Vegetables are one of your main sources of nutrients that will keep your body healthy. Aside from the necessary vitamins and minerals, you also get other must-haves such as antioxidants and polyphenols that help fight the signs of aging, fibers that keep your digestive tract clean, and other compounds that improve your general health.
That sounds straightforward, but people still end up not getting enough nutrients even with a veggie-heavy diet. This is mostly because the vegetables are not being prepared right. While there’s no “mandatory” way of preparing every single vegetable, you should at least understand that any cooking method will have some effect on how much of the healthy stuff will remain in the veggies.
What if you don’t cook your veggies? You’re probably thinking that it’s fine if you eat vegetables raw to get the maximum amount of nutrients. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. While most nutrients can be obtained from raw vegetables, some nutrients have to be subjected to heat before they can be properly absorbed by your body. Besides, eating raw veggies all the time can get old really fast.
You’d want to still be able to prepare your vegetables in a way that preserves their nutrients. This is why we came up with a few things that could help you get started on cooking vegetables the right way.
- Will Water Work?
Some people think that washing your veggies too much is a sure way to lose a lot of their nutrients, but that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to grilled vegetables and raw salads. A good way to check your veggies is to take a look at the water: if it’s green after washing the veggies, you might be sending a good amount of nutrients down the drain.
If you’re preparing veggies rich in water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C, B12, B6, folate, and thiamine, you might want to try other ways of cooking them. For example, broccoli, potatoes, green beans, spinach, kale, and asparagus can be steamed or microwaved instead of boiled.
On the other side of the scale are veggies with fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, K, D, and E. Common examples include carrots, sweet potato, and squash. Boiling them actually makes it easier for your body to absorb their nutrients, so water definitely works well when preparing them.
- Fresh Ain’t Everything
Getting fresh ingredients is always desirable, but that doesn’t mean it’s the be-all-end-all when it comes to preparing nutritious food. While it is true that veggies are most nutritious when they’re fresh, there’s still the fact that some vegetable items are inherently more nutritious than others. For example, it’s entirely possible that a freshly picked carrot in a conventional farm may have fewer nutrients compared to something picked earlier at the farmer’s market.
You also have to consider the availability of the ingredient at certain times of the year. Sure you can get fresh bell peppers during spring, but you can’t expect it to be better than something that’s able to grow in ideal conditions during summer.
If you need out-of-season ingredients and you’re worried about nutritional content, it may be best to go for something frozen instead of fresh. Flash-frozen vegetables are picked when they were still in season to keep most of their nutrients, and they’re made ready for you to consume any time of the year.
- Just Nuke it.
Ah, the microwave. Most people think that it’s just a quick, lazy way to cook food. Celebrity chefs hate the concept of microwaving food, but it’s not the worst option when it comes to keeping food nutritious. In fact, because microwaving is a “dry” cooking method, most of the nutrients in the vegetable are locked in instead of leaching into the cooking water.
Furthermore, microwaving is also great for cooking vegetables (and other types of food in general) if you want to keep the antioxidants mostly untouched. A study by the Journal of Food Science way back in 2009 revealed that beans, beets, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, garlic, and onion retained their high levels of antioxidants when they are microwaved compared to other cooking methods.
- Fat and Citrus
When it comes to healthy eating, people generally try to avoid fat. However, there are cases when adding fat to your meal actually makes the dish more nutritious. Remember the fat-soluble vitamins that are better absorbed if the veggies were boiled? Adding some fat courtesy of butter or margarine also has a similar effect and makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients, not to mention that these ingredients also enrich the taste of your veggie dish.
There are also times when you need certain nutrients to better absorb other nutrients. In this case, vitamin C. Citrus is rich in vitamin C and can be used on almost any vegetable-based dish either as zest or as an extract. Vitamin C aids in the digestion of veggies like spinach and broccoli, which are very rich in iron.
- To Peel or Not to Peel
While many ingredients are better off peeled, certain vegetables have a lot of their healthy stuff located in their skins. Perhaps the most common example of this are carrots. Carrot skin is rich in health compounds known as polyacetylenes, which may have antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. On the other hand, cucumber skins have good amounts of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin A.
Leaving vegetable skin intact is usually a good decision, but there’s one thing you should always keep in mind, and that’s how clean the vegetables are. Sure, you can have nutritious carrots, but if you don’t know where those carrots came from and you weren’t able to properly wash them, you run the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria in large amounts.
Feeling confused? Here’s a rule of thumb: keep the skin if it’s nutritious and clean. This means no traces or residue mud or signs of mold growth. If you can thoroughly clean your veggies, do so. However, keep in mind that some veggies can have their water-soluble nutrients literally scrubbed off them if you wash them too much.