Everyone knows that eating your vegetables is one of the best ways to achieve optimum health. You get an entire alphabet’s worth of vitamins and minerals, plus antioxidants, polyphenols, fiber, and other healthful compounds with long and complicated names.
But how many people are eating their vegetables right? Do you just bite off a carrot or should you put it in a pot before eating it? Should you really pay for that steamer? Or is there a master plan on how one can prepare vegetables to extract maximum nutritional value?
There is really no single answer. Every cooking method, be it boiling, blanching, steaming, roasting, or cooking sous vide, alters the nutrient content of vegetables in the same way it does for any kind of food.
What about eating them raw then? There are instances when vegetables give the good stuff when eaten raw, but not all nutrients are accessible in this state and some will require some form of heating to be free.
The important thing then is to prepare vegetables in a way that most nutrients are preserved and made readily available for the body to absorb. There are certain pointers to guide you with this as outlined below.
1. Mind the water.
The color of your cooking water is a great indicator of how much nutrients you have lost from your food. So yes, that green water that you are draining and throwing away? It actually contains much of the healthy stuff.
Water-soluble vitamins like Vitamins C, B12, and B6, folate, and thiamine leach into the cooking water easily. So do polyphenols. As such, it is best to limit cooking water. Ideal cooking methods include steaming, cooking sous vide, or even microwaving. Do this to prepare broccoli, potatoes, green beans, spinach, kale, and asparagus.
On the other hand, vegetables with fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, K, D and E, benefit from cooking. Go ahead and boil your carrots, winter squash, sweet potato, and leafy greens to extract most of their goodness.
2. Fresh is not always best.
‘The fresher, the better’ remains true. But it depends where you are getting your vegetables. The best place is from the farmer’s market and not exactly the ones from your supermarket. You have to consider the transport time as nutritional degradation can happen during delivery.
Also, vegetables that are out of season are best bought frozen. These are picked at their peak ripeness and flash-frozen ensuring that all the nutrients are locked in and ready for you to consume.
3. Just nuke it.
Often, celebrity chefs frown upon microwaving anything but it is really not that bad. It is a dry cooking method, which means you are saving nutrients that can otherwise leach into cooking water. Also, microwaving preserves antioxidants very well.
In a 2009 study from the Journal of Food Science, researchers found that microwaving beans, beets, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, garlic, and onion preserved their highest levels of antioxidants. Meanwhile, the antioxidants within eggplant, corn, Swiss chard, and peppers increased after they were placed in the microwave oven.
4. Add fat and citrus.
You may feel like a champion eating plain vegetables, but some fat and citrus actually do no harm. Fat-soluble vitamins benefit best from the small addition of fat and make them readily available for bodily absorption. Also, this makes your vegetables tastier so you are likely to eat more!
Regarding citrus, vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli have high iron content but it cannot be digested by the body without Vitamin C. This is easily solved by adding citrus to your food, making it healthier and more delicious.