How to cook vegetables and maximize nutritional value

There is some truth to the old adage, “Eat your vegetables.” A diet rich in vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension and certain types of cancer. It is also true that cooking methods alter the nutrient composition of vegetables. And, while several studies have indicated cooking can degrade some nutrients, it can increase the availability of others.

As a general rule, it is ideal to keep cooking temperature, time and the amount of liquid to a minimum. Steaming is considered the best way to cook most vegetables, especially broccoli. Steaming is a gentler way to cook because the vegetables do not come in direct contact with the cooking water.

When on a time-crunch, microwave. That is because microwaving uses less heat, little to no water, and shorter cooking times, thus, preserving nutrients such as vitamin C.

Sautée, do not fry. Sautéing in a little cooking oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, is an ideal way to prepare many vegetables. This method will enhance flavour, and the addition of olive oil appears to increase the absorption of phytochemicals like phenols and carotenes.

Roasting and baking is another healthy way to prepare vegetables. Adding fats such as olive oil is a good idea, since many of the nutrients in vegetables are fat soluble, and the body absorbs them better in the presence of fat. Studies indicate that cutting and heating tomatoes, with the skin and seeds still intact, opens up cell walls and allows greater access to the antioxidant lycopene. Adding some fat, such as olive oil, makes the nutrient more bioavailable.

Griddling is great. Griddling involves the use of a pan with raised edges and is typically prepared in the oven or on the stove. Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, and asparagus, cooked with a drizzle of olive oil, can increase flavour and be quite healthy.

Boiling is the least favoured cooking method. Studies have shown the process leaches water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins into the water, which is fine if the cooking water is to be consumed. Carrots are the exception. Boiling and steaming increase the levels of beta carotene which converts to vitamin A.

Other Notables:

Wash on demand. Wait to wash vegetables until just before use. This will safeguard water-soluble vitamins and minerals. Also, soaking vegetables can remove key nutrients such as vitamin C.

Depends on how you slice, dice and cut it. Cooking vegetables whole preserves water soluble vitamins and nutrients. When this is not possible, cut vegetables into large, uniform pieces that will cook evenly.

The final choice words; regardless of the cooking or preparation method, “Eat your vegetables.”


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