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The healthiest way to cook your veg

You know you need to eat more vegetables… but you might not be aware of how best to cook them to boost their healthy nutrients. Get the most out of your meals by choosing the right cooking process.

One small thing: Where possible, eat most of your vegetables raw – add finely chopped broccoli to salads, experiment with different greens in salads and add spinach leaves to your smoothies.

Nobody likes stodgy, overcooked vegetables. Not only are they mushy and tasteless, but they’re also not as healthy as the cooking process can destroy some of the beneficial nutrients.

For some vegetables, though, cooking is necessary – firstly to make them palatable (potatoes and butternut, for example) and secondly to break down the cellular structure of the vegetable so that your body is able to absorb certain nutrients more easily (like the vitamin A in carrots, for example).

How best to cook vegetables

What’s the best way to cook your veg to maximise their nutritional value? A Chinese study found that it’s far better to steam broccoli because boiling it causes greater losses of the beneficial phytonutrients, including vitamin C. Between 20 and 50% of the vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant matter can end up going down the drain with the used water when vegetables are boiled.

Use as little water as possible

It is typically the water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamin and folate, that are destroyed during the cooking process. So to keep those healthy vitamins from escaping, it’s best to cook your vegetables in a small amount of water (just enough to keep the pan from scorching) for the shortest possible time, or to steam, microwave or stir-fry them, which minimises the amount of time they’re exposed to the heat.

Use your microwave to cook veg

Microwaving your veggies will decrease the amount of time their heat-sensitive nutrients are exposed to high temperatures. It also reduces the need for added fats that are associated with oven or stove-top cooking. Plus flavour is retained. Veggies that are cooked in a microwave tend to stay crisp and colourful… unless, of course, they’re overcooked.

Keep the skin on

Finally, to get the most out of your vegetables (and fruit, for that matter), leave the skin on or trim away as little as possible. Often many of the vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre are contained in the skin; this is especially true for potatoes.

Every vegetable is different, and what works well for one might not work as well for another. Try different options, and experiment with your cooking. Your own taste buds are often your best guide to what’s good or bad in the kitchen. After all, if you like the taste, you’ll stick to your plan of including more vegetables in your daily meals.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.

References:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722699/v
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878450X15000207
https://sciencenorway.no/food--nutrition-forskningno-norway/why-you-should-steam-your-veggies/1430207
https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/vegetables-are-a-key-part-of-nutrition-for-mens-health
https://www.eatright.org/homefoodsafety/safety-tips/food-poisoning/getting-the-most-flavor-and-nutrients

https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-06/uob-cvh061319.php