Veggie Wallflowers: Underrated Vegetables You Should Be Eating

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Let’s talk veggies. Time and time again we are reminded that diets rich in vegetables (and fruits) are associated with positive health outcomes. Those who consume a produce-rich diet have a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Fruits and veggies provide a number of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber, all of which our bodies utilize to keep running at their best and reduce risk of disease.

Despite knowing this, most people still aren’t eating enough. Nutrition surveys continually show that the vast majority of people, including children, aren’t getting enough fruits and veggies. While the sweetness of fruits tends to make them an easier sell, it’s the poor vegetables that often get pushed aside. Even though vegetables like kale, and now cauliflower, are gaining popularity on the plate, there are so many other well deserving veggies that get overlooked.  

I’m here to talk about those underrated, undervalued veggies in hopes that it will spark inspiration for you to broaden your veggie horizon. Most of us could stand to put a little more veggies on our plate. The beautiful thing about vegetables is that they come in many shapes, sizes and colours. There is so much variety that there is no reason to get bored of them. No reason not to like at least a few of them. Do you hear me? There's no reason not to love and cherish vegetables. To quote your mother..."eat your vegetables". 

So, let’s get to it. 


Beets

Please don’t let the finger staining properties of preparing beets scare you off. Beets are a great veggie to start incorporating in your diet. Not only are beetroots a good source of potassium, vitamin C and fiber but they also contain natural nitrates. The nitrates in beets have been shown to lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow (and oxygen delivery) benefiting both athletes and heart failure patients. Beetroots also contain a compound called betaine which may play a role in keeping your heart healthy and in cancer prevention.

Setting aside their nutritional superpowers, beets are also a pretty tasty vegetable. Eaten cooked or raw, beets are one versatile veggie that should be given a chance (or second change). And remember, if your beets come with the greens attached, you can eat them, too! Enjoy them just as you would any other leafy green.  

Want to try beets? Try these recipes:

Beets and Herb Salad

Beets and Greens Salad with Cannellini Beans

Roasted Beets


 

Parsnips

Poor parsnips...always getting upstaged by their brighter, flashier cousin, the carrot. Parsnips shouldn’t just be thought of as a boring carrot because they too have lots to boast about. 

Parsnips are a great source of fiber, providing 3 grams per ½ cup serving. That is 8% of a man’s daily fiber needs and 12% of a women’s...in just a half cup. Not too shabby. Parsnips are also a good source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. They may be pale in colour but don’t take that to mean that they aren’t great for you.

What to try parsnips? Try these recipes:

Baked Parsnip Fries with Rosemary

Roasted Garlic, Parsnip and White Bean Soup

Parsnip Hummus with Garlic Chili Oil


 

Red Cabbage

I’ve never thought much of red cabbage until recently. It’s sort of hard to get excited about cabbage but it’s really a vegetable worth having around. There are two reasons why this has now become a star in my veggie crisper, one being its versatility and the other being its shelf life. While I’m super fond of greens and other more delicate veggies, it’s good to have a few hardy vegetables around that can last a bit in your fridge.

In a perfect world it would be great to pick up fresh produce daily, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a busy world, with full time jobs, children, activities and responsibilities. Hardy veggies, like red cabbage, can help us by staying fresh for longer. When you buy a head of red cabbage, you know that it will still be good 3 or 4 days which greatly helps in longer term meal planning.

Red cabbage is more than just a dependable veggie, sticking around while you eat up your more delicate vegetables. Nutritionally, it’s a good source of vitamin A, C and K, and fiber. It is also a source of glucosinolates, or sulfur-containing compounds thought to have anti-cancer properties.

As for versatility, red cabbage is a great addition to fresh salads and stir fries, adds crispness to wraps and tacos, and is delicious as a sauteed side dish.

Want to try red cabbage? Try these recipes:

Savoury Cabbage with Caraway

Crispy Fish Tacos with Salsa Verde and Red Cabbage Slaw

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples

Red Cabbage Salad with Blue Cheese and Maple Glazed Walnuts



Watercress

Watercress, a leafy green in the Brassicaceae family of vegetables, often gets left out of the grocery cart. You may not think much of watercress but did you know that it recently topped the list of “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables? In a 2014 study, it was found that watercress contained the most chronic disease fighting nutrients among 40 or so fruits and veggies studied. Who knew such an produce aisle wallflower was hiding such a nutritional punch?

Watercress has a crisp, peppery flavour. Due to this slightly peppery flavour, I find it’s best to pair watercress with something that not only complements its flavour but also tones down the flavour intensity, such as creamy foods like avocado or soft cheese or with sweeter vegetables or fruits.

Want to try watercress? Try these recipes:

Tropical Watercress and Black Bean Salad

Watercress soup

Winter Salad



Collard Greens

While usually kale gets all the glory in the leafy green category, collard greens deserve a chance in the spotlight. Collards can be used just as you would kale or other leafy greens, however, they are also a great substitution for wraps. Their large, sturdy leaves make the perfect wrapping material. So, if you’re tired of tortillas or flimsy lettuce wraps, collards may just be for you.

Rich in vitamins A, C, K, folate and calcium, collards are a great way to boost your nutritional intake. And like their cruciferous cousins, they too have potential cancer fighting properties.

Ji-ca-what? Jicama, pronounced hic-ama, is root vegetable with a slightly sweet and mild flavour. Used commonly in Mexican and South American cuisine, jicama has a water content of about 85-90% which makes it a refreshingly, crunchy veggie to enjoy in its raw form.

Jicama is a good source of fiber (3.2 grams per ½ cup), and provides vitamin C, folate, and potassium. It's great snack all by itself or in a salad. It's so delicious you'll wonder why it hasn't been in your veggie rotation sooner. 

Want to try jicama? Try these recipes:

Jicama and Carrot Slaw with Honey-Lime Dressing

Watermelon, Mango and Jicama Salad

Jicama Fries


So, what about you? What veggies do you enjoy that don’t get the respect they deserve? What are your top underrated veggies?