Do you ever wonder if microwaving your veggies destroys all the good nutritional benefits you were hoping to consume? Chances are, if you’re doing your best to meet your quota of at least 2-3 cups of vegetables per day, you want to retain all the powerful nutrients that your food choices contain. Some cooking methods do a better job at helping you get the most nutrients from your veggies.
Cooking Methods Matter
Most people are aware that frying foods is not the best choice for health. Better options including baking, roasting, steaming, grilling, sautéing, and—yes—even microwaving. One common denominator with all of these techniques is heat. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, heat can break down and destroy about 15-20% of some nutrients. These include vitamin C, the B-vitamins, and potassium. Consequently, over-cooking can render even the healthiest vegetables less effective.
On the flip side, some cooking methods can actually bring out more nutritional value when heat is introduced. Knowing which vegetables retain their nutritional content with heat, and which cooking methods to use, will help you get the most bang for your buck when trying to gain all the nutrients in your veggies. For more information, be sure to assess whether you’re getting enough fiber in your diet. Also, also read up on why fiber is important.
Don’t Fear the Microwave
Despite some widespread fear about the microwave, it might actually be one of the healthiest ways to cook and retain the nutrients in your veggies. Microwaves cook food by heating them from the inside out. Radio waves are emitted into the food molecules, making them jump around, which generates heat. (See—that isn’t so scary after all.) Some research suggests that due to the shorter cooking times and the lack of additional liquids that dilute nutrients, microwaving does a really good job of retaining the healthy vitamins and minerals in foods. Plus, it’s super quick and easy.
Traditional Cooking Methods
Other cooking methods such as steaming, boiling, broiling, baking, roasting, grilling, poaching, and stir-frying can all be used as healthy ways to prepare food. Steaming food whether it’s veggies, chicken or fish, allows them to cook in their own juices. This adds flavor—and preserves a lot of the nutrients. Adding some seasonings and a squeeze of lemon or lime can also help add a boost of flavor. Typically, this cooking method does not require additional fats for flavor, as the natural juices will do the job.
Be Mindful of Downing Your Foods in Liquids
Boiling or poaching veggies has a bad rap. This is due to the large amount of water used that can dissolve up to 60-70% of the water-soluble vitamins. Nobody wants to eat veggies void of nutrients. Therefore, if choosing this method, be sure to opt for veggies that are strong enough to hold on to most of their nutrients. Root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, and carrots fair well. However, be sure to cook them for the shortest time possible. The longer they stay submerged in the water, the more nutrients will leach out. Therefore, boiling is not the worst way to cook your veggies, but be sure not to make them too mushy by overcooking them.
A better option for retaining more nutrients would be steaming. It is equally as quick as boiling, but uses less water, allowing the foods to retain more of the nutrients.
A Better, More Flavorful Option
For those who do not like to eat their veggies, roasting, baking or grilling might just be the method for you. Roasting or baking veggies retains many nutrients but also brings out their natural sweetness by caramelizing the natural sugars. Grilling also provides a unique flavor profile by giving foods a smoky charred taste. The addition of marinades, dry-rubs, or herbs and spices can really enhance the flavors of all types of foods. Additionally, a quick stir-fry or sauté can also be a healthy way to cook food and retain all their natural goodness and nutrients.
Bring on the Heat
Some vegetables actually produce more nutrients when heat is added. For example, the natural antioxidants in carrots, spinach, and tomatoes are more easily released when heat is added by aiding in the breakdown of their cellular walls, thus making it easier for your body to utilize. Tomatoes release more lycopene, a phytonutrient that is absorbed better in the body from being cooked or processed. Some research suggests that lycopene may protect against some cancers and heart disease. Foods that contain high amounts of carotenoids such as carrots are more available for absorption when cooked. The same holds true for lutein, a phytonutrient in corn that helps support your eyes.
Experiment with a Variety of Cooking Methods
I encourage you to try a variety of cooking methods and experiment with the different flavors each method provides. Sheet pan meals or tray bakes –or whatever you want to call them—are one of my favorite go-to weekday meals. You can place chicken or fish, potatoes, and veggies all in one pan, set it, and forget it. The best part: you just have one pan to clean.
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