Eat a variety of brightly colored veggies” and “Avoid white foods” have been dietitians’ mantras for many years. But if that advice has led you to bypass white vegetables—such as cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, onions, turnips, and white beans—you’re missing out on some pretty powerful health benefits.
For example, when researchers compared the vegetable and fruit intake of more than 20,000 men and women with the chances of having a stroke over the 10-year study period, they found that only white produce was linked to a lower risk. People who ate about 7 ounces of white vegetables and fruit a day had a 52 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who ate about 2 ounces daily.
That’s not to say that colorful vegetables aren’t worth eating. It’s just that you should also remember to keep white veggies in rotation in your diet.
“The ‘eat the rainbow’ advice stemmed from the 1980s, when experts were trying to get people to eat vegetables besides white potatoes and corn,” says Dana Hunnes, R.D., Ph.D., an adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. (To be fair, though, even white potatoes are nutritious.) But with the emphasis on increasing your intake of berries, bok choy, carrots, kale, peppers, spinach, and other bright-hued vegetables, white produce was relegated to inferior status. Here’s a quick look at the reasons why you should make white veggies part of your rainbow, too.
Cauliflower and turnips are part of the powerhouse group of cruciferous vegetables, which also counts broccoli and kale as members. They’re high in compounds called glucosinolates, which may have a protective role against cancer.
Mushrooms, especially enoki, maitake, and oyster, may have anticancer and immune-boosting benefits. A 2016 study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found that the lectins in oyster mushrooms may help reduce the toxic impact of arsenic on the liver and kidneys.
Onions and garlic contain antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, foods rich in polyphenols help control chronic inflammation, which may play a role in Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
White beans, like other legumes, are often considered to be a protein source—and they are. But they count as a vegetable, too. Cannellini, great northern, navy, and other white beans supply B vitamins, iron, potassium, and even a little calcium. Plus they’re rich in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and antioxidants. A 2006 USDA analysis found that great northern and navy beans had antioxidant levels similar to some more brightly colored beans, such as red kidney.