6 vegetables that are healthier cooked


6 vegetables that are healthier cooked

How do you eat your vegetables – cooked or raw?  Many of us would naturally assume that eating vegetables raw would preserve more of the nutrient content.  We may view cooking involving high heat, to lower the amount of nutrients found within vegetables making them less healthy.

However, this is not the case for certain vegetables.  Certain vegetables actually become more nutritious when cooked.  The reason is any nutrients found in vegetables are bound in the cell walls. When cooked, this breaks down those walls, releasing the nutrients so your body can absorb them more easily.  Plus, heating certain vegetables, whether by roasting, sautéing, light heat, or steam, helps break down the food into an easy-to-absorb form. Cooking can also help transform potentially harmful chemicals in some vegetables into harmless ones.   

Here are 6 foods that are offer more nutrients when heated, plus tips on how to unleash their full potential in terms of nutrition and taste:

1.  Carrots

When heated, cooking fires up this veggie’s cancer-fighting carotenoids, the nutrient responsible for its orange hue.  A 2015 study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, found that boiling carrots until tender boosted their concentration of carotenoids by 14 percent.  However, avoid pan frying carrots as it can cause a dip in carotenoid levels by 13 percent. 

Tip when cooking carrots – Boil carrots whole before slicing to keep valuable nutrients from escaping into the cooking water.  Top with a tiny bit of honey or maple syrup to bring out the natural sweetness of carrots. 

2.  Spinach

Although packed with valuable nutrients, you will absorb more calcium and iron if you eat it cooked.  The reason is spinach is loaded with oxalic acid, which blocks the absorption of calcium and iron but it breaks down under high temperatures.  Cooking spinach quickly in boiling water, then plunging it into cold water, can reduce oxalate content by 40 percent, on average.

Tip when cooking spinach – Blanch a bunch of spinach leaves in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunge in ice water for a few more.  Drain well and keep wrapped in the fridge. 

3.  Asparagus

This fibrous spear-headed veggie is another one that benefits from cooking.  Cooking breaks down the fiber, making it easier to digest and to absorb nutrients like vitamins A, B, C, E, and K.  A study in the International Journal of Food Science found that cooking asparagus stalks also increases the antioxidant activity by increasing the absorption of beta-carotene, quercetin, zeaxantin, lutein, and phenols. 

Tip when cooking asparagus – To keep spears crisp and help them retain nutrients, dunk them whole into a pot of boiling water. As soon as they turn bright green, remove them with tongs.  Toss with lemon juice and olive oil – a little fat helps your body absorb nutrients the antioxidants in asparagus and other vegetables.

4.  Mushrooms

Technically, mushrooms are not a vegetable.  But these fungi form a major part of our diet for many.  According to the Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database, a cup of cooked white mushrooms has about twice as much muscle-building potassium, heart-healthy niacin, immune-boosting zinc, and bone-strengthening magnesium compared to a cup of raw mushrooms. Cooking mushrooms also increases the content of fiber, calcium, and iron found in them.

Tip when cooking mushrooms – Mushrooms cook fast and easily soak up oil like a sponge so go easy on it.  For a flavor boost, try sautéing mushrooms with garlic and sprigs of fresh thyme. 

5.  Tomatoes

Lycopene, an important pigment that gives tomatoes their red color, has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which has been linked to lower rates of prostate cancer and heart disease.  Tomatoes that are cooked will have these valuable nutrients boosted making them more absorbable by 35 percent, according to a landmark 2002 study.  This same study also found that the cooking process raised the total power of tomatoes’ vitamin C content by 62 percent.

Tip when cooking tomatoes – Arrange quartered tomatoes on a sheet pan in one layer, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper, then bake for about 30 minutes at 200 degrees. 

6.  Red peppers

Carotenoids, fat-soluble pigments giving red peppers their vibrant hue, are found abundantly in this vegetable.  When red peppers are cooked, this process can enhance the bioavailability of these carotenoids.  These valuable substances are thought to provide health benefits by reducing the risk of disease, particularly certain cancers and eye disease. 

Tip when cooking red peppers – It has been found that dry heat methods help retain the antioxidants best found in red peppers.  Opt for roasting red peppers to bring out their natural sweetness instead of boiling or steaming.