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Cooking Vegetables for Optimal Nutrition

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

We all can agree we need to get more vegetables into our diet. They are high in fiber, antioxidants, and contain good amounts of vitamins and minerals. For myself, I know I have struggled finding the best way to cook my vegetables. So I have experimented with cooking methods and have done additional research to make sure I am getting the most nutrients out of my veggies.

Did you know that the way we cook our vegetables matters? Some veggies need to be eaten raw to obtain all the nutrients, and some need to be cooked to break down the hard cellular structure, making them easier to digest for optimal nutrition. How veggies are cooked can have a big impact on their nutrient content. That’s because many vitamins are sensitive to heat and air exposure (vitamin C, the B vitamins, and folate in particular). Loss of nutrients increases as cooking time increases and with higher temperatures. Cooking methods that minimize the time, temperature, and amount of water used will help to preserve nutrients.

Now, let’s take a closer look into different cooking methods for optimum nutrition.

Baking/Roasting: The great news about roasting is that it doesn’t require any water, so the mineral and vitamin content remains. Roasting gives vegetables a crispy texture and ensures they are more flavorful due to the caramelization that takes place during the cooking process. Most vegetables can be roasted, but root vegetables do particularly well because of the high heat required to roast.

How to: In a bowl, stir together spices and healthy oil. Toss with vegetables until they are coated. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes in a 400° oven, stirring every 10 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked thoroughly. (Cooking times will vary for individual vegetables).

Steaming: Steaming is the best method for preserving antioxidants found in broccoli and zucchini. If you prefer to steam your vegetables, eat them as is with some additional seasoning or toss them with a small amount of healthy oil before serving to boost nutrient absorption from those fat soluble vitamins.

How to: Bring small amount of water to a boil over high heat. When water begins to boil and steam is emerging from the pot, it’s ready. Add vegetables, cover, and reduce the heat. If you have a steamer basket scatter the vegetables and cover. If you don’t have a steamer a colander can do the trick.

Sautéing/Stir-Fry: Sautéing vegetables over high heat in a little bit of oil is quick and simple. Cooking vegetables over high heat for a short amount of time will minimize the nutrient loss and the oil you use to sauté will aid in nutrient absorption. It’s great for greens, which will wilt and become tender in no time, and for other soft vegetables like peas, mushrooms, and onions.

How to: Heat a small amount of healthy oil in a large, shallow pan. Use medium to high heat. Add the vegetables to the hot pan. Stir the vegetables frequently until they are browned and cooked through.

Microwaving: Cooking vegetables in the microwave requires little to no water and doesn’t require long exposure to high temperatures, so microwaving helps retain their nutrients. The one exception is broccoli; keep it out of the microwave. It loses more than 50 percent of its antioxidants if microwaved.

How to: Arrange vegetables evenly in a microwave safe dish. Wrap bowl with plastic wrap. Puncture the plastic wrap a few times to allow air flow. Set cooking time and cook.

Boiling/Pressure Cooking: Generally speaking, don’t use these methods if you want to retain antioxidant levels in your vegetables. Submerging vegetables in water for an extended period of time will release the water-soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C) into the water. If you do boil vegetables, save the nutrient-rich water to use in a future soup or sauce.

Frying: Avoid frying. This method fails the test when it comes to retaining antioxidant and nutrition levels. In addition to the high heat adding unhealthy oils (commercial deep frying), it will cause a loss of nutrients.

We encourage you to "eat the rainbow" when it comes to vegetables and fruits because different colors of these foods correspond with different vitamins and minerals. The best way to get all the vitamins and minerals is through a well-balanced diet. If you haven’t tried one of the methods above, give it a try and you might find you enjoy certain vegetables more.


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