Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to Get The Most Out of Your Veggies

If you're unaware that vegetables are filled with vitamins and nutrients, then you might as well not be a human being. However, what you might not know is that the way you cook vegetables can greatly determine how much of those vitamins and nutrients you're actually taking in.

A study done in the UK showed that that boiling vegetables, particularly ones in the cruciferous family (such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale), significantly reduces their cancer-fighting properties. Gucosinolate, which converts to isothiocynate, a cancer fighting chemical which helps to remove cancer causing constituents within the body, is almost entirely destroyed when vegetables are boiled.

Also when boiled, many of the vitamins and nutrients are lost in the water that covers the vegetables. If you must boil your veggies, save what will become nutrient-rich water for a soup or gravy.

One of the best alternatives to boiling veggies is steaming them. While the cooking process is similar- bring the water to a boil and then place the vegetables in the pan- steaming requires a steaming basket which keeps the vegetables from being saturated in the water. By filling up the pan with water so that it just reaches the bottom of the steamer basket, not as many of the vegetables' nutrients can be lost to the water. Generally vegetables lose 50% less minerals during steaming than boiling.

A study published in the Journal of Food and Science, showed that one of the best ways to retain nutrients is through microwaving the vegetables. They tested six different cooking methods using 20 different kinds of vegetables, and concluded that microwaving maintained the highest level of antioxidants. Although, I am weary of the use of microwaves as I fear we aren't quite sure exactly what the repercussions may be that come from using them. Considering people seem to be microwaving everything these days from sweet potatoes to rice to raw meat, I have made a personal choice to limit my use of the microwave. It is said that when food is microwaved, the molecular structure of that food is modified. I am simply weary of facts like that. However, if in a squeeze, it looks like it might prove to be beneficial when it comes to cooking vegetables. Though, when it comes to cauliflower, skip the microwave. The above study found that the highest loss of antioxidants came from microwaving cauliflower.

Other methods of cooking vegetables include baking and frying. While these methods are okay for some vegetables and can certainly make tasty dishes, the higher the heat used, the more nutrients you'll tend to lose. For example, frying potatoes at a high heat in order to make french fries causes them to lose up to 90% of their vitamin C.

Another way to eat vegetables, which seems to be a huge trend especially on the west coast, is to simply not cook them at all. Steaming a vegetable for just 30 seconds will alter the amount of nutrients it contains. Eating vegetables raw assures that you don't lose any nutrients from the cooking process. However, in some cases, cooking vegetables can actually enhance nutrients. For instance, healthful sulfur-containing compounds within onions and garlic are actually released through the cooking process.

Also, make sure that you're getting your vegetables fresh. Time can greatly decrease their nutrient contents, which means the longer you wait to eat the veggies, the less nutrients they'll contain. Use this tip to get you to eat more vegetables. If you have veggies in your fridge, eat/cook them!

The bottom line: it's important to eat your vegetables no matter how they're cooked. Opt for steaming, or if in a pinch for conveniance, microwaving, and try to stay away from overcooking. Make sure they still retain some of their natural vibrant colors after they're done cooking. And if you really want to ensure you're getting the optimal nutrients from your veggies, cook up some artichokes. Artichoke were the only vegetable in the Journal of Food and Science study that kept its high antioxidant level during all of the cooking methods.

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