The Health Benefits of White Vegetables

white foods
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

Published on January 4, 2022

By Ariane Resnick, CNC

With the rise of processed and refined foods in our culture, foods that are white have become synonymous with “bad.” There are some ingredients, like white flour and white rice, that start out brown but become white when we remove the outer hulls that contain most of their nutrition. And the truth is, these processed grains should be eaten more sparingly than whole grains — but somehow all white foods have been painted with the same brush. And that’s quite a shame, because naturally white vegetables have a whole lot to offer nutritionally. In fact, these pale ingredients are packed with vitamins and minerals — and deserve to take center stage in our diets just as much as their green counterparts. 

Eat the rainbow — or eat white vegetables?

If you’re even a tiny bit into nutrition, you know that the focus lately has been on eating a bright and vibrant diet full of produce that comes in a wide variety of colors. Does eating white vegetables detract from this advice? We asked Amy Davis, RD, LDN to clarify where the rainbow fits in. 

“You may have heard pieces of advice like, ‘eat the rainbow,’ or ‘count colors, not calories,’” David says. “But those are very general rules of thumb when it comes to eating well, since colorful fruits and vegetables are typically very nutrient-dense foods. However, it doesn’t mean that white vegetables shouldn’t be included in a healthy diet. Foods like cauliflower, for instance, can supply us with essential nutrients that are vital for overall health and wellness.”

Read next: Going Vegetarian? Here Are 10 Foods to Add to Your Grocery Cart

“Eating the rainbow is a great way to get in lots of nutrients without actually having to obsess over the nutrition label to make sure you’re getting the ‘right’ amounts; however, that doesn’t mean that white vegetables are lacking in nutrients,” says Lauren Sharpe, RD. “White vegetables are important for a variety of reasons.” For instance, they’re generally full of fiber. Let’s look at what else white vegetables have to offer us. 

White vegetables and nutrition 

Purple vegetables are colored with an antioxidant called anthocyanin, and green vegetables tend to be high in vitamin K. So what do white vegetables have to offer that’s unique? 

Allicin

The active ingredient in garlic that makes it so powerful for immunity is called allicin, and it’s been studied for everything from cardiovascular health to its anti-tumor capabilities. Onions, another white vegetable, also contain allicin, though not as much of it. 

Vitamin D

White mushrooms are one of the only good plant sources of Vitamin D,” Davis says. You may be familiar with this nutrient as one found in fatty fish and dairy, but mushrooms are a great source for those who are plant-based.

Reduced risk of stroke

White vegetables have been linked in medical studies to a reduction in the occurrence of strokes — by up to 9%.

White vegetables that are great for you

There is no shortage of white vegetables that are healthful for you, but here are some of our favorites. 

Garlic 

It wards off illness better than it does vampires, and it makes your food more flavorful, too. It also fights high cholesterol, and regular consumption reduces your chance of catching the common cold.

Read next: Immunity-Boosting Garlic Soup

Onions

Rich in antioxidants and sulfur, onions can also help to balance your cholesterol levels. Sulfur is an abundant mineral in our bodies, and replenishing it regularly keeps our tissues strong. 

Potatoes

Root vegetables go well beyond potatoes, but even those humble tubers are concentrated sources of vitamin C and potassium. And if you don’t fry them, you minimize the presence of acrylamides, which are the harmful compounds created when potatoes are cooked in oil. 

Turnips

These underused vegetables are spherical and white, with purple tops. They’re mild in flavor, but contain great quantities of assorted minerals, as well as vitamin K. 

Parsnips

Think of parsnips as albino carrots. They’re just as sweet, but with a texture more similar to a potato. They’re high in vitamin C and fiber, and they can be used in both sweet and savory applications.

Rutabagas

These guys look similar to turnips, but without the purple top, though some do have a lightly purple hue. Rutabagas are more pronounced in flavor than turnips, and they contain phosphorus and selenium.

Mushrooms

Some adaptogen-containing mushrooms can help our brains and immunity, but the good old button mushrooms you can find at the grocery store are also surprisingly beneficial. Beyond containing vitamin D, they also have numerous B vitamins.

Cauliflower

Current king of pizza crusts and mashes, cauliflower stands in pretty well for higher carb white foods like wheat flour. It doesn’t contain gluten, so using it in baking also requires thickeners or stabilizers.

Celeriac

It’s also known as celery root, but it’s a slightly different plant. Containing solid amounts of B vitamins and vitamin K, it can be blended to add delicious creaminess to soups. 

Cooking tips for white vegetables

How we consume ingredients can be important to getting the nutrition we want out of them. For example, the lycopene in tomatoes is more bioavailable once they’re cooked. We asked our RDs for the best preparation methods for white foods.

“The nutrients in foods can sometimes be altered by the way the food is prepared. Once food is cooked, there will almost always be some nutrients lost, but some nutrients are actually increased after cooking, such as the beta-carotene in carrots,” says Davis. “Very generally, eating foods raw or very lightly steamed or sautéed will yield the highest nutrient payoff, especially when looking at water-soluble vitamins. Garlic should be crushed or chopped in order to activate the allicin present in the vegetable, but most of the allicin disappears with cooking. On the other hand, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower form a cancer-fighting compound called indole after the cooking process.”

If eating raw garlic sounds difficult for you, you might not realize that there are several ways in which you might be doing that regularly anyway. For instance, pesto and vinaigrettes both often contain raw garlic. When looking to keep garlic raw, mincing it finely will help it taste smoother, and may cause less stomach irritation. Onions also benefit from being served raw, as the sulfur in them breaks down with cooking. This works most easily when using them in preparations such as a fresh pico de gallo, or very thinly sliced in a shawarma wrap.

However you choose to prepare and eat white vegetables, you’ll get far more out of them simply by eating them than by not, so don’t let best preparation methods sway you away. Should you prefer caramelized onions over the raw version, you will still be doing your body good by consuming them. White vegetables are chock full of nutrition, and with the above info, you can easily incorporate more of them into your daily life. 

Read next: Want to Eat More Vegetables Every Day? Here’s the Secret

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So do good emails.

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