Eating raw veggies may not be your jam and we’re here to say sometimes that’s OK! Especially in fall and winter, eating warm vegetables just feels right. So what is the healthiest way to eat vegetables? Well, it’s a little complicated…
Many people worry about losing nutrients by cooking vegetables and that certainly can happen with specific vitamins and minerals. But in some cases the healthiest way to eat vegetables is to cook them because it enhances certain nutrients that are otherwise hard to come by. It’s really a balancing act but once you know the facts, you can make smarter dietary decisions.
The perfect example is tomatoes. You may know that tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to lower risk of cancer and heart disease. When tomatoes are cooked, the potency of lycopene goes up by up to 35 percent. However, there’s a downslide to cooking tomatoes; it reduces its Vitamin C content.
Vitamin C is another important antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables and is almost always diminished by cooking. That’s because it is highly susceptible to the oxidation process and is degraded by heat and water. However, Vitamin C is much more common in the human diet than lycopene so giving up a little Vitamin C for the benefit of more lycopene from cooked tomatoes is a good trade-off because you can make up for the lost Vitamin C in many other ways.
Boiling or steaming carrots, peppers, spinach, mushrooms and other vegetables also increase their concentration of carotenoids and feurlic acid. But cooking may also reduce their retention of polyphenols, another supercharged antioxidant category.
Certain cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage have cancer-fighting benefits when cooked and raw – but they work differently in each form. Cooked cruciferous veggies yield indole, an organic compound known to kill precancerous cells. On the flip side, raw broccoli has an enzyme that leads to sulforaphane that prevents cancer cells as well. In this case, eating some cooked and some uncooked cruciferous vegetables is wise.
While the data on the healthiest way to eat vegetables is complex, eating vegetables with a little bit of a healthy fat is absolutely the best way to go. Healthy fats like those from olive oil, avocado and other natural plant-based sources helps the body absorb nutrients from vegetables and many other foods as well. So be smart about the oils you use when making cooked vegetables to get the most out of their nutrients.
Cooking your veggies can still be the healthiest way to eat vegetables. Just be sure to balance your nutrients to make up for what is lost in the cooking process.
Sources: Scientific American and She Knows