You may love the taste of fresh foods, but there are times you’ll want to cook them, too. But when you cook food (especially vegetables), does it change the nutritional content? In some cases, yes. So, why do we cook our food in the first place? Cooking can help bring out great flavors, and it might help make some foods more easily digestible.
Here’s the thing: there are methods of cooking that can help minimize nutrient loss. Some cooking methods, on the other hand, may actually enhance nutrient content.1
Read on for a closer look at how cooking changes the nutrient content of vegetables and other kinds of foods. You’ll also learn some tasty ways that certain ingredients can make vegetables more flavorful.
Does Cooking Food Change The Amount Of Nutrients?
Applying heat to food almost always affects the nutrient content. How you cook it really doesn’t matter. Broiling, baking, steaming, boiling, and even microwaving will all have some sort of impact.2
When you boil something, nutrients like water-soluble vitamins will leach out.
The boiling water breaks down these vitamins, taking them from the food. The only way you would be able to get these nutrients back would be if you were to consume the water once it cools. For example, you can use boiled potato water as a starter for potato soup as a way to avoid waste.3
Vegetables are some of the best sources of vitamins and other nutrients. Unfortunately, you can lose some of these nutrients by cooking them. Two main factors determine how much of a change vegetables undergo while cooking: the amount of heat used and the cooking time.4
The higher the amount of heat, the more nutrient degradation will take place. In general, the longer the vegetables cook, the more nutrients they will lose.5
Exceptions: When Do Cooking Certain Vegetables Boosts Nutritional Content?
There are a few exceptions when it comes to losing nutrients when cooking vegetables. For example, cooking tomatoes actually increases their lycopene content. Cooking breaks down the walls of cells inside the tomato, allowing the body to absorb the lycopene within those cell walls.6
Lycopene is an important antioxidant. Research shows it may help support healthy cholesterol levels as well as skin and oral health.7
Cooking carrots may also increase their beta-carotene levels.8 This is another very important antioxidant. Your body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A. This vitamin not only helps with bone growth, but it also helps ensure the immune system works properly. Beta-carotene also plays a role in protecting vision.9
Other veggies that might offer nutritional benefits when they’re heated/cooked include pumpkin (and other winter squash), mushrooms, and spinach.10
Different Ways To Cook Healthy Vegetables: Steaming, Microwaving, And Sautéing
There are plenty of ways to enjoy home-cooked meals that include vegetables. You can toss veggies (and other ingredients) into a slow cooker, or you can zap your food with a microwave if you’re pressed for time. Here’s a look at three common cooking methods, along with information on how they might affect the nutrients in veggies.
Steaming can help lock in the natural juices and nutrients of veggies and other foods. There is evidence that steaming broccoli, for example, might help the body absorb certain health-promoting compounds known as glucosinolates.11
If you’re worried about the effect hot water can have on the nutrients in your veggies, try microwaving them. Not only is it fast and convenient, but it also doesn’t require water. This helps preserve vitamin C and other nutrients. In fact, microwaving beans, carrots, and zucchini might actually increase their nutrient levels.12
Note: Microwaving food in plastic containers or on plastic dishes may pose a threat to your health. Use glass or ceramic containers when cooking with a microwave instead.13
Adding a healthy cooking oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, may increase the antioxidant content of eggplant. So, go ahead and saute those veggies with some delicious EVOO.14
Eating Certain Veggies Raw Can Deliver Benefits As Well
Some people bypass the cooking process altogether and choose to eat more raw foods. If you’re trying to cut calories, going raw might be just what you need. There is evidence that eating certain vegetables raw can provide different health benefits than eating them cooked.15 Just check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Take broccoli, for example. You already learned that steaming broccoli can help your health. As it turns out, research shows that eating it raw can deliver certain health benefits as well. If you eat broccoli raw, that preserves an enzyme known as myrosinase. This helps form a compound known as sulforaphane. Sulforaphane helps fight dangerous bacteria that can contribute to serious health issues. If you cook broccoli, the myrosinase disappears.16
Note: Always thoroughly clean any raw foods before consuming them. This helps ensure that potentially dangerous bacteria is removed.17
What Are Some Foods That You Should Never Consume Raw?
Certain foods must be cooked before you eat them. Consuming any raw meat, such as turkey, beef, pork, or chicken, can be dangerous. These are just a few of the bacteria in raw meat that can cause major problems.
- Campylobacter – This is a bacterium that can lead to severe nausea, vomiting, and a host of other serious digestive issues.18
- Salmonella – Salmonella bacteria kill more than 400 people in the U.S. alone each year. More than 1 million people suffer salmonella poisoning annually. Tens of thousands are hospitalized as a result.19
- Clostridium perfringens – This common form of dangerous bacteria is found in raw meat. About a million people in the U.S. become infected each year.20
Undercooking meat can also lead to problems. Whenever you cook raw meat, make sure you have a food thermometer handy. That will ensure the food is prepared at a high enough temperature to kill potentially dangerous bacteria and other contaminants. Also, wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat to make sure you don’t accidentally ingest any potentially dangerous microbes.21
Healthy And Delicious Home-Cooked Meals: Enhance The Flavor Of Your Cooked Vegetables
There are many things amateur chefs can add to their veggies to make them taste even better – while still protecting their nutritional content and keeping a lid on excess calories. Next time you prepare veggies, think about adding ingredients like salsa, herbs, and citrus juices for a little extra “oomph.”
If you like sour cream on your baked potato, consider adding Greek yogurt instead. Swap out butter on your vegetables for extra virgin olive oil. You’ll be adding some extra health-supporting properties and veggies like green beans and broccoli will taste fantastic.
As you can see, there are many ways to prepare delicious vegetables without stripping them of their nutrients. If you have concerns regarding nutrition and your diet, speak to your doctor.