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Nutrient Powerhouses

The Benefits of Winter Vegetables

If you are not adding a variety of vegetables to your diet, you could be missing out on a rich flavor palette and a multitude of minerals and vitamins. In an interview with Cheryl Mussatto, a clinical dietitian and author of The Nourished Brain, we delve into the myriad health benefits of plant-based eating, the seasonal root vegetables, and ways to incorporate them into our meals.

Q: Before we dive into the benefits, what makes up the root vegetable family?

A: Root vegetables are the edible portions of plants that grow underground and are an abundant source of fresh produce during fall and winter thanks to their long storage times.

There are the usual root veggies many of us use frequently, such as potatoes, onions, and carrots. But let’s not forget parsnips, beets, radishes, jicama, turnips, artichokes, rutabagas, shallots, garlic, water chestnuts, turmeric, ginger, and sweet potatoes.

Q: What are the health benefits of root vegetables?

A: Root vegetables evolved to store nutrients for the plants themselves so when we eat them, we can be assured we are eating a true powerhouse of energy, minerals, and vitamins.

One health benefit is their dietary fiber content. Most Americans lack eating sufficient fiber. Root vegetables also contain a substance called resistant starch. Some indirect benefits include reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and possibly some cancers.

Another health benefit of root vegetables is because they grow underground having close contact with the soil, they are especially rich in minerals like potassium, zinc, copper, phosphorous, and magnesium. These same root veggies are also good sources of vitamins A, C, and B6. Roots that come with edible greens, such as radishes and beets, are also good sources of vitamin K.

Q: What is your preferred preparation method for the biggest nutritional impact?

A: I think the best way to answer this question is to provide examples of ways to cook certain root vegetables to retain their nutrients.

To help retain beet’s nutrients, it is best to keep the skin on and avoid overcooking them. They can be steamed or roasted, but the longer they are cooked, the more nutrient loss that will occur.

When cooking carrots, try to leave the skin on for better nutrient retention and steam rather than boil.

Avoid over-peeling onions as some of their most concentrated nutrients are found in the outermost layers.

Sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted, or mashed, but skip the sugary toppings.

I prefer roasting root vegetables. Roasting brings out rich, complex flavors. Here are the basics:

1.     Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2.     Line a rimmed sheet pan with foil, spray with non-stick cooking spray.

3.     Wash 3-5 root vegetables under cold water.

4.     Chop vegetables into 1-inch cubes. Place in a mixing bowl.

5.     Lightly drizzle veggies with 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and add any favorite herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, or sage. Toss gently to coat.

6.     Spread veggies in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

7.     Cook 30-45 minutes or until vegetables are tender and can be pierced with a fork.

Q: If someone chooses plant-based, what are important nutritional considerations they should keep in mind?

A: It’s important for people to know that they do not have to resort to eliminating all animal or meat products to reap the health benefits of following a more plant-based way of eating. What I recommend to patients I work with is to fill their plate mostly with plant-based foods (about ½ the plate) and reserve about a quarter of their plate for healthy animal-based foods, such as lean beef or pork (look for cuts stating “round” or “loin”), chicken or turkey breast, fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, or halibut, eggs, and low-fat dairy such as Greek yogurt.

Healthy eating should include a wide variety of foods both plant-based and animal-based. Each type has a plethora of nutrients our bodies require for lifelong good health. And ultimately, that should be the goal for all of us – learn how to plan and eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, have a consistent exercise routine, and health benefits will follow.

Learn more about Cheryl’s work at