By now you know processed “white foods” are unhealthy. For example, white sugar, white flour, and white rice are all “empty calories.” You certainly don’t find them in nature. And you certainly shouldn’t eat foods made with them.
However, when it comes to white vegetables, you don’t have to be shy. Many white vegetables are highly nutritious. In fact, they often supply nutrients–such as fiber, magnesium, and potassium–missing from the rest of your diet.
The first white vegetable that comes to mind is cauliflower. Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable.
Although cauliflower lacks color, it is full of healthy constituents that help fight cancer, maintain healthy blood circulation, and strengthen bones and joints. It’s also low in calories. You can even cook it and mash it as a tasty and healthy low-calorie substitute for mashed potatoes. We make it at home regularly.
Mushrooms come from another part of the plant world. Of course, colored mushrooms are poisonous. Their color sends a warning to natural predators. Only the white, “colorless” mushrooms are safe to eat. And they contain a bounty of health benefits.
Mushrooms are naturally fat-free, gluten-free, low-cal, and low-sodium. But they are rich in niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, and vitamin D.
Common white button mushrooms are also rich in a powerful antioxidant called ergothioneine. And this antioxidant appears to modify Type II diabetes risk factors.
In fact, in a brand new study, 37 prediabetics ate 100 grams of white button mushrooms each day for four months. After four months, the prediabetics effectively lowered their risk of developing Type II diabetes. And most of these improvements persisted for another month after they stopped eating mushrooms!
There has also been research for decades demonstrating the anti-cancer activities of many mushroom varieties.
Of course, mushrooms can go with just about anything, raw or cooked. One of the easiest ways to eat raw mushrooms is to slice them into your salads. They are also great cooked with meat dishes–for instance, a savory mushroom sauce over a juicy steak. In Italy, the mushroom is so prized, they make it the focus of the meal by putting a little meat sauce on top of a delicious, juicy Portobello mushroom.
The radish is another “white” vegetable often used as a tasty garnish. The name comes from the Latin radix or root. This vegetable has a small, white root with red outer skin. It can also have a larger root that is all white.
Radishes contain lots of vitamin C as well as phosphorus, zinc, and an enzyme that stimulates peripheral nerves. In Eastern and Ayurvedic medicine, radishes are said to help cool the body. They act as natural anti-inflammatories. They also help the body break down and eliminate toxins and cancer-causing free radicals in the body.
Garlic and onions are two more healthy, “white” vegetables usually served as garnishes and in sauces. They add great flavor to foods. And they both have active health benefits. They lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fight cancer, boost the immune system, improve diabetes, and ease joint pain.
Interestingly, garlic and onions are actually the white bulbs that grow underneath the green plants that appear above the soil. But you can also chop up the upper part of these kinds of plants, as is the case with chives and green onions, and use them in salads or as a garnish. Or rolled up with Peking duck.
Of course, I can’t talk about white vegetables without addressing the most popular white vegetable in America–the white potato. (Of course, potatoes also come in other “original” colors like red, yellow, and purple.)
The Incas in Peru first introduced the potato to the Spanish a few hundred years ago. And today, it’s a staple in the western diet.
Potatoes have a bad reputation as providing empty calories. And this assumption is true, in the case of “French fried” potatoes or potato chips. But many health-conscious adults avoid white potatoes altogether. And that’s not entirely necessary. Potatoes actually have some surprising health benefits.
You see, on a pound-for-pound basis, a white potato provides as much fiber and more hard-to-get potassium than many other commonly eaten fruits and vegetables. In fact, a medium-size, white baked potato with the skin contains just 163 calories. But it has nearly 1 gram of potassium and 3.6 grams of fiber.
Now, compare those numbers to a banana, another go-to source of potassium. Bananas contain 422 mg of potassium–half the amount found in white potatoes. They contain a similar amount of fiber–3.1 grams.
Potatoes also provide important quantities of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and magnesium. But to get these amounts, you need to eat the nutrient-dense skin of the potato too.
Ninety-five to 97 percent of Americans do not meet the minimum daily recommendations for dietary fiber or potassium. So, baked or roasted white potatoes–in moderation–can have a real place in a healthy diet. It’s even okay to add a little pat of real butter or a little dollop of sour cream. And some healthy chives on top.
So as you plan next week’s dinner menu, try to get some more “white” on the table. Just make sure it’s not processed “white” food.
1. “Risk factor modification in pre-diabetic adults consuming white button mushrooms rich in the anti-oxidant, ergothioneine,” April 2014; The FASEB Journal; 28(1): Supplement 117.4