Organic Gardening.com and the print version of their magazine are two of my well-used go to resources for everything vegetarian. I’ve learned most of what I know about growing my own organic vegetables from them, but I also love the articles on cooking and eating fresh produce.
They sent a terrific article to my email this morning, called “The Best and Worst Ways to Cook Vegetables” and I think it’s a great primer on how cooking methods impact the nutrients in veggies. This is an especially good article to pass on to any young people you know who are headed off to college and perhaps just learning to cook.
As Organic Gardening points out, cooking your vegetables is sometimes better than eating them raw.
Cooking vegetables helps to soften their tough fibrous exteriors and loosen up all the nutritional good stuff that lies inside. In fact, some vegetables, such as tomatoes, are actually more healthful if you eat them cooked, because the process of cooking them boosts their levels of the potent antioxidant lycopene.”
The key is knowing which methods of cooking are best and which aren’t.
The only problem is, not all cooking methods are the same. Some boost nutrient content; some take it away. Some add unwanted fat, while others add the crucial amount for your body to absorb all the nutrients in vegetables.”
Here is a recap of their advice.
According to a Spanish study, microwaving veggies preserves more of their antioxidant content than any other method. The exception is cauliflower, which for some reason loses more than 50% of its antioxidants if you nuke it.
Using a flat griddle helps to preserve the antioxidant content of many veggies, especially beets, celery, onions, Swiss chard, and green beans. (They also turn out wonderfully caramelized!) The article suggests that you use a griddle without non-stick coating (which can have cancer-causing toxins) or use a heavy frying pan without oil.
Baking or Roasting:
Baking or roasting is great for some vegetables, but not so hot for others. According to studies, the antioxidant content of green beans, eggplant, corn, Swiss chard, and spinach and increased by baking or roasting. Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and peppers retain their antioxidant content but carrots, Brussels sprouts, leeks, cauliflower, peas, zucchini, onions, beans, celery, beets and garlic lose
some of their antioxidants.
Frying shouldn’t be confused with griddling. In griddling little or no fat is added, but frying uses oil to help cook the food. Frying is a fail as far as keeping the good stuff in your veggies, especially if you’re breading or battering the foods. There are far too many calories and far too much fat involved.
Pressure-cooking and Boiling:
These cooking methods are another no-go. “In short, water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables,” says lead researcher A.M. Jimenez-Monreal. Peas, cauliflower, and zucchini are particularly susceptible to losing nutrients through boiling.” The one exception to this rule is carrots, whose carotenoid levels actually increase after boiling. Of course, you can boil or pressure cook your veggies and still get all their antioxidants if you use the cooking water for soups and stocks.
Italian researchers say that steaming is best for broccoli and zucchini as far as preserving their antioxidant content. BUT, many of those nutrients are fat-soluble (your body needs fat to absorb them) so it’s best to toss them in a little olive oil before serving.
Of course, you can still get plenty of nutrients from raw veggies, but when it’s time to cook them, you now know the best and worst ways to cook whatever’s on your menu.