If you’re eating these produce items just to get a daily serving of nutrients, don't bother.
In the plant foods world, everything is not created equal. The nutritional value of a pomegranate is far superior to that of celery. That’s just a fact. That doesn’t mean celery isn’t great—what else would we eat with our hot wings? It just means there’s a better use of your plant-based daily tallies. Here, nine fruits and vegetables that are fine (and better than nothing), but not at all the healthiest choices you could make.
If you’ve been on a diet in your life, someone has told you at some point, “You know, you burn more calories chewing celery than you get when you eat it.” But frankly, unless you have some seriously powerful jaws, it’s just not true. A celery stick has 10 calories—and not much else. Yes, it has some Vitamin C and K and antioxidants, but on the scale of healthfulness, this one doesn’t rank very high. Skip it, and reach for carrots if you’re craving something crunchy.
Most dried fruit is not much healthier than candy. The pieces are often dried, coated in sugar, and treated with chemicals to preserve color and freshness. If you’re drying the fruit yourself, you’ve got a better product. Otherwise, this is probably one produce category worth skipping. Per ounce, dried fruit packs in more calories and less water content than the fresh variety.
However, dried fruit has a few things going for it. Because it’s a dehydrated, one serving of dried fruit does have a higher concentration of some vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C, however, is not one of them. Research shows drying fruit dramatically reduces the amount of this immune-boosting nutrient.
If you gleefully scoop up an extra serving of corn at each meal, put down the spoon. Yes, corn is a vegetable, but it’s a better source of sugar than actual vitamins. Corn is high in simple sugar carbohydrates and has virtually no indigestible fiber (the kind that keeps you regular and lowers blood cholesterol). Instead, the carbs and fiber in corn are the highly digestible kind that converts to sugar and spikes blood sugar levels very quickly.
Plus, corn is quite calorie dense compared to some other vegetables. One cup has 180 calories. Compare that to the same amount of broccoli, which has just over 30 calories. Corn is also not a whole grain, according to the Whole Grains Council. Only dried corn kernels like popcorn, which have intact elements of the whole grain, get this healthy distinction.
Radishes are a must-have topping for tacos (with cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime, please). They’re crispy, sharp, and slightly astringent, and they’re quite beautiful, too. But, besides a good bit of vitamin C, radishes don’t bring much to the table. Plus, some people will experience tummy troubles, including excess gas, after eating radishes.
The problem with eggplant isn’t the fruit’s nutritional content—yes, it’s a fruit; don’t argue.
The dark purple skin is rich in antioxidants, and it has a decent amount of fiber (about 3g per cup). But the health hazard is what’s done to eggplants. Indeed, eggplants are practically sponges. They soak up the fat, calories, and sodium of the cooking process, so popular methods like eggplant lasagna turn eggplant from a moderately healthful plant into a calorie-dense nutritional bomb.
Iceberg lettuce is better than no lettuce if it’s getting you to eat more plant-rich salads, but if you can swap your leaves out, do. Iceberg is virtually empty. It has almost no nutritional value, less than one gram of fiber per cup, and only 10 calories. Instead, opt for a leafy green that can serve up a bit more nutritional value per leaf. Kale, for example, contains a good dose of vitamin A and C, and it has bone-building calcium. Baby kale is often more delicate and less fibrous, which makes it ideal for salads.
WATCH: Kale 101
You knew this one was coming, right? Like eggplants, potatoes themselves aren’t terrible by themselves. They’re calorie dense—one cup has about 115 calories—but they do contain some fiber in the skin and potassium and vitamin C. However, most cooking methods virtually destroy all of these nutrients. When potatoes are fried and covered in salt, or boiled and mashed to buttery mush, their healthy aspects generally disappear. What’s left is a high-calorie food that spikes your blood sugar. You can get the same mashed experience with cauliflower, even butternut squash. Both of those foods deliver fewer calories and more nutrients per serving than potatoes.
Fruit juice (the 100 percent fruit juice kind) may seem like a healthy alternative to, say, soda or artificial juices, but it’s really just a cupful of sugar. Fruit juice is stripped of the fruits’ fiber and many of the healthful vitamins and minerals. What’s left is the sugary juice which, while delicious, is just a vehicle for a high-sugar sip. It’s smarter, healthier, and more filling to eat the fruit itself.
Don’t let the photos of root vegetables on the bag trip you up. Veggie chips are virtually identical to potato chips. One ounce of a popular vegetable chip has 150 calories; classic potato chips have 160 calories. Baking and frying the thinly-sliced vegetables removes almost all of their nutrients, leaving them soaked in oil and calories. If you like them for their vegetal flavor, enjoy them whole-heartedly. Just don’t fool yourself—they aren’t “healthy.”