Conventional nutritional wisdom has always told us that fresh veggies have a higher nutrient content than their cooked counterparts. We’ve heard that nutrients are destroyed in the cooking process, and while this is true in the case of vegetables rich in water-soluble vitamins B and C (like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower), it turns out it is not the case for the entire produce section. Good news for lovers of roasted or stir-fried veggies!
Here’s the deal: some of the powerful nutrients associated with our favorite vegetables are actually trapped in the cell walls of the plant. Cooking helps to break down those walls, releasing the vitamins and nutrients inside, and allowing your body to absorb them more readily. Check out the list below to see if some of you or your family’s preferred veggies should be cooked in order to really live up to their full potential!
6 Vegetables that are actually Healthier when Cooked
While carrots are a staple on any raw-veggie plate with dip, they are actually more nutritionally dense when boiled! Carrots get their orange color thanks to carotenoids, a class of antioxidants that have strong cancer-fighting properties. Carotenoids can also be converted to vitamin A within the body, a vitamin responsible for healthy vision - which is how carrots got their reputation as excellent for eyesight. According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, boiling carrots increased their concentration of carotenoids by 14 percent!
Bell peppers, red in particular, are absolutely packed with nutrients - beta carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lutein, (also belonging to the group of carotenoids mentioned above), as well as being rich in vitamin C. As mentioned earlier, some of the vitamin C content is lost when cooking bell peppers, especially if you boil or steam them. At the same time, however, heat added while cooking bell peppers does that cool little cell-wall breakdown trick, making those aforementioned carotenoids much easier for your body to absorb and put to good use.
Your best bet to maximize the value of your red bell peppers is to roast or stir-fry them for 10 minutes or less.
Spinach is one leafy green that is absolutely brimming with nutrients. More of which you can absorb IF you eat it cooked! Spinach contains high levels of oxalic acid, a compound that actually interferes with the body’s ability to absorb both the calcium and iron that are also readily found in spinach. It breaks down under high temps though, so steaming, boiling or wiliting the leaves are a good option. Spinach also has a high vitamin C content, so you can go ahead and enjoy this one raw as well, in your morning smoothie or in a fresh, delicious salad!
According to the Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database, 1 cup of cooked white mushrooms has about double the potassium, niacin, zinc, and magnesium as a cup of raw ones. What?! Toss them in the pan with just a dash of oil and saute them up for a delicious addition to any meal.
Asparagus is another vegetable that is packed with vitamins and nutrients! Its an excellent source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, and chromium.The International Journal of Food Science & Technology published a study that found that cooking these stalks raised the level of six nutrients, including cancer-fighting antioxidants, by more than 16 percent.
You can roast, grill, boil or stir-fry your asparagus. Serve with lemon juice and olive oil; a little fat will help your body absorb the antioxidants!
Tomatoes are a no-brainer! No matter whether you choose to bake them, fry them, or purée them into gravy, heat is a tomato’s best friend! Cooking tomatoes increases it’s levels of absorbable lycopene, a phytochemical that gives them their red hue but that is also linked to heart health and lower risk of certain types of cancer. Try roasting your tomatoes in the oven with a little bit of oil, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Roasting concentrates and brings out their delicious natural flavor.
It is also important to mention that it isn't just the cooking that can affect a vegetable’s nutrients, The way you prep your vegetables also plays a role in how nutritious the vegetables are when they make it to your plate. This means that everything from slicing, soaking, steaming, baking and broiling all have an effect on how healthy the vegetables are when consumed.
The point being, don't get too caught up in losing or gaining nutrients when deciding to cook vegetables or eat them raw. While some might be better cooked and some might be better raw, the bottom line is this: More is always better, period. If you are particularly partial to a vegetable listed above in its raw form, then by all means, continue snacking on it that way! Eating vegetables in any form is something we all should be doing more of.