In order to achieve optimal health, vegetables should be a key component of our diets. Federal guidelines recommend that adults have at least 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. This has been found to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, while boosting the health of blood vessels and the immune system. Furthermore, vegetables contain antioxidants which may reduce DNA damage, thus reducing the risk of cancer. The more fresh produce we incorporate into our meals every day, the better!
That being said, what is the best way to prepare these nutritious dietary treasures? Believe it or not, eating vegetables raw doesn’t offer the most benefits in all cases. In fact, studies have shown that the process of cooking breaks down the tough outer layers and the cellular structure of many vegetables, making it easier for our body to absorb their nutrients. So, boil, roast, steam, saute or microwave? The answer is not entirely simple; it can vary depending on the type of vegetable.
Generally speaking, cooking vegetables with as little water as possible for the shortest amount of time is the best method. That’s why boiling is not usually the best option. When you boil vegetables in a large pot of water, the water soluble vitamins leach into the cooking liquid and are lost. One exception to this rule, however, is carrots. Studies show that boiling or steaming carrots increase beta-carotene levels.
Steaming or microwaving vegetables is a solid choice for preparing produce. Using a small amount of water helps the vegetables retain their beneficial qualities.
Quickly sauteing your veggies in a pan with a bit of olive oil (akin to stir-frying) is another good option for cooking. Just be sure to cook them al dente…the softer the vegetables are when cooked is generally a sign of how much nutritional value has been lost.
Comparing nutrients in raw and cooked vegetables is complicated and there will be trade-offs. The best approach is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and eat them in a variety of ways. This ensures that you get a mix of nutrients delivered by various methods of preparation. Whatever technique you choose, just be sure to eat more vegetables for better health!