Vegetables are awesome for you because they’re chock full of essential vitamins that we need, but our body can’t make on its own. These nutrients help you function, grow, and fight off diseases.
A quick recap about vitamins
- Water-soluble vitamins have antioxidant properties that help with tissue repair and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Fat-soluble vitamins are great for your eyes, liver, blood and bones. Veggies are also a great source of minerals which regulate important processes in the body.
- Magnesium keeps muscles, nerves, blood and bones strong and healthy.
- Iron is crucial for growth and making hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen throughout your body.
You get it. Nutrients are good for you.
How to get the most of Nutrients out of your veggies
You may have heard fresh produce is better for you, but that might not always be true.
If what you’re craving is out of season, consider trying flash frozen produce.
In one study, scientists found frozen green beans only lose a quarter of its vitamin C after a year!
That’s compared to refrigerated green beans which lost three-quarters of its vitamin C after just one week.
Cooking can be a great way to get all those delicious nutrients out of your veggies. The heat, breaks down the plant cell walls, releasing vitamins and minerals for easier absorption, but there can be drawbacks.
One big culprit behind nutrient loss is your cooking water. It leaches off the water-soluble fiber and vitamins, leaving you with nutrient rich water while your veggies aren’t as healthy as they could be.
Many nutrients migrate into the cooking water
Researchers found that boiled broccoli lost about 35% of its vitamin C, while steaming caused about a 20% loss and microwave and pressure-cooking only a 10% loss.
Lost, however, doesn’t mean destroyed.
As long as you consume that cooking liquid, say in a tasty soup or sauce, you can get all those nutrients back.
You can minimize the leaching by using less water and cutting the vegetables into large chunks for less exposed surface area.
Heat and oil are also villains to nutrients. Vitamins break down over extended heating times while minerals are better at withstanding heat — something to consider when choosing between a quick sauté or a long roast.
Frying is the unhealthiest choice. Shocking, I know. Not only does the frying oil take away fat-soluble vitamins it can be heated to much hotter temperatures that many compounds just can’t survive.
And you know, it’s fried. So that deliciousness comes with a price: in this case, saturated fat and, depending on how they’re fried, trans fats.
Use the chemistry in cooking for your advantage
Now here’s where chemistry can really help you. The chemical principle of like dissolves like.
Means that you lose water-soluble vitamins to water and fat-soluble vitamins to frying oil.
BUT that can also be used to your advantage.
Eating vegetables with fat-soluble vitamins along with a little bit of good fat can help your body absorb the nutrients.
A study found that eating salad along with avocados or oil-based dressing helped participants absorb way more of the healthy carotenoids as compared to plain salad.
That’s because when you grind up the salad with your teeth, the oily dressing is very happy to pick up the fat-soluble vitamins — remember, like dissolves like. That makes it easier to deliver those vitamins to your body.
Raw or cooked
So if cooking makes vegetables lose nutrients, why not just eat them raw, right? Well, there are reasons to leaving foods intact, for example, carrot and potato peels are loaded with fiber. But it’s not quite that simple.
A 2008 study found that people who eat a completely raw diet had higher than normal levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that makes carrots orange and contributes to healthy skin and eyesight.
BUT they had much lower levels of lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their signature red color and has been linked to reduced risks of cancer and heart disease. That’s because cooking with oil changes the lycopene into a more bent structure that is easier for your body to absorb.
In other words, cooking gives you easier access to certain essential nutrients. So the next time you’re actually cooking and not ordering take out, use these tips to get the most nutrition, along with taste, out of your produce.
Remember, every vegetable is like a unique snowflake, and preserve their nutrients in different ways depending on how you cook them. What’s your favorite vegetable and way to prepare it? I like our spinach, ideally sautéed and drenched in olive oil, parmesan and garlic, garlic, and more garlic.