The way you choose and prepare your fruits and vegetables can play a major role in maximizing their nutrient content. Some foods, for example, lose nutrients by cooking, whereas others may contain nutrients that are more easily absorbed after being cooked.
Interestingly, studies have also found that you may be able to better absorb nutrients from cooked vegetables versus raw vegetables. But dependent on the cooking method, you can also cook the nutrients right out of a vegetable. Here is the 411 on some of the best ways to get the most out of the nutrients in your food.
Nutrient preservation begins when you are first choosing, handling and preparing your foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good, but frozen veggies are a great choice as well. Produce can lose nutrients as it sits, and frozen vegetables and fruits are often frozen at their peak ripeness, which means they will retain most of the nutrients found at that time.
Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables before use. You can use a produce brush on thick-skinned items, such as melons and squash.
Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables when possible, as most skins contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Peels also help vegetables and fruits retain more of their nutrients when cooked. Keeping vegetables in larger pieces when cooking is also beneficial because less surface area is exposed, meaning fewer vitamins are lost.
You want to cook vegetables as quickly as possible. Heat destroys B vitamins and vitamin C. Cooking veggies too long also can cause them to become mushy and lose color – both indicators that you may have lost nutrients in the cooking process. Additionally, some vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and turnips, may become overpowering if cooked too long. Steaming vegetables in just a small amount of water is one of your best options for veggies.
Steaming keeps vegetables and water separated, which helps reduce the amount of vitamins that get lost to the liquid when boiling vegetables. Boiling vegetables also requires more time. Unless you are going to drink the water used for boiling, those nutrients will be lost.
Sautéing is also a better method than frying, as it requires less fat and less cooking time. Sautéing allows you to use healthier oils, such as olive oil, which has a lower smoke point than canola oil. This means you can cook at a lower temperature, which will again help retain nutrients. The small amount of fat from the olive oil (if used in an appropriate volume) may actually help your body absorb some of the fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, D, E and K.
Griddling, baking or roasting your vegetables can be good cooking methods; however nutrient retention with these methods varies greatly, depending on the oven temperature, time cooked and the particular vegetable being cooked. Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, celery, eggplant, green beans, onions and spinach have been found to retain antioxidant capacity after baking, while green peppers lose antioxidant capacity.
So, in general, try to choose a cooking method that can be completed quickly and with the least amount of additives. Don’t be afraid to try new methods; you may find you like certain veggies more when they are prepared differently.