How often do you eat grains? If you’re like most Americans, you probably eat some form of grains at least once per day, whether it’s food made from white flour, a quinoa bowl or just some sprouted grain bread.
Grains are good for you, especially when they’re not overly processed or refined. However, replacing your grains with nutrient-dense root vegetables is even better. Most root vegetables are packed with fiber, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A and C, among other nutrients.
Swapping out grains for root vegetables is nothing new—they’ve been a major part of South American and Asian diets for centuries. But if you’re trying to cut down on gluten and get more vegetables in your diet, make the switch for a few meals each week. You might just decide to skip the grains for good.
What qualifies as a root vegetable?
Root vegetables are the kind that grow underground, like carrots and beets. The root of the plant is fleshy and edible, although the top of the plant (like beet leaves and carrot tops) can be eaten, too. Many root vegetables are harvested in the fall, but you can find seasonally appropriate recipes for nearly all of them.
Beyond “true” root vegetables, we also classify bulbs and rhizomes as root vegetables. This includes vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, sunchoke and even ginger. All of these root vegetables are hardy and can be stored for months in cool, dark places. That’s great news for anyone who has ever left an avocado five seconds too long.
Root vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and antioxidants. They typically have a lower glycemic index load and a lower calorie count than most grains—and you’re less likely to experience digestive or inflammatory issues when you swap vegetables for grains. Generally, you can expect to get about three or more grams of fiber in every half cup of cooked root vegetables.
Eat these underground veggies
These root vegetables deserve a spot in your everyday diet:
- Beets: Beets are a naturally sweet, often deep red root vegetable. They have a high antioxidant content, ranking right up there with broccoli and peppers as one of the best vegetable choices available. They naturally contain nitrates, which the body uses for recovery after workouts. If you’re an athlete, it’s worth getting more beets in your diet.
- Carrots: Carrots are popular, so chances are you’ve already got them in your diet. They are commonly orange, but can also be found in purple, yellow and white varieties. The orange carrots have carotenoids, an antioxidant which promotes eye and skin health. All carrots offer lutein, lycopene and vitamins A, C, D, E and K as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Roast them, juice them or eat them raw.
- Potatoes: Russet and Yukon potatoes don’t pack quite the nutritional punch as sweet potatoes and yams, but they offer more nutrients than you might think. They’re full of antioxidants and potassium, which is critical to heart and bone health. In fact, white potatoes have more potassium than even bananas and sweet potatoes, and they offer plenty of manganese, which supports nerve and bone health. As long as you’re not frying them often, go ahead and reach for this favorite comfort food. Aim for about a half cup to 1.5 cups per day. Don’t forget to eat the skins!
- Sunchokes: Sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) pack a nutritional punch. They have a whopping ten grams of fiber and three grams of protein per serving, plus vitamin A, iron and potassium. Sunchokes are one of the best natural vegetable sources of iron. If you’re anemic, make sunchokes a bigger part of your meal plan.
- Sweet potatoes and yams: From marshmallow-topped Thanksgiving dishes to roasted sides, sweet potatoes and yams are a popular treat. They’re not only one of the best supplies of vitamin A around (crucial to your eye health), they’re also loaded with vitamin B5, vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants and fiber. Sweet potatoes are lower in calories, but yams have more potassium. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong.
If these veggies aren’t to your taste, there are plenty more nutrient-dense root vegetables to try. Whether you eat them raw, roast them, sauté them or find another method, they’re a great way to get plenty of flavor, nutrition, color and satisfying starch, without resorting to grains. Try swapping out your grains for root vegetables a few times per week—we guarantee you won’t want to go back.