Know Which Are The Best Vegetables

There's a battle going on right here—between big-name contenders from broccoli to turnips. The goal: to determine which vegetable is No. 1 in nutrition, and which should take first place when you're eating your food. Of course, all veggies are winners when it comes to warding off excess weight and preventing disease; but with all the peeling and chopping you have to do to get them to the table, they're not the easiest foods around (no wonder most women fail to score five servings a day). So it's important to pick the right stuff and eat vegetables that pack the most vitamins and minerals. That's what this tourney is all about. After the champions emerge, head to the WH Recipe Pages for the fastest, best-tasting ways to serve them up. To see some of this paparazzi-worthy produce in action, check out WH's "Best Fitness Foods for Women."

Veggie Vs. Veggie The Game is on!

To form our four starting divisions, we sorted vegetables by color (red, green, yellow/orange, and white). Then we chose the top 16 based on their levels of vitamin C, the water-soluble antioxidant whose list of health benefits is longer than Shaq's inseam. (To name just a few: C boosts immunity, protects skin from sun damage, aids in healing wounds, and helps the body absorb iron.) Next, we pitted veggies against each other within their divisions to find out which ranked highest in the four nutrients women need most. For the all essential vitamins women need, see WH's "The Best Vitamins for Women."

Round One Folate

Red division
Red Bell Pepper vs. Red Cabbage - 42 mcg vs. 13 mcg
Tomato vs. Turnip - 27 mcg vs. 20 mcg

Green Division
Brussels Sprouts vs. Green Bell Pepper - 54 mcg vs. 16 mcg
Broccoli vs. Kale - 55 mcg vs. 19 mcg

Yellow/orange division
Butternut Squash vs. Yellow Bell Pepper - 38 mcg vs. 24 mcg
Acorn Squash vs. Yellow Beans - 24 mcg vs. 41 mcg

White Division
Cauliflower vs. Jicama - 57 mcg vs. 16 mcg
Potato vs. Rutabaga - 24 mcg vs. 29 mcg

You've heard of folic acid thanks to its success in making healthy babies. In 1998 the U.S. government mandated that folic acid be added to grains, and by 2003 birth defects had dropped by a third. But the perks of getting the RDA (400 micrograms) of this mighty B vitamin don't stop there. Folate lowers CRP and homocysteine, two blood compounds that trigger artery inflammation, says Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Studies find that a higher CRP rate raises sudden heart attack risk, and other data link high homocysteine levels with stroke and vascular disease. Another large-scale study found that women who got the most folate had the lowest incidence of breast cancer.

Round Two Magnesium

Red Division
Red Bell Pepper vs. Tomato - 11 mg vs. 20 mg

Green Division
Brussels Sprouts vs. Broccoli - 20 mg vs. 18 mg

Yellow/orange division
Butternut Squash vs. Yellow Beans - 48 mg vs. 28 mg

White division
Cauliflower vs. Rutabaga - 15 mg vs. 32 mg

Because this mineral is found primarily in good-for-you foods like veggies (not Doritos), three out of four people in the U.S. don't get the 320 milligrams they need every day, says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., the author of Age-Proof Your Body. Which is a shame, since a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that low magnesium levels elevate blood sugar levels. (When blood sugar hits a Rocky Mountain high, your pancreas pumps out more insulin, which makes your body store the sugar as fat, usually right around your middle. Then your blood sugar inevitably comes crashing down--along with your mood.) Magnesium also helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, steadies heart rhythms, and supports your immune system.

Round Three Iron

Tomato vs. Brussels Sprouts - 0.49 mg vs. 1.23 mg
Butternut Squash vs. Rutabaga - 0.98 mg vs. 0.73 mg

The monthly visit from Aunt Flo can leave you with an iron deficit when the mineral is lost through blood. And without enough (the RDA is 18 milligrams), your brain and muscles can't get enough oxygen, which slashes their efficiency. A recent Penn State study showed that iron deficiency slowed down female subjects completing mental tasks.

Final Round Selenium

Brussels Sprouts vs. Butternut Squash - 1.4 mcg vs. 0.7 mcg

This vital trace mineral mops up pesky free radicals and helps protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It also generates proteins your immune system needs to stay up and running. And your thyroid can't produce certain hormones without it. (While we blame hormones for a lot of bad stuff, they also happen to run our entire system--the thyroid hormones, for example, control the metabolism of every cell in your body.) Alas, women tend to come up short of the recommended 55 micrograms a day. The fix: Eat gobs of our final-four veggies, which are as rich in selenium, iron, magnesium, and folate as pro ball players are, well, rich.

WINNER! Brussels Sprouts

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