dose (I’m sure if you tell your doctor you’re trying to eat more veggies and want a little extra testing to adjust your dose, they won’t complain, especially given that every research paper ever that has evaluated health benefits of eating veggies shows the more the better!).

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