By Morgaine Gallagher
How many times has someone told you that raw produce contains the greatest amounts of nutrients? I’m sure you have heard if at least a couple of times, however it may not always be true.
Surprisingly, cooking helps to unlock some of the produce’s nutrients allowing your body to absorb them. In fruits and vegetables, the nutrients are found inside the cell walls. Baking, sautéing, pureeing, or even frying these foods will break the cell walls to release the nutrients and thus making them more bioavailable. Fat-soluble vitamins hold up better than water-soluble vitamins with added heat. On the other hand, the mineral content in vegetables is never affected with temperature change.
Some vegetables become more healthful after being cooked. Various nutrients in asparagus stalks will intensify after the vegetable is heated. The concentration of cancer fighting, phenolic acid doubles in value as an asparagus is heated. To quickly cook your asparagus, just wrap them in dampened paper towels and pop them in the microwave for four minutes! You’ll be left with perfectly tender stalks. Adding heat to tomatoes ups its lycopene levels, while enhancing the fruit’s bright red color. Lycopene is a phytochemical that is linked to lowering the rate of cancer and heart disease. On the other hand, a landmark study (Liu, 2002) shows that the vitamin C content decreases in tomatoes as they cook. The decrease in vitamin C is insignificant when compared to the tremendous increase of beneficial lycopene. According to the Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database, a cup of cooked mushrooms contains double the amount of niacin, potassium, magnesium, and zinc as the same amount raw. Carrots release carotenoids, making it more antioxidant after being boiled. Just simply place whole carrots in simmering water, and cook until tender. Spinach, a vegetable dubbed for its antioxidant and mineral content, is most beneficial in its cooked form as well. The oxalic acid, iron and calcium content all increase greatly with blanching or sautéing.
Unfortunately, not all cooking methods are created equal. Microwaving, grilling, sautéing and baking are amongst the top most nutritious methods. Unfortunately, frying and pressure-cooking will leave you with product that contains even less nutrients than in its raw form. The only method to be cautious about is boiling, which entails submerging the produce fully into water that is around 212° F. Although boiling can enhance the nutrient content in foods, it can also extract the vitamins and minerals into the water. Therefore, if you do not plan on drinking the boiling liquid, boiling may not be the most beneficial option.
Go ahead, heat up those veggies!