Nutrition labels or facts don’t always give you the whole story. The preparation tends to dictate the nutritional value of a certain food. In the case of vegetables, many nutrients become lost or more available in regards to preparation. Choosing the right method for your vegetables may help you preserve more nutrients, which only benefits your health.
How do you choose the right cooking method for your vegetables? This comes down to the vegetables that you want to cook, as certain vegetables have more nutrients available after specific preparations. A vegetable that is water-soluble may need a different cooking method than a vegetable that is fat-soluble. Below, we detail the most nutritious ways to prepare your vegetables, according to dietitians.
Keep It Raw
Raw preparations are very popular for vegetables, especially the ones in the Brassica family. These vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and more. They exhibit potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer compounds called glucosinolates. Some vegetables in this family also contain myrosinase, an enzyme that offers protection against bacteria and other harmful organisms. These compounds are released when you chew, chop, or crush them, and cooking actually destroys those beneficial enzymes. If you cook these vegetables, the body struggles to use glucosinolates.
If you want to preserve the maximum amount of nutrients in your vegetables, steaming is the best cooking method. According to a 2013 study, steaming is the best way to preserve the most vitamin C in vegetables. When you steam your vegetables, the nutrients are retained to a larger degree because the food doesn’t contain water or other cooking liquids. As a note, steaming is not the same thing as boiling, which we will cover later in this article.
When you sauté vegetables in a pan, it is best to do so gently over a lower heat. When you cook over a lower flame, you decrease the likelihood of losing some of the water-soluble vitamins in your veggies. Use a flavorful oil or neutral oil with a smoke point of 350º F or above when you sauté vegetables. The best oil for sautéing vegetables is extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. These oils may increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins.
Roasting is a dry-heat cooking method that doesn’t require water or oil. If you want your vegetables to retain B vitamins and vitamin C, roasting is your best cooking option. Because you don’t need liquid for roasting, there is no significant water-induced loss. Roasting and baking are common cooking methods for zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, bell peppers, squash, and parsnips.
This may seem like an odd preparation method, but dietitians say that microwaving is a nutritious way to cook vegetables. Microwaving does, however, result in lower vitamin C levels in the food, but this is no fault of the microwave. Vitamin C breaks down under heat, of which microwaves produce a great deal. Microwaving doesn’t destroy as many nutrients as other cooking methods because it is a fast way to cook food.
Fat-free and fast, boiling is a method of cooking vegetables, but it ranks lower than other methods in regards to nutrient retention. Boiling is actually one of the worst cooking methods if you want your vegetables to retain water-soluble nutrients. If you consume the water or liquid in which you cook your vegetables, you may increase your nutrient intake. Boiling results in the greatest loss of vitamin C, according to a 2018 study. This is because water-soluble vitamins are often lost in water-based cooking methods.