Get Back to the Roots

Photography by Tyllie Barbosa

Root vegetables include tuberous roots and taproots, though not tubers, rhizomes, corms or bulbs. Yet this seemingly small category of vegetable offers a lot of variety.

Low in fat and calories, many roots serve as good sources of fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and may help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. Fiber also can help control blood sugar levels for people with diabetes and aid in weight management due to increased satiety.

Root vegetables like jicama, turnips and rutabaga are high in vitamin C, which aids in the absorption of iron and helps keep connective tissue and gums healthy. Beets and parsnips are particularly good sources of folate, which aids in producing DNA and RNA and lowers the risk of delivering a baby with neural tube defects. Carrots are also excellent sources of vitamin A from beta carotene (which is absorbed better when vegetables are chopped and cooked in oil).

Many root vegetables (especially parsnips, celeriac and rutabagas) contain potassium, which blunts the effect of salt on blood pressure and may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and possibly bone loss. Radishes, rutabagas and turnips hail from the cancer-fighting cruciferous family and contain phytonutrients such as sulphoraphane and dithioithiones that bolster antioxidant defenses in cells and contribute to a healthy immune system.

Some root vegetables (carrots, radishes, daikon, beets, celery root and young turnips) can be eaten raw, thinly sliced and served with a low-fat dip or in a crunchy sandwich or shredded into a creative raw slaw. Other root vegetables are best when roasted, baked, steamed, pressure-cooked, sautéed, fried or pureed. Add a splash of citrus or vinegar for a complementary flavor.

 Get Back to the Roots


Beets are an excellent source of folate and a good source of potassium. While known for their garnet-red color, beets range in color from deep red to white. The smaller the beet, the tenderer it will be. Wash gently just before use and peel skin after cooked.

Get Back to the Roots

Burdock Root (Gobo)

Burdock root is usually sliced and added to stir-fry but it also can be eaten raw. Choose young, firm roots no more than one inch in diameter and do not wash until ready to use. While it’s cultivated mostly in Japan, where it’s called gobo, it does grow wild throughout Europe and the U.S.

Get Back to the Roots

Carrots (pictured: middle)

Believe it or not, they’re not always orange: Carrots can be white, yellow, purple or red. Avoid storing near apples, which emit ethylene gas that can give carrots a bitter taste. This versatile root vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked in almost any manner imaginable.

Parsnip (pictured: top)

The first frost of the year converts this creamy-white root’s starch to sugar and gives it a pleasantly sweet flavor. Most often boiled and mashed like potatoes, parsnips are a good source of folate and fiber.

Parsley root (pictured: bottom)

The root tastes like a cross between carrot and celery with a hint of celery root. Choose firm roots without soft spots and with feathery, bright green leaves. Best used in soups and stews or enjoyed on its own as a vegetable.

Get Back to the Roots

Celeriac (Celery Root)

An excellent source of vitamin K, celeriac also provides calcium and potassium. This somewhat ugly, knobby, brown vegetable has a taste that is a cross between strong celery and parsley.

Get Back to the Roots


Daikon, a large Asian radish with a sweet and tangy flavor, has a crisp texture and creamy white or black skin. Choose those with shiny (not dull) skin. Commonly used in salads, shredded as a garnish or in stir-fry dishes.

Get Back to the Roots


Hailing from Mexico and South America, this large, bulbous vegetable is available year-round at Latin American markets and most other grocery stores. With a sweet, nutty flavor, it can be steamed, baked, broiled or fried for a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Always peel before using.

Get Back to the Roots


High in vitamin C, radishes also provide potassium and folate and range in color, shape and flavor (mild to peppery). Choose young, fresh roots that are firm, never withered or shriveled. Soak them in ice water for a couple of hours before eating for added crispness. While not common, they also can be cooked.

Get Back to the Roots


A member of the cabbage family, rutabaga resembles a large turnip and may actually be a cross between turnip and cabbage. Choose those that are smooth, firm and heavy for their size. Always peel rutabaga then steam, sauté, boil or roast.

Get Back to the Roots

Salsify (Oyster Plant)

This root is often used in savory pies and soups and resembles a delicately flavored oyster with nuances of artichoke hearts. Choose firm, full salsify and remember to wrap in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator to preserve the flavor

Get Back to the Roots


Select small, firm turnips for a more delicate flavor and texture. As turnips age, their taste becomes stronger and woodier. If sold with greens attached, look for bright-colored, fresh-looking greens (remove them and store those separately). Turnips can be mashed, pureed, stir-fried or used raw in salads.

Now that you know about roots, get 4 rootsy recipes

Sharon Denny
Sharon Denny, MS, RDN, is the director of the Knowledge Center at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.