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5 Ways to Maximize the Benefits You Get from Raw and Cooked Vegetables

Raw and Cooked vegetables

Are you eating your five plus per day? Non-starchy vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrition and they even contain fiber to keep you regular and lower your risk of health problems. If you have a choice between a starchy carbohydrate and a colorful vegetable, choose the latter. Color is a marker of a healthy array of phytonutrients that have benefits that go beyond simply offering nutrition. Some have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. So, think color!

One way to enjoy the benefits of vegetables is to simply eat more of them. Most people fall short of getting the 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables that experts recommend each day. But it’s also important to maximize the health benefits you get from the vegetables you put on your plate. The nutrient content of vegetables varies with the way you prepare them and how much of the vitamins and minerals in them you absorb. Here are some ways to make sure you’re getting the most goodness out of every vegetable you eat.

Prepare Vegetables Properly

How you prep and cook vegetables affect their nutritional content. Some vitamins, like vitamin C and some B-vitamins, are sensitive to heat. If you heat them to a high temperature or add too much water, you’ll lose a significant quantity of these vitamins. According to HealthLine.com, boiling leads to a loss of almost half the vitamin C content of some vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, and lettuce.

The key is to not overcook your produce and use methods that don’t involve high temperatures or a lot of water. For example, steaming is a good method, while boiling is not, because of the amount of water boiling requires and the fact you toss the water. If you must boil vegetables save the water and add it to a soup or stew to preserve the vitamins that ended up in the water.

Also, don’t pre-chop vegetables and put them in the fridge or buy ones already chopped at the grocery store. This exposes them to light and air, which degrades vitamin C. Cook them whole, so there’s less surface area exposed to water and heat.

Contrary to popular belief, microwaving is a good way to prepare vegetables with minimal nutrient loss. Add a small amount of water and keep the cooking time short and you’ll retain most of the vitamins in microwaved veggies. It’s time expedient too!

Add a Source of Fat

People who are fat-phobic run the risk of not getting the full health benefits of a plate of vegetables. Many vegetables, including leafy greens and orange or yellow vegetables, are rich in carotenoids, like beta-carotene. These nutrients are fat-soluble, meaning you will absorb far less of them if you don’t eat your veggies with fat. That’s why sauteing with olive oil is a good approach to maximizing the nutritional benefits of vegetables. Plus, extra-virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols with antioxidant activity.

Eat Some Vegetables Raw and Others Cooked

As mentioned, cooking reduces vitamin C and some B-vitamins, but heat can help you absorb other nutrients. One way heat boosts the absorption of some vitamins is by breaking down the cell wall of the vegetable and releasing the nutrients and phytonutrients trapped inside. An example is tomatoes and lycopene. You will absorb far more lycopene, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, from tomatoes that are cooked or processed than by eating raw ones.

One of the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables is the polyphenols they contain. Some of these anti-inflammatory compounds break down when you cook vegetables with lots of heat and water. Possibly the best approach is to eat both raw and cooked vegetables.

As a general rule, eat tomatoes and carrots cooked since cooking opens the cell wall and releases lycopene and beta-carotene respectively from these two veggies. Eat broccoli raw since raw broccoli contains more of key enzyme called myrosinase that activates anti-cancer compounds in this cruciferous vegetable.

Spice Them Up

Pound for pound, herbs and spices are higher in antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. So, you can add to the health benefits of the vegetables you eat by cooking them with spices. Thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, spices and herbs such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, cumin, and rosemary are beneficial for immune health and help protect cells against oxidative damage. According to research, you’d have to eat a lot of produce to get the same quantities of antioxidants as a mere teaspoon of many of these spices. So, spice up those veggies!

Use Vegetables Faster or Buy Frozen

Don’t let those colorful vegetables sit around in the crisper. They’ll gradually lose nutrients, particularly vitamin C as time passes. Consider frozen vegetables if you can’t eat your veggies within a day or two. Frozen vegetables pack as much nutrition as fresh produce, according to a new study published in The Journal of Nutrition.

In fact, a team of researchers from the University of Georgia compared the nutrient levels of a variety of vegetables grown at different times of the year and found that, regardless of when they were harvested, the nutrient content was relatively consistent. Freezing locks in their nutritional value, preventing further loss. Plus, you can store frozen vegetables for months in the freezer. Besides, if vegetables are already prepped and ready to cook, you’re more likely to eat them.  The healthiest veggies are the ones you’ll eat!

The Bottom Line

Now you know how to get more out of the vegetables you eat and when you eat a variety of vegetables well-seasoned with spices, you’re getting even more health benefits. So, which of these tips will you try?

References:

  • com. “How Cooking Affects the Nutrient Content of Foods”
  • Cross GA, Fung DY. The effect of microwaves on nutrient value of foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1982;16(4):355-81. doi: 10.1080/10408398209527340. PMID: 7047080.
  • Agric. Food Chem. 2008, 56, 1, 139-147. Publication Date: December 11, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf072304b.
  • “Vegetables: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving ….” https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-vegetables.

 

Related Articles by Cathe:

Are Raw Vegetables Better for You?

7 Ways to Boost the Nutrient Content of Your Meals Without Adding More Calories

Hidden Health: 5 Surprising Sources of Vitamin C

5 Scientifically Backed Reasons to Eat Berries

Why the Fruits & Vegetables You’re Eating Aren’t as Nutritious as They Could Be

5 Vegetables That Have More Health Benefits When They’re Cooked

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