The Best Ways to Cook Veggies and Boost Nutrition : While everybody agrees that vegetables are good for you, not everybody agrees on the healthiest way to prepare them. Each method has some obvious benefits, as well as disadvantages, so it’s no wonder that opinions differ widely on the matter.
Some claim steaming is the only acceptable method, and others believe that veggies should only be consumed raw. The only thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is that frying will do nothing good for either you or the vegetable.
Fact: getting to know your veggies is the only way to ensure that you preserve their nutritional power and enjoy their full benefits.
Meet the super-veggies
Not many people are aware that some vegetables are much healthier cooked than raw, and that moderate cooking will in fact boost their nutritional value. This power bunch includes spinach, carrots, tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, kale, mushrooms, and red peppers, which are the true superheroes of the vegetable world.
There is a catch, though: the way you’ll cook them matters big time. Different cooking methods, and cooking in general, can affect the level of antioxidants in vegetables either way, not to mention the loss in vitamins.
On the plus side, cooking vegetables will make the amount of minerals more available to your body, destroy some harmful chemicals, and also help absorb the nutrients in fibre-rich and other heavily digested veggies such as beans and soy beans, artichokes, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, garlic, and mushrooms.
Roasting and baking are the easiest, least time-consuming ways of preparation – and also the tastiest. Not much culinary skill is needed, either: it’s easy enough to season and drizzle a bit of olive oil on top of the veggies. The only thing to worry about is oven temperature, since oil will improve the chances of vegetables getting charred.
Spinach, green beans, and onions will not lose their antioxidant properties when prepared this way, while green peppers will. Carrots and tomatoes are a good choice, especially if you cut them beforehand. Roasted carrots release more carotenoids, while tomatoes get a boost in lycopene, both of which are very powerful antioxidants.
Since roasting and baking generally cause a slightly bigger loss in vitamin content than steaming, opt for vegetables that will keep or even increase their nutrient value, such as artichokes, eggplant, asparagus, kale, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
Some like it hot
Similar to roasting and baking, sautéing implies adding a bit of healthy fat to your vegetables, which is especially beneficial if you use olive oil for cooking: it will enable better absorption of carotenes and phenols and increase the level of antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer.
The biggest downside to this method is the loss in vitamin C and B vitamins due to heat. In addition, some oils, olive oil included, can’t stand extremely high temperatures. To prevent the oil from burning, reduce the heat once the pan is hot and keep the cooking time short. Always add the veggies to a heated pan, taking care to stir them occassionaly so they don’t burn.
Sautéing is a healthier alternative to frying, provided that you choose suitable vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus, cauliflower, peppers, and onions. And, of course, a cooking oil that reacts well to high temperatures.
When things get steamy
Steaming is easily the most popular cooking method. Owing to the fact that vegetables aren’t fully submerged in water and the cooking time is short, this is a healthy way to prep veggies without losing much of their nutrients. In that regard, steaming is superior to other methods, especially with vegetables such as spinach, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, peppers, green beans, and sweet potato.
Carrots and broccoli in particular seem to profit: several studies have noted their ability to retain their vitamin C value and even experience a significant boost in carotenoids when steamed. Tossing some spinach, green beans, and peppers into your bamboo or stainless steel Scanpan steamer will allow you to enjoy veggies with improved antioxidant levels and a full dose of vitamin C.
The major downside to steaming is that no fat is used for cooking, so it’s recommended to serve these vegetables with a piece of fatty meat, grilled cheese, or nuts.
The hot topic
Microwaving has been a matter of controversy for a long time, based on the unfounded prejudice about carcinogens and other toxins being released due to radiation. In fact, this is a perfectly safe method that allows for quick heating of veggies with the use of little to no water. As a result, it provides increased levels of vitamins and phytonutrients in vegetables such as beans, peppers, and carrots, and a smaller loss in B vitamins and vitamin C in greens.
Some veggies will, however, be stripped of their nutritional value. A good example of this is cauliflower, which will lose half of its antioxidant properties when microwaved. Also, depending on their water content, vegetables may turn out to be too soggy or too dry.
It’s worth noting that many vegetables rich in vitamin C will keep their vitamin content, and some, like red cabbage, will even have enhanced levels of chemicals responsible for fighting cancer.
Once the most common method of preparation, boiling is now being largely neglected in favour of steaming. Despite the fact that boiling causes a substantial loss in minerals and vitamins, especially the notoriously unstable vitamin C and some vitamins of the B group, certain vegetables will experience a nutritional boost.
This is especially visible in carrots and broccoli, which will have higher antioxidant levels when boiled. Another positive side of boiling is that many antinutrients will also be lost due to water.
When boiling veggies, choose eggplant, mushrooms, and potatoes rather than peas or cauliflower, which will lose much of their antioxidant power. A good piece of advice is to cook whole vegetables, or to cut them immediately before cooking in order to prevent the loss of nutrients. Also, keep to cooking with minimal amounts of water over low heat. This method is ideal for preparing soups and stews, since all the liquid will be consumed.
Which takes the cake?
If you’ve been wondering about the best way to cook vegetables, the answer is that there is no single best way. The cooking method depends on the vegetable, and can boost both its flavour and nutritional value if you have the right sort of produce.
The safest bet is to base your diet on a mix of cooked and raw vegetables. Your cooked meals should combine vegetables prepared in different ways, so you can get optimum nutritional value out of each of them.
Just remember to pay close attention to cooking time and temperature. And, of course, to pick your veggies wisely.
Cooper Klein is an entrepreneur with a degree in Marketing. He’s interested in real estate and home decor. In order to spend more time with his family, Cooper decided to take a break, and he’s currently working from home as a blogger for SmoothDecorator and several other sites. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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