Veggies are really good for you. And you can make them even more nutritious if you prepare them in ways that maximize their benefits.
Studies show the process of cooking actually breaks down tough outer layers and cellular structure of many vegetables, making it easier for your body to absorb their nutrients.
For example, studies found that eating cooked spinach and carrots resulted in higher blood levels of the antioxidant beta carotene, which then converts to vitamin A.
It is not just limited to vitamins — cooking vegetables also helps increase the amount of minerals, like calcium, magnesium and iron, available to the body.
Steam, don’t boil
As a general rule, it is best to keep cooking time, temperature and the amount of liquid to a minimum. That is why steaming is one of the best ways to cook most vegetables. It turns out that is especially true for broccoli, long touted as one of our top anti-cancer foods. Researchers found steaming kept the highest level of nutrients.
Boiling vegetables causes water soluble vitamins like vitamin C, B1 and folate to leach into the water. So unless you are going to drink the water along with your vegetables, such as when making soups and stews, these vitamins are typically poured down the sink. Steaming is a gentler way to cook because the vegetables do not come in contact with the boiling water.
Another study found peas, cauliflower and zucchini to be particularly susceptible to a loss of nutrients through boiling, losing more than 50% of their antioxidants. Water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables, the researchers summarised.
When in doubt, microwave
Microwaving uses little to no water, and can heat the veggie quickly from within, preserving nutrients such as vitamin C that break down when heated. Phyto-nutrients are compounds naturally found in plants that provide health benefits and disease protection in the human body.
Avoid microwaving cauliflower to preserve vitamins and phyto-nutrients that have been shown to help lower cholesterol and fight cancer.
Saute, don’t fry
Studies show that during deep-fat frying, fat penetrates the food and vegetables dehydrate. But sauteing in a bit of healthy cooking oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, is a great way to cook many vegetables. Not only does it maximise flavour, but the addition of olive oil appears to increase the absorption of phytonutrients like phenols and carotenes.
Control the temperature of your olive oil when sauteing to increase nutritient absorption.
Griddling, baking & roasting
Veggies griddled with a tiny bit of olive oil can develop intense flavour and be quite healthy. Baking or roasting is hit-or-miss, and very dependent on the vegetable.
Oven roasted tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxident that may reduce risk for Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Maximise that benefit by never peeling a tomato or throwing away its seeds as most of the antioxidant power actually lies in the peel and seeds.
Best method to use?
So, which cooking method is best? The answer often depends on the vegetable. If you are a dedicated cook, staying on top of the latest science might be helpful.
But for days when you are too busy to look up the latest research, here is how to boil it down: Default to steaming and microwaving with just a little bit of water, throw in a splash of olive oil when you can, and your veggies — and body — will thank you.Healthiest ways to cook veggies with EVOO and boost nutrition,