Q: I know you’re supposed to “eat a rainbow” and choose fruits and vegetables that have bright colors. Does that mean that vegetables like cauliflower and parsnips aren’t good for you? I love them both.
Ginny Messina, R.D.:
Yes, cauliflower and parsnips are good for you! So are turnips, onions, and kohlrabi.
Many of the proposed health benefits of vegetables are associated with their rich phytochemical content. Because some of these phytochemicals are pigments, they give foods such as tomatoes, carrots, and beets their deep colors. Not only are these pigments good for you, but because they make vegetables bright and appealing, they might convince you to eat more of them.
But there are also plenty of phytochemicals that we can’t see. Like other vegetables in the cruciferous family (cabbage family), cauliflower and turnips are good sources of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates that appear to have important anti-cancer activity. Onions and garlic are also rich in sulfur compounds that may fight cancer.
These foods provide vitamins and minerals as well. Turnips, parsnips, and water chestnuts are all good sources of the mineral potassium, a nutrient that can fall short in diets and one that’s important for the health of the bones and heart.
And some of the pale vegetables have culinary attributes that can make it easier for you to increase your vegetable intake. Parsnips, for example, have an appealing sweetness that can offset the bitter flavor of other cruciferous vegetables. Onions gently sautéed in a little olive oil make any dish more flavorful, which means that they make it easy to increase your vegetable intake. Water chestnuts add crunch to stir-fried dishes and salads. Raw cauliflower is relatively mild compared to other cruciferous vegetables and can be a good introduction to these health-promoting foods for kids.
The important thing to remember is that all vegetables are good for you. Eat lots of them, eat a variety, and eat the ones you enjoy.