How often do you cook your vegetables? If you’re health conscious, you may try to eat as much of your fruits and vegetables raw as possible. In some cases, this is definitely the right move, but in other cases, you could be passing up valuable nutrients. Some vegetables not only become more tender and easier to eat once cooked, but they also have more of their nutritional value unlocked. This has a lot to do with vegetable structure; the nutrients are trapped in the cells, and the toughness of the vegetable limits how much nutritional goodness our bodies can absorb.
Keep in mind, however, that while certain cooked vegetables become more nutritious, the method of preparation is key to getting the most out of them. Don’t just fry them; heavy fats and oils can outweigh the nutritional benefits if they are not cooked out altogether by the heat. Furthermore, some vitamins might break down if the vegetables are boiled. Generally, the best way to handle vegetables is to steam them; this softens them up so their nutrients are available, without breaking them down or overpowering them with unhealthy grease. Consider cooking these vegetables for to get the maximum nutritional benefit.
When it comes to taste and texture, the debate about cooking or not cooking carrots is up in the air. Soft, squishy carrots may be less appealing to some, but they’re worth it in terms of nutritional benefit. Carrots are one of the best sources of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is fat-soluble, which means it the best way to get it from carrots is to saute them in olive oil. Olive oil is a healthy fat, but if you would like to avoid oil altogether, you might opt to steam the carrots instead, making them both more tender and nutritious.
Spinach won’t make you super strong, but it is still packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s a great source of potassium, certainly, which is good for heart health. One reason cooked spinach is so much more nutrient-rich than raw spinach is simply a matter of volume; because of the way spinach shrinks, a cup of cooked spinach has more spinach (and more nutrients) than the same amount of raw spinach. The best way to get the most out of spinach is to steam it, which can remove certain compounds in it that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
Perhaps the vegetable next to broccoli that everyone loves to hate, asparagus is among the most nutritious. It has Vitamins A, B, C, E, and K through a tough barrier of fiber can interfere with their proper digestion. However, cooking can break that fiber down, making sure you get all of the nutrition. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to cook asparagus and reap these benefits. You could steam it, or blanch it, or even bake it; you might also saute it with healthy oils, or work it into a side dish of some kind. Asparagus is a very versatile vegetable.
While perhaps less popular than their green cousins, red peppers possess carotenoids in great numbers; they are much like carrots in terms of their nutrition profile, given that they provide carotenoids and vitamin A, and also in the manner of cooking them to get the most out of them. Roast them for the best results, but be careful with time and temperature; it’s pretty easy to get them to the sweet spot, and you don’t want all those nutrients to go to waste. They are another great pick for salads, stir-frys, or even pizza if you’re up for it.
Tomatoes are a popular fruit (yes, not a vegetable) that is often eaten both raw and cooked. While quite nutritious overall, its signature secret is lycopene, which is responsible for their color. It can help with numerous illnesses due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Getting the most of this nutrient requires the pureeing or cooking of tomatoes. Fortunately, it is very easy to add tomato sauce to a wide variety of culinary applications; even homemade ketchup will do the trick. Failing that, you could simply saute them with olive oil, and add them to a salad, sandwich, or omelet.
Perhaps fortunately, most broccoli is eaten cooked as it is. What is unfortunate, however, is that said broccoli has less nutrition than the tough, often unappetizing broccoli found on salad platters. Boiling or steaming broccoli can actually cause some of the nutrients to leach out of it. Specifically, cooking deactivates an enzyme called myrosinase, which when left unchecked can actually release important nutrients and antioxidants. Broccoli is better raw- most of the time. Those with hypothyroidism may want to steam broccoli to limit nutrient loss, but protect themselves from compounds in it that might otherwise interfere with their thyroid gland.
Another great option for the pizza, mushrooms can be eaten well both raw and cooked- it’s a matter of which nutrients you want most. Specifically, Vitamin C is increased by the cooking process, while on the other hand, levels of Vitamin B and D are decreased. Cooking will also provide benefits to fiber as well as a few minerals, so they’re probably worth the cooking. Keep in mind, not all mushrooms are created equal. Cooking the right ones, however, is worth the nutritional benefit. Concerned about Vitamin B and D? Spinach is a great way to pick those backup.
While one advantage of vegetables is that you don’t have to cook them, being able to do so definitely comes with some nutritional benefits. Depending on your preferences, it also adds flavor to some otherwise bland choices- though healthy seasonings can help in that regard too. However, make sure you’re cooking your vegetables properly. Steaming and boiling seem similar, but you will lose a lot of nutrients (and flavor) to the water when you boil your vegetables. Instead, use a dry heat, a little bit of healthy oil, or steaming to lock in the nutrients and prime them for consumption.