The Tradeoff In Cooking Vegetables

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Congratulations!  You’ve followed Health Fitness Revolution‘s tips and you’ve incorporated more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Now the goal is to get the maximum nutritional benefit from them.

Here are some questions we get often: Does it matter how you prepare them? And does it make enough difference to change your food-preparation habits?

The answer is yes, preparation does matter.

Raw fruits and vegetables are good choices if you’re trying to lose weight, because in their natural state, these foods are filled with fiber, which can help you feel fuller longer and help you eat less.  Raw foodists believe uncooked food is better, they say that cooking fruits and vegetables kills the vitamins and minerals and denatures enzymes that aid in digestion.

While raw food advocates are partially right- overcooking them may cause valuable vitamins and nutrients to seep out into the boiling water- and ultimately down the drain.  To avoid this here are a few tips:

  •   Use a soft brush and water to clean produce with thick skins. By contrast, soaking them may cause some nutrients to dissolve in the water.
  • Steam produce instead of cooking in water.
  • If you do cook produce in water, save the water for later use.
  • Overcooking vegetables alters the taste, texture, and nutritional value of the vegetables, so a general rule is “less is more”.

We have some more good news as well- a growing body of scientific research supports the view that cooked vegetables are better- if prepared properly- and that while some raw food may contain more nutrients, our bodies cannot absorb them.

  •  Studies have shown that cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables supply more cancer-fighting antioxidants than they do when raw.
  • Cooking releases nutrients locked away inside the food’s cell walls.
  • Lycopene is  an antioxidant that reduces certain cancers and guard against heart disease.  It is found in tomatoes and other red-tinged foods such as red bell pepper. But the nutrient is only released through cooking, which breaks down the cell walls of the plant.
  • Lutein, an antioxidant found in corn and dark-green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Lutein protects the eyes against age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness. Cooking helps to release the lutein in corn.
  • A study at Ohio State University showed that adding a little fat while cooking tomatoes helps the body to absorb lycopene. It also helps the body soak up fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Another study found that when salsa or salad was served with fat-rich avocados or full-fat salad dressing, the diner absorbed as much as four times more lycopene, seven times more lutein and 18 times the beta carotene than those who ate their vegetables plain or with low-fat dressing.  We recommend dressing with healthy oil bases, we made a list of the 10 healthiest cooking oils here.
  • However, there are trade-offs, Vitamin C often is lost in cooked produce like tomatoes. Fresh spinach loses 64 percent of its vitamin C when cooked. But vitamin C is available from other sources, such as orange juice. Lutein or lycopene — nutrients released through cooking spinach and tomatoes — is not as readily available elsewhere, so consider cooking those veggies.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are an easy alternative that can easily be cooked- and are often more fresh than what’s on the shelves at the grocery store.
  • An easy rule of thumb is to avoid fried vegetables or recipes that are laden with fats or sugars. The goal of Health Fitness Revolution is to eat a variety of fruits of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways.

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