Vegetables are a great source of nutrients and fiber, which our body needs. Cooking them in the right way is necessary so that the majority of the nutrients are retained and our body benefits from the macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber they provide.
Cooking them in the wrong way can significantly rid the vegetables of their nutritive value and deprive us of their nutritive benefits.
In addition, remember fresh vegetables are always more nutrient-packed than older ones. You should also know how to prepare vegetables for cooking to preserve nutrients.
Vegetable cooking tips for better nutrition
Generally, the following tips are to be observed while cooking your vegetables to help preserve the nutrients in the vegetables.
- Use as little water as possible.
- Keep the temperature as low as possible
- Keep the cooking time to the minimum.
- Where possible preserve the peel as most of the nutrients are below the peel.
- Cut the vegetable into as large pieces as you would like because the nutrient loss during cooking is from the cut surfaces.
8 Vegetable Cooking Methods Analyzed for Nutrition
Out of these various ways we use to cook our vegetables, we should choose those, which help to preserve the nutrients in the vegetables the most. Different methods of cooking suit different vegetables vis-à-vis retaining nutrients.
1) Pressure cooking and boiling
This is not the preferred way to cook vegetables if you want to retain their nutrients and antioxidants. Boiling and pressure cooking will dissolve the water-soluble vitamins, minerals and electrolytes present in the vegetables rendering their nutrition depleted. For example, boiling of canned peas and carrots results in loss of 85% to 90% of vitamin C.
On an average, depending on the vegetable, boiling or pressure cooking the vegetables in water can produce a loss of 15% to 55% of water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C.
However, you should boil certain vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and courgette for better nutrition. For example, cooked carrots contain higher levels of carotenoids (antioxidants) than raw carrots.
But, at the same time, polyphenols (another antioxidant) are higher in concentration in raw carrots and disappear once the carrots are cooked. It is a trade-off.
However, fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K and antioxidants like carotenoids, as mentioned above, are potentially retained on cooking the vegetables.
The water in which the veggies are boiled is often thrown away. It should be used to make broth as it has valuable nutrients that have come from the vegetables.
Ideally, if you are frequent vegetable eater you should keep changing ways of doing up your veggies and eating them.
Steaming is a method where the steam of boiling water is used to cook the vegetables. The vegetables do not come in direct contact with water and therefore, the water-soluble nutrients are preserved.
Steaming is considered to be the healthiest way to cook your vegetables. However, to make it more healthy, you could toss the steamed vegetables in a pan with a little bit of canola oil or olive oil. This will enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
You can cut the vegetables into smaller pieces if you want them steamed in a hurry. Larger pieces, though preferred, would take a longer time to be steamed.
Vegetables that can be easily steamed are broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, green beans and zucchini. It may take anywhere between five to fifteen minutes to get the softness you prefer.
Braising is a method in which the vegetables are first seared at high temperature until a brownish crust forms on the surface of the vegetables. The veggies are then put in a covered pot with a flavoring liquid such as wine or broth over gentle heat for a few hours till they are ready to eat.
Meat and fish are often cooked by this method. Vegetables for braising include eggplant, carrots, cauliflower, brussels sprouts.
Vegetables take a long time to get cooked by this method, which results in loss of nutrients from the braised vegetables.
4) Roasting or Baking
Roasting vegetables gives the veggies its unique flavor and a crispy outer surface, which you will not get by boiling or steaming. The sugar on the surface of the vegetables becomes caramelized and turns brown.
Veggies like onions, green beans, potatoes, and asparagus can be put on a baking sheet with or without a little bit of vegetable oil and then into the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Though it takes a little time, it retains and preserves all the nutrients and flavor, which makes roasting a healthy way to cook the veggies. Meat, too, is ideally cooked in this fashion.
Microwaving is a good choice to cook most of the vegetables as it retains most of the nutrients. For example, broccoli which has been cooked in a microwave retains 80% of its water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C.
Cut the vegetable into pieces of same size. Spread the vegetable pieces in a single layer onto a microwave-safe dish.
Depending on the denseness of the vegetable, sprinkle about two to four tablespoons of water on the vegetable. Cover the dish with its lid. The water turns into steam and helps to cook the vegetable evenly.
Midway through the cooking time, turn the vegetable/s over to ensure that they are evenly cooked.
The nutrients in the vegetables are significantly preserved when cooked in the microwave because very little water is used (which is again not thrown away) and the cooking time too, is short.
Sautéing is another healthy way to cook vegetables. Cut the washed vegetables in even pieces and spread them over a hot pan on which oil has been spread thinly.
Stir the vegetables pieces around till they are covered with oil on all sides. Cook on high heat until the vegetables are tender to your choice.
Sautéing takes very little time to cook and this, therefore, contributes towards healthy cooking. Adding some spice and smashed garlic will give some good flavor.
Smashing or chopping of garlic will release anti-clotting enzymes, which prevent the formation of blood clots in your blood vessels.
Deep-frying the vegetables gives a mixed result vis-à-vis nutrition. Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C, B1, B2 and B6 are better retained than boiling or steaming while there is considerable loss of beta-carotene, vitamins E and A when the vegetables are deep-fried. However, sautéing or stir-frying minimizes this loss.
The use of unhealthy oils will give you more saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. This can cause obesity if you eat fried foods regularly.
The health risks of obesity such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are well known. If you have to eat fried food or vegetables, make use of healthy oils such as olive oil or canola oil. However, don’t make eating fried foods a habit.
Repeated use of the same oil in the frying pan for more batches of vegetables can cause certain toxins to form and loss of antioxidants present in the vegetables. This gives rise to free radicals.
Free radicals are unpaired electrons, which are highly unstable and reactive. They damage other normal cells and are responsible for heart diseases, cancer, and other age-related diseases like diabetes type 2, osteoporosis, cataract, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease.
Grilling the vegetables is a healthy option as well as a flavored one. It adds a little variety to your daily food. The grilling of vegetables can be done over the gas or over the charcoals and each has its own flavor.
As the cooking time is short, most of the nutrients are retained. Go for it – it is a healthy option.